Dave Wagstaffe passed away yesterday aged 70. The below is an interview conducted by Gary James in 2010.
Gary's book, Manchester - the City Years: Tracing the Story of Manchester City from the 1860s to the Modern Day, is available to order on Amazon.
A Mancunian who went on to play in the first ever UEFA Cup final - Gary James met up with Dave Wagstaffe, a popular City player of the early sixties, at the former player’s caravan near the Lancastrian coast.
Let’s start by talking about your Manchester roots, which part of the city were you from?
Clayton, not too far from City’s stadium. My dad was a City fan but I wasn’t really much of a spectator because I was football mad. I know that sounds odd but I was playing football at every opportunity and so I was too busy playing to go to games. I went the odd time, but I just didn’t get chance.
So how did the interest from City come?
Harry Godwin, a famous name in City’s scouting history, came to our greengrocer’s shop in Openshaw and asked to see my dad. They had a chat and Harry asked if I could join the groundstaff. To be honest I wasn’t too keen. It didn’t sound right going on the groundstaff. I wanted to play!
Anyway, I did join the groundstaff along with a great bunch of lads like Fred Eyre, Kenny Fletcher, Neil Young, Mike Doyle and Paul Aimson. We had to clean the boots, sweep the dressing rooms, menial tasks.
The first day I was there they set me up. They told me to go into the first team dressing room to collect something. I went in and the first thing I got was a clout around the earhole off Bert Trautmann. Bert was very strict and said “You must knock before you come in here!” All the lads were laughing at me. That was my first lesson. I always knocked after that!
How did you feel about the Club at this time?
I thoroughly loved it, once I got used to knocking! But what a state the place was in. The training kit was old polo neck jumpers that had been there for years. Everything was baggy and worn. You had to get in early to get the best stuff. It was thrown in a heap and you’d rush to grab what you could.
What about heroes? Was there anyone who you idolised at this time?
No not really. I think all Mancunians saw Bobby Charlton as a hero, you know after Munich. But the biggest City hero was undoubtedly Bert Trautmann. He had the aura of a film star. The golden hair… but what a tremendous goalkeeper? I have a piece of paper at home which I treasure. It’s a note he wrote to me thanking me for playing in his testimonial. He says he was totally overwhelmed with what happened. The stadium was packed and loads locked out, and I think we won 5-2. I scored two and I think it was the only time I ever scored two goals in a first team game. Denis Law scored three I think. The official attendance was about 48,000.
How did your career develop during your first few years?
I was in the Juniors to start with, and we were playing Bury in the Youth Cup on a Wednesday night (12/10/59). We drew 4-4 and I scored twice, once right near the end. I’d had a good game and then we had a replay (2-2, 27/10/59) at Bury. Then we had another replay (3-2, 10/11/59). So Les McDowall, the manager, had been to all three games. McDowall rarely got chance to see the Youth team but he did watch the FA Youth Cup. Those three games against Bury made a big difference because he got to see more of me than he would normally have done. So I was moved up into the Reserves. I was very fortunate.
In those days McDowall wouldn’t have spoken with you, but you did have a few former players working with you. Did that help?
Definitely. Of course we had a tremendous old character working with us called Freddie Tilson. Freddie had been a great player and won the FA Cup with City in 1934. He was a smashing, down to earth fella. He had a couple of teeth missing at the front so when he smiled you’d see this great big gap. But I’ll tell you this, even though he’d stopped playing all those years before us he still had some skill. There was a little bootroom just off a tiny corridor of about 5 yards length. There were three steps that went off in a different direction and on the side of the corridor was this tiny bootroom. Anyway, we used to say to Freddie “show us how to put these balls away”, and he used to wear those old white galoshes on his feet. He’d place the ball, hit it, and it would bounce off the step and go straight into the old bootroom. We practiced for hours but could we do it? We used to ask him how he did it, but it was no good we just couldn’t do it. What a lovely character he was.
Once you’d got into the reserves it wasn’t too long before you made your first team debut wasn’t it?
