Joe Gallagher has lifted the lid on his sacking from Wolves – and admits he was to blame.
Almost 37 years since last pulling on a gold and black jersey, the former central defender regrets not appearing on a team photograph to promote new shirt sponsors Tatung.
Gallagher arrived in the summer of 1981 as a big money signing at £350,000 from Birmingham City ready to add some much-needed experience to John Barnwell’s side after the departure of captain Emlyn Hughes and John McAlle that summer.
It all started well, as Gallagher captained the team that beat Liverpool 1-0 on the opening day of the season at a scorching Molineux. But the honeymoon period was soon over as Wolves struggled, Barnwell resigned and the club were relegated at the end of that season before going into receivership that summer.
As one of the bigger earners in the squad – Gallagher had signed a four-year contract on £500 a week – the Liverpudlian was an obvious choice to be shipped out as bosses looked to cut costs. The story is well documented: A consortium, fronted by former striker Derek Dougan, saved the club with three minutes to spare and a new dawn was ushered in. Or so we thought. But funds were extremely tight and it seemed the new board were prepared to make Gallagher a casualty of their cost cutting. He didn’t appear in the first 12 League games of the season as new manager Graham Hawkins initially opted for a youthful, homegrown centre-back pairing of John Pender and Bob Coy, and in fact went on to play just three more games before getting the bullet.
It was claimed he had said in an interview he would only give 75 per cent if he was picked to play. But he refutes that allegation and insists it was all down to a refusal to appear on the team picture.
“The accusation that I said I was only giving 75 per cent was rubbish,” said Gallagher, now 64. “It was a load of nonsense because I never went out on any pitch and gave less than 100 per cent. I always did, for Birmingham City, Wolves, West Ham and Burnley, so that accusation is totally and utterly 100 per cent wrong.
“If Derek Dougan said that then it’s totally wrong. The reason why I got sacked from Wolverhampton was for not appearing in a photograph. I went into the dressing room one day and I saw all the lads sitting round on the benches in dead silence.
“I stood by the door and said ‘what’s the matter lads, what’s happening?’ And one of them, I don’t know who it was, maybe Andy Gray, John Richards or Kenny Hibbitt, said ‘they want us to do a photograph, and we’re not going to do it’.
“I said ‘why?’ Somebody said ‘they’re not giving us anything’ (extra to do it). I said ‘what is it you want?’ The reply was ‘we just want a token of appreciation or a goodwill gesture for doing it’. I said ‘OK, has somebody told the management?’ and I just sat with the rest of the lads in the dressing room.
“Derek Dougan came in and went round, pointing at every single player in the room, individually, saying how much he wanted each player to do the photograph, because it was for Tatung, the new shirt sponsors, and we had to do it for the publicity. He had a go at them for not doing what he thought they should do for the club.
“At the end of that conversation where he was cajoling and asking the players to do the photograph, he left the room and the lads stayed sitting down. All of a sudden one of the lads stood up to get changed and put this Tatung kit on. Then another one stood up and did the same, then another and another, until they all stood up and put the shirt on.
“All I said was ‘lads, you’ve said your piece now, let them go away and come back to us, because whatever you’re demanding, they may come back with’. The lads all got changed and this is what I feel stupid and crazy about, I stayed sitting on the bench and didn’t get changed.
“So all the other lads put the kit on, went out and did the photograph, came back in and got changed into their training kit and then we all went training. The next day when I came into Molineux, the coach Jim Barron popped his head into the dressing room and said ‘Joe, Peter the secretary wants you’. I said ‘OK’ and went into the office and when I got there, Peter passed me an envelope, which I opened and I read the letter, which was about four lines long. It said something like ‘your contract has been terminated’ and I said to Peter, ‘what does this mean?’
“He said ‘you’ve been sacked’. I said ‘why?’ He said ‘because you didn’t appear in that photograph yesterday’. I told him I wasn’t involved in the argument because I came into it late.
“I had another two years left on my contract as I’d signed for four years and Peter said ‘you’ve got to leave the premises immediately’, so I got in my car and left.”
Gallagher insists he had no warning from the management about the sudden decision. “From the conversation I had with Peter, I went into the manager’s office to see Graham Hawkins and said ‘I’ve been sacked and I’ve got to leave the premises immediately’,” he recalled. “I said to him ‘Did you know it was in my contract to do the photograph?’ He said ‘no’, but I should have known and in those days it said every player should appear in an official photograph. So they were right, I was wrong. I do regret it.”
You would expect Gallagher to have had the support of the Professional Footballers Association, but as he was in breach of contract, there was little they could do. “Gordon Taylor (chief executive of the PFA) phoned me up the next day and we had a few words about it, but it never got anywhere. I got no compensation, so there I was, twiddling my thumbs, hoping that there would be a manager, somwehere, who had seen me play. I was on fantastic wages, £500 a week.
“I never saw Dougan – he never contacted me, I never contacted him and nobody from the club contacted me, the manager or any of the players ever contacted me. I was big buddies with Andy Gray, Kenny Hibbitt and George Berry, so it was a very sad time. I still see Mel Eves and Kenny occasionally at games now, but it was all my own fault, because I should have known what was in my contract and done the photograph.”
Gallagher insists he had no axe to grind with Dougan and in fact admired the Northern Irishman on and off the field. “I played against Derek Dougan once or twice and wholly admired him for his footballing ability,” he said. “He did wonders for the club before I met him, as a player. He also did great work as chairman of the PFA and I used to love listening to him; he had this Irish brogue and it was fantastic hearing him speak – he lifted a place. So I would have really loved to have made more of an impression at Wolves because Derek was the chairman. I admired him and I’ve never said a bad word about him in my life. There were no cross words; we barely met because the club was going through a bad time. I’d like to say they were good times, but it was a sad occasion for myself. Lots of it was to do with me for not doing that photograph.”
Apart from that Liverpool game, Gallagher admits he has few happy memories of his time at Molineux, making played just 34 appearances for the club. That was in sharp contrast to his time at Blues, where he captained the team at 19 and played over 330 games in 11 years and also won an England B cap. After the sack, he managed to secure a move back to the top flight with West Ham before joining Burnley.
“It was a poor time for Wolves and the supporters,” he said. “The first game I played we beat Liverpool 1-0 at home and Mick Matthews scored and I thought I would have a good time there. They were a great club with a wonderful tradition and I am deeply sorry that I never made a stronger impression and played more games so it would have worked out better for me. But these things happen.”
Gallagher’s arrival almost saw the departure of a Wolves great heading in the opposite direction. But John Richards refused to make the switch and they became team-mates instead.
“It was going to be a swap with John Richards and I think Wolves were going to pay some funds as part of the deal,” he said. “So from John’s point of view, their negotiations didn’t work out. He was a legend at Wolves, a great player and I played against him and Andy Gray many times.”