Career of a Legend
Career of a legend
Steve Gordos followed the career of Dave Wagstaffe both as a fan and as a journalist but, perhaps far more importantly than that, he was privileged to call him a friend. Here are Steve's thoughts on the loss of a legend.
Waggy – it is fair indication of a player’s standing when he is known simply by his nickname.
The very word, Waggy, conjures up magical memories for a generation of Wolves fans. It symbolises not only a special talent but also an endearing fondness
For Dave Wagstaffe, who has died aged 70, was a gifted footballer. Whenever he was on the ball there was a roar of anticipation. Fans expected something special to happen – and it usually did.
Waggy was an old fashioned winger – and more. Yes, he could dance down the touchline, leaving opponents trailing before curling over an inviting centre but he could also create chances when he moved in field and unleashed pinpoint passes. His was a special talent.
Born and bred in Manchester, he joined City as a youngster and won England youth international caps, playing in the same side as Terry Venables of Chelsea and Martin Peters of West Ham.
Waggy made his League debut in the 1–1 home draw with Sheffield Wednesday in September, 1960, when he was 17. He was in a side who included such City legends as Bert Trautmann, Alan Oakes and Denis Law. He scored his first goal for the club in the return game with Wednesday a week later but goals would be the exception rather than the rule for Waggy. His forte was making them for others.
After 161 League and cup games for City (eight goals) Waggy was dramatically transferred to Wolves on Boxing Day, 1964. He travelled from Manchester in the morning, agreed to sign and made his Molineux debut in the afternoon. He was happy to move as City were in the Second Division and seemed to be going nowhere.
He could hardly have guessed that the imminent arrival at Maine Road of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison would transform City from no-hopers into champions of England.
Despite this, Waggy never regretted his move. He enjoyed a decade as a first choice at Molineux where he became a crowd favourite with his silky skills and his defence-splitting passing. He made many a goal for Wolves’ strikers, notably the dynamic duo of Derek Dougan and John Richards.
Although Andy Beattie was caretaker manager at Molineux after Stan Cullis’s sacking he had virtually no part in the signing of Wagstaffe. It was chairman John Ireland who had first spotted his talent which no doubt reminded him of that other great Molineux left-winger Jimmy Mullen. Waggy had sparkled in a 3–3 draw with Wolves at Maine Road in December, 1962, and Ireland had made a point of congratulating him after the match.
Waggy’s debut game for Wolves, a 1–1 home draw with Villa, turned out to be the final first team appearance for another Molineux legend, Peter Broadbent. Wolves were relegated that season and failed to get back to the top flight at the first attempt.
Ironically it was Waggy’s old club, City, who won the Second Division in his first full season as a Wolves player. However, a year later Wolves also won promotion. Waggy was a key figure in their success and back where he belonged – in the top flight of English football.
First under Ronnie Allen and then Bill McGarry Wolves became a more than useful side. That talented team won the League Cup in 1974 but ought to have won more honours. Yet they achieved what no other Wolves team managed when they reached a European final, being runners-up to Spurs in the UEFA Cup in 1972.
In the second leg of the final Waggy hit a stunning goal at White Hart Lane. That was typical of him – his goals were few but they were usually special, such as the long-range effort in the memorable 5–1 defeat of the Arsenal Double-winning side in November, 1971.
Wagstaffe was a key figure in that fine UEFA run and continued to sparkle in the number-11 shirt. He became a cult hero along with Mike Bailey, Dougan and Richards. In January, 2013, Waggy deservedly followed the other three into Wolves’ Hall of Fame.
In any other era, Waggy would surely have been capped by England but 1966 had seen Sir Alf Ramsey’s “Wingless Wonders” win the World Cup and suddenly the wide men were out of fashion. Waggy’s only representative honour was for the Football League when they beat the Scottish League 3–2 at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough in March, 1972.
It must be remembered, too, that Waggy sparkled in an era when players were given far less protection from defenders. He often came in for some tough treatment but his twinkling feet usually got him out of trouble.
On the field he looked supremely confident yet he was famously nervous before a game, his pre-match build-up usually ending with a crafty cigarette in the dressing room loo!
When he was sold to Blackburn Rovers in 1976, after 404 games for Wolves (32 goals), putting him 15th in the club’s all-time appearance list, Waggy was far from finished. He shone in a Rovers side who included future PFA chairman Gordon Taylor. Manager Jim Smith realised that Waggy may have lost some of his pace but his passing skills and vision were still vital assets.
So well did Waggy do at Ewood Park that he was named player of the season. It was with Rovers that he made a little piece of Football League history, something he would readily recall in typically self-deprecating fashion in later years. When red cards were first introduced into English football, Waggy was first to be shown one – at Leyton Orient on October 2, 1976
After Blackburn, Waggy had a season with Blackpool, where he made 21 appearances in 1978–9. He was then re-signed by Blackburn but got injured in only his second game back and that proved to be the end of his career.
He would later return to Molineux as manager of the sports and social club and later Waggy’s Bar. He had also served as steward at the Old Wulfrunians Club.
I was fortunate enough in recent years to get to know Waggy and his lovely partner Val. My wife Lindsay and I shared several holidays with them, and brother-in-law Dave, in cottages on the royal estate at Balmoral. Waggy loved Balmoral with its many walks and he loved the rugged Scottish countryside. Perhaps it was because it was such a contrast to the dour surroundings of Manchester which he knew in his boyhood.
He also enlisted my help when he wrote his book, Waggy’s Tales, but I did not need to do much, apart from nag him to get the next chapter written. It was virtually all his own work and was full of wit and wisdom that reflected a man who underestimated his talents as a writer and talker.
However, no one ever underestimated Waggy’s talents on the football field and the memories of Wagstaffe Wizard of the Wing will live long.
Waggy – just one word but a whole host of memories.