It was fairly quick. I was only 17. All the inside lefts were injured. It wasn’t long after they’d signed Denis Law. So imagine my delight when I was called up. In fact it was a Wednesday morning and I was called up to the office. I thought I was in trouble. You never went up near McDowall’s office. You’d go to the snooker room up there, but never near his office. Anyway, I went up and he said: “Forget your duties today, I’m playing you tonight.” I went home, came back at 6.30 ready for my first game against Sheffield Wednesday (7/9/60). I couldn’t believe it. I was number 11 and there I was playing alongside the highest valued player in the land Denis Law. It was unbelievable.
At the time I didn’t get chance to think too much about it. It just happened and then I kept my place.
Did any of your family get to see the game?
No. In fact it was a bit strange. After the match I caught the number 53 bus and there was only one seat left upstairs. So I sat down and the bloke next to me said: “Have you been to the match? How did that young lad who was making his debut play?” It took me by surprise so I said: “He did alright. He was okay.” I didn’t know what to say! Anyway, he then tells me that he was going to the works to take over on the machine from “the lad’s dad.” They used to do shifts. My dad was on 2 until 10pm and so he couldn’t go to the game because the machine had to keep going 24 hours a day. What a coincidence!
What was McDowall like as a manager?
In those days you were told to go out and play and we didn’t really see too much of the manager. I don’t think I ever had any specific coaching instructions. We were told to go out and play. We just expressed ourselves I guess. Nelly Young got into the team and he should have been on the left really, but I was there, so they put him on the right and me on the left and it worked. Denis Law had gone, and we’d gone through a few centre-forwards like Gerry Baker.
We had some up and coming youngsters but we also had people like Bert, Ken Barnes, Joe Hayes. These were guys who had enjoyed success and they were great players, and great players to be around as well. Then there was Alan Oakes. What a great player. As steady as a rock for years and years.
There were some great games during the early sixties but it started to fade during that awful winter of 1963. What was your view at the time?
We’d been doing really well and, like you say Gary, there were some very good games. But, because of the winter and the games called off we couldn’t get any momentum going. It didn’t seem to matter what we did. I actually think that the ambition of the Club had gone when they sold Denis Law. The players still had ambition, but selling Denis seemed to be a backward step. It was the end of the ambition of the Club. It dragged the players down.
When we were relegated it was awful. I remember thinking ‘why are we playing at all these stupid little grounds. What’s it all about?’ I was getting disheartened then.
Prior to this there was the small matter of a Manchester derby (15/5/63) which ended 1-1. Both sides were close to relegation, and Pat Crerand later went on record to say he punched you in the tunnel. What’s your view?
I think it might be impetuous youth. Jimmy Meadows used to tell me to hassle players and to get stuck in. This thing with Paddy Crerand. I must have upset him or something and we’re walking up the tunnel and he’s still in a rage. But I didn’t think he’d turn round and thump me one! He was about three yards in front of me. I had my head down and I don’t know what was going through his mind but he must just have thought “I’ll hit him!” He turned round and did. I thought “what’s all that about.” I didn’t get it. I’d been involved with a few altercations on the pitch as you do, but I think he just lost it. I certainly never expected it.
Did it unsettle you?
Yeah, it did. I can’t remember much about the second half other than at one point I did a back pass and Denis Law, who was playing for them, intercepted it. Somehow Denis got a penalty as Dowd came towards him. It ended 1-1 and soon after we were relegated.
In December 1964 you moved to Wolves. How did that come about?
George Poyser called me at home. It was Christmas Eve. I’d been out and I got home and my mum told me the manager had ‘phoned and I had to ring him at home. This was highly unusual. I thought this must be very serious because back then no player had the manager’s home number. When I spoke with him, he said “I’ll meet you on Boxing Day at the ground at 10 O’Clock. You’re going to Wolverhampton. If you sign you’ll be playing for them. If not you’ll be coming back with me and playing against Bury.” You could do that in those days. That was exactly what he’d said to me.
Had you put in a transfer request?
No, but I had made it known that I wasn’t very happy. I was disillusioned with it all. I wasn’t happy. There was no ambition there. Once McDowall had gone it faded. Poyser took over. He was a dour man and the atmosphere went. Nothing seemed right. I can’t ever remember Poyser being out on the training pitch or anything. I just remember him with his pipe in his mouth.
Nobody knew anything about the move. There were no papers on Christmas Day or anything, and I went to Wolverhampton. I signed at 12 and played at 3pm. It was amazing and I’ve heard the stories of people at City thinking I was going to play at Maine Road and then after the game finding out I’d played at Wolves. Very odd.
