Among the near 1,000 strong congregation at Dave Wagstaffe's funeral at St Peter's Church today was a journalist who used to cover his time at Wolves and then got to know him as a friend. David Harrison looks back at a special day as Wolves said goodbye to one of their own.
“Oh, I could hide ‘neath the wing of the bluebird as she sings.” The words of the Monkees’ hit song rang out from St Peter’s Collegiate Church, accompanied by the rhythmic clapping from a congregation of almost 1,000 Wolves fans.
They had come to pay their respects and celebrate the life of Waggy, one of our most loved characters and finest players. The music was fitting. The response of the assembled gathering was spontaneous as the coffin was carried from the church.
The song was chosen because of Waggy’s friendship with Monkee Davey Jones, a schoolboy pal, who became reunited with the Wolves winger when he was playing for Los Angeles Wolves in an American tournament in the sixties.
Many reunited friendships warmed the air and pierced the sombre mood on this sad yet poignant afternoon in the city centre as the football world gathered in memory of Dave Wagstaffe.
Ex-teammates included Ted Farmer, Ron Flowers, Terry Wharton, Fred Davies, Jim Barron, Graham Hawkins, Fred Davies, Ernie Hunt, Gerry Taylor, George Berry, John Richards, Phil Parkes, Geoff Palmer, Derek Parkin, John McAlle, Kenny Hibbitt, Barry Powell, Willie Carr, Steve Daley, Eves, Gerry O’Hara, Dean Edwards and Phil Nicholls.
The club were represented by club’s chief executive Jez Moxey, vice-presidents Robert Plant and Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, head of marketing and communications Matt Grayson and programme editor John Hendley.
His former clubs Manchester City, Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers were represented by Fred Eyre, Jeff Chandler and Norman Bodell.
It was a stirring send-off and a fine tribute to Waggy’s life and career. “Hi Ho Silver Lining” greeted the coffin’s arrival into the church and there followed a unique insight into this humble, modest yet charismatic adopted son of Wolverhampton.
Mingled with the tears from family and friends was laughter at Waggy’s antics.
His son Scott’s memories were delivered by the Rector of Wolverhampton and Wolves chaplain the Rev David Wright.
Scott recalled how when Waggy first met wife Barbara. He told her he was a window cleaner, only for her to discover later that he was a Manchester City player. She ignored the warning from her father to steer clear of him because footballers were no good.
Waggy, according to Scott, was a man who loved laughter but was never short of a moan or two. On a recent trip to visit an old pal in Walsall, Waggy complained all the way they had taken the wrong route.
“You’ll all remember my dad on the wing for Wolves, but now he’ll be on his way to heaven on the wing of an angel. I hope he takes the right turn otherwise dad will be having a good moan at him.”
A bible reading from John Richards and a moving rendition of “How Great Thou Art” by Richard Probert and Chloe Williams, grand daughter of Waggy’s partner for 20 years Val, was followed by the reminiscences of former Express and Star Editor Steve Gordos.
Steve’s first memories of Waggy were when the former winger would appear at the Queen Street offices with the notes for his Sporting Star column written on the back of a fag packet.
The two became good mates after meeting regularly in the Shoulder of Mutton public house in Tettenhall. Waggy’s playing career was long over by then but Steve discovered there was another talented string to the winger’s bow.
His fag packet scribblings had gathered pace as he put together the first draft of his autobiography which, with Steve’s guidance, was published as “Waggy’s Tales.”
Steve and his wife Lindsay shared holidays on the Queen’s estate at Balmoral with Dave and Val.
On their first trip Steve and Lindsay arrived unannounced and pinned a note to their adjoining cottage which read: “Ex-Wolves players not welcome.”
Waggy was at a loss to fathom the message at first. His initial thought was to wonder whether the Queen was an Albion fan until he discovered the Gordos prank.
The two couples enjoyed other trips to Balmoral where Waggy enjoyed the fact that he could open the gates to the estate with a remote control operated from his car seat where he would wave regally to passing crowds.
Steve said: “He was a special footballer and a special friend. A simple twist of fate made changes his life because he switched from a rugby playing school to a one where they played football and was eventually spotted by Manchester City.”
Waggy enjoyed the simple things in life – tending his allotment, playing bowls, golf and snooker.
It was this down-to-earth appeal which endeared him to so many fans and ex-colleagues alike.
Outside the church and later back at Molineux, tales of Waggy flowed in abundance.
Peter Knowles recalled how, after playing for the England Under 23s against Holland at St Andrew’s, he asked Sir Alf Ramsey why he had not picked Waggy for the full England team.
“Sir Alf replied it was because he did not chase back enough,” said Knowles. “I told the England manager what a load of rubbish that was. He was one of the four best players around at the time – Best, Marsh, Dougan and Waggy himself. That’s how good he was.”
Robert Plant befriended Waggy while he was recovering from a leg injury sustained in a serious road accident.
The rock legend said: “They let me train and do my recuperation at Molineux and I got to know Waggy well. He was a tremendous bloke and such a good player with a real mischievous side. Often we would nip out for a pint on the eve of a game but that didn’t affect his performances.
Kenny Hibbitt remembers the many times Waggy would disappear into the dressing room toilets before games and at half-time to light up a cigarette:”Sometimes he would leave it burning for Terry Wharton to finish. Billy McGarry was a tough taskmaster but he turned a blind eye because Waggy was such a special player.”
An overlooked feature of Dave Wagstaffe was his bravery. He would never hide beneath the wing. He would face up to the brutal treatment often handed out by defenders in an era when skilfull players were less protected. He would destroy them with his skills.
He fought a brave battle too against the illness which eventually took him from us at the age of 70. We will never forget him. He was a one-off. He was Waggy.