Bob Hazell didn’t score too many goals in his career.  As a defender, his job was more about stopping them at the other end.

He did score once against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, just as every Wolves player will be aiming to do this Sunday afternoon.

It wasn’t for Wolves however, but for Queen’s Park Rangers, in a 3-0 win in early 1982 which would ultimately help his team to the equivalent of the Championship title, Wolves also securing promotion in second.

Hazell can’t specifically pinpoint the memory of that goal, but he can recall much of a 12-year career in the senior game, even if there was some of it which he might understandably prefer to forget.

And that is the many examples of racism and discrimination which Hazell, as a young black player making his way in the game, had to suffer.

The abusive chants from the fans.  The belittling even from his own team-mates, and the discriminatory language which once prompted Hazell to come to blows.  Not to mention the story, which he is now revealing for the first time, about how he needed to be removed from his accommodation whilst at Molineux because his landlady had been shunned by friends and neighbours for, ‘taking in a young black man’.   

Hazell looks back and wonders if he should have said more at the time. Kicked up more of a fuss publicly. And yet, even though the efforts of him and other similar pioneers ultimately paved the way for so much progress – progress which is still ongoing – it almost feels wrong to spend part of our hour-long conversation talking about it.  

Not because it isn’t important because clearly it remains massively important. And the issue of racism is one which still hasn’t gone away.   But because ultimately Hazell was a footballer, and a very good and successful one at that. A footballer who, having been born in Jamaica before moving across to Birmingham just before the age of four, overcame substantial challenges in his formative years to go on and become a Wolves Player of the Season, a First Division title-winner and FA Cup runner-up with Queen’s Park Rangers and an England under-21 international. 

All of that is, in itself, a brilliant achievement and a brilliant story. Even before the selflessness of a post-football career which has featured working with young offenders in Birmingham alongside he and wife Joy giving a chance to so many young people in their long-serving role as foster carers.

Still, even now at the age of 64, Hazell has never taken anything for granted.

“Whenever I get asked for an autograph, I always think it’s going to be my last one,” he says with a laugh.

“Then I go to a QPR game, and the fans are all there asking me for autographs and pictures, and I’m overwhelmed to be honest.”

The deserved adulation that Hazell continues to receive is just reward for the dedication and hard work with which he launched his career from an early age.

A boyhood West Bromwich Albion fan, he describes himself as a ‘product of the English schools’ system’, keen at one stage to try and sign for the ‘Villa Boys’ youth team, but ending up representing the Dunlop Terriers team which produced so many professional players out of Birmingham.

Hazell’s defensive abilities were accompanied by a powerful presence – he looked far older than his teenage years – and several big clubs were already circling before he and his Dad went to visit Wolves for talks and a lookaround.

“They took us into a room and presented a contract which would be put away into a drawer until I was old enough to join properly,” he says.

“My Dad asked me there and then if I was going to sign it, but to be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to do as I was going around all these different clubs and receiving the superstar treatment every time! 

“But, at the end of the day it was the best move I could have made, as the manager Bill McGarry looked after me and took a real interest in my progress.

“I also remember the one day, when I was maybe in fourth year of school, that I went along to the ground, and poked my head around the first team dressing room door, which young players really weren’t supposed to do.

“The Doog (Derek Dougan) spotted me, and shouted at me to come on in, and told me he knew who I was.

“Because of that, because he brought me in and sat me down in front of everyone, that meant I could go back to the dressing room again later on – the Doog had given me my pass!”

Hazell flourished within the youth set-up at Wolves and was a key part of the team which went all the way to the FA Youth Cup final in 1975/76, only to suffer the disappointment of a 5-0 defeat over two legs at the hands of Albion.

“The run to the final was enjoyable but those finals were horrible, the Albion really handed us our backsides,” is the brutal Hazell assessment.

His progress continued under the stewardship of Sammy Chung, and Hazell made his senior debut as an 18-year-old which, despite ending in a 4-0 defeat at Newcastle, only whetted the appetite for more.

“We lost the game, and I was disappointed, but I still came off the pitch beaming,” he recalls.

“I had made my debut.

“I can still remember being on the pitch, and Newcastle being on the attack with the roar of their crowd, and the more they roared the more I wanted to stand up to it.

“I felt like those roars were for me, I got lost in it, I grew in it, and I became a giant – it was an incredible feeling.”