I often wonder what would have happened if you had been able to stay at City until the ambition re-appeared. What would you have been like in the great Joe Mercer team?
There’s a little story about that. I married a Manchester girl and so we used to come back to Manchester more or less every weekend. I knew the City lads and I remember Mike Summerbee was having a house warming and he invited me to it. Typical of me I lost his address and he was ex-directory, so it was all a bit of a mess. Directory enquiries ended up doing me a big favour by ‘phoning Mike and asked him if he’d object to her passing on his number. He was fine with that and I ended up getting directions to his house, and it was great. The place was full of City and United players. It was a great night. Malcolm Allison shouts across to me: “Hey Waggy!” The place went silent. Malcolm shouted: “Waggy. It’s a pity you left Maine Road before I came.” “Why’s that Malcolm?” He replied: “I might have made you into a footballer.”
Everyone laughed, but you know it did make me think. I saw how Young, Doyle, Oakes, Pardoe and so on developed. It was a fabulous team and I used to watch them as often as I could because it was a phenomenal team. I loved going back and playing against City.
How did the fans treat you when you came back?
Great. I never got booed. It was always great going back to City. I used to really look forward to it. There was a League Cup tie (8/9/71) that ended 4-3 – what a game!
So how did your career at Wolves go?
It was a club with great tradition and when Ronnie Allen came as manager in 1966 I loved it. Then there was the UEFA Cup final. The bad part about that was - and this is no disrespect to Tottenham – we’d gone all the way through the competition playing across Europe and then we had to face Spurs in the final. It was an anti-climax. They were a great footballing side, but we wanted a prestige final against a continental side. To get to the final was a big achievement and we beat some good sides like Juventus and Ferencvaros to get there. I scored in the second leg of the final but playing a British side was tough.
You faced City in the 1974 League Cup final. Because we lost, It’s often the forgotten final for City but what was it like for you?
I should never have played because I pulled a thigh muscle on the Wednesday before, but there was no way I was going to miss it. City were odds on because of the quality in the side. Look at the forward like – Summerbee, Law, Lee, Bell, Marsh – you couldn’t pick a better forward line. I think it’s the best that had ever got to the League Cup final. Our centre-halves were brilliant that day and our ‘keeper Gary Pierce was outstanding. Not so long ago we had an anniversary do and Pierce said that the winner’s tankard he had should be Phil Parkes’ because he should have played really, but had broken his hand in training. He offered the tankard to Phil.
At the end of the game the City players applauded Wolves didn’t they?
They did and that was great. Wonderful. If you looked at our team none of us had ever won anything. Even Derek Dougan and I think City were saying ‘Well done’. We really appreciated that. It meant a lot and proved how sportsmanlike City were. No one forced them to do it, they wanted to show their respect. It was my greatest day as a Wolves player and because only England games and the two finals were played there it meant a lot to be at Wembley. The tunnel seemed to be soundproofed so you’d be in there in silence and then walk out to the noise of about 100,000 Wolves and City fans. What a feeling!
I came off in that final with ten minutes to go, but it was an incredible game. That night we celebrated at a Club after the formal dinner and Franny Lee walked in with bottles of champagne. He gave them to us and said well done. It was a great gesture and said a lot about him and City at that time.
You mentioned about coming back to Manchester often, did you ever meet up with Joe Mercer?
Oh, yes. We walked into this club one night and Joe was there with his wife and family. He came over to talk with me and spent hours – and I mean hours – chatting to me about football, about my career, offering advice… he was absolutely incredible and I loved that chat. Let’s face it, he could just have nodded to me and that’d be enough. But Joe came over and his passion for the game was incredible. Lovely man Joe, and very knowledgeable. He knew how to motivate and that chat did me the world of good – and I wasn’t even one of his players! What would it have been like to play for him at Villa or City? He was wonderful.
After your playing career ended you managed the social club at Wolves, but there were some very difficult days for Wolves and ultimately for you as the business went into administration. Nowadays you live in the Midlands and have a caravan in Lancashire. Do you still get to games?
Although I’d prefer to play of course, I do enjoy watching games. I go to Blackburn, City and Wolves. Blackburn and City treat me really well and I love coming. I hope City now find a bit of success. It’s a great club and, of course, it still means so much to me.