It was the start of a dramatic first half-season for Hazell which would culminate in him becoming only the second ever recipient of Wolves’ Player of the Year award, even if he himself believes it should have been awarded – for the second year in succession – to Steve Daley.

It was a spell where he became the first black player to score a first team goal for Wolves, personally special because he had to outdo Manchester City’s England defender Dave Watson to achieve it, but also one where he was sent off in the 89th minute of an FA Cup fourth round tie at Arsenal, after which Malcolm Macdonald fired home a winner for the Gunners.

“I felt so low after that moment, absolutely distraught infact, but it still remains one of my most powerful memories from Wolves, because of how my team-mates treated me,” he says.

“I would normally join the card school on the journey home, but on that day, I just got on the bus and went and sat on my own.

“People like John Richards and Steve Daley were amazing, they were like ‘come on Bob, these things happen in football’ and ‘just keep your chin up and learn from it’.

“Having done what I’d done, in such an important game, I felt I had let everyone down, but to get that response was amazing and something I have never forgotten.”

Hazell’s progress at club level dove-tailed neatly with that of the international scene.

In another of his many breakthrough moments, he was the first ever black professional to represent England at any level, for the Under-18s against Wales in March of 1977.

He would later graduate to Under-21 honours, scoring the winner following Glenn Hoddle’s equaliser in his solitary appearance in Denmark in 1978, set up by the equally pioneering Cyrille Regis, against whom he would later successfully do battle with in the semi-finals of the FA Cup as QPR defeated Albion to move on to Wembley.

It was in West London that Hazell really and truly transferred his Wolves early promise into real potential.

With his great friend George Berry and Colin Brazier joining him in the department of excellent young defenders at Wolves, Hazell eventually found himself out of favour under John Barnwell, but in moving to Loftus Road found the team success which the 35 appearances of his initial Molineux stay hadn’t quite managed to produce.

That FA Cup run to the final of ’82, where QPR, then in the second division, took a star-studded Tottenham side featuring Hoddle to a replay, Hazell providing the assist for Terry Fenwick’s equaliser in the initial fixture at Wembley.

And then promotion ahead of Wolves arrived the following season, the highlight of a career for Hazell which would later take in Leicester City, Reading and Port Vale, where he would often lock horns with a certain Steve Bull as the two teams mirrored each other in enjoying some lower league success.

Eventually, a back injury forced him into retirement before the age of 30 – issues which have continued and, only last year, he underwent his fourth spinal operation.

And yet, Hazell’s career, as with so many of his contemporaries – Berry, Regis and so many more – was not just about how they performed on the pitch but was so inextricably linked with the racism and discrimination which they had to suffer.

Whether it was blatant – as was so often the case – or more subtle or unconscious, there was so much to overcome to the extent that, even now, just as when playing, Hazell tries to block most of it out.

From the abusive chanting and gestures heard during games, and indeed even earlier, from the moment they disembarked the coach when arriving at away grounds.

Sometimes, it even came from within Hazell’s own dressing room, from the time as a young player when he remembers a team-mate egging him on to talk about his ambitions purely for his own amusement.

Or even coming to blows with a colleague he got on really well with as he no longer felt able to make excuses for some of his language.

“There were no filters in those days, and sometimes I would hear things said that I couldn’t even believe were real,” Hazell explains.

“I did block it out to a certain extent, and to tell you the truth I can’t remember a great deal in too much detail.

“And I do sometimes wonder, when I look back, did I do enough?

“Sometimes I feel that I ducked below the parapet when the **** hit the fan, I thought that maybe if it wasn’t highlighted then it would all go away, but that wasn’t the right thing to do because then it just got worse.

“I do remember an occasion when Gordon Taylor, a man I really respect, was going around for the PFA and having conversations about racism and some players were saying it was alright in their dressing rooms.

“I was just standing at the back shaking my head and smiling to myself, so Gordon asked me to speak up.

“I told him that the racist remarks and comments went on day after day, the jokes and the jibes, and that faced with some of the language used, black players would either have to build a thick skin or just become a bad *******.

“Yes, you had to be a really strong character, and, if you didn’t have that in your personality, then you would have to build it.

“Sometimes, I look back and think ‘well done son’, because to have gone through what I did and rode it out must have made me a special kind of person.

“When people ask me if it all had any effect on me, I used to think it didn’t, but when I think back on some of the incidents that occurred, I am sure that it did.”

One such incident which Hazell has never previously spoken about publicly offers such a vivid and painful illustration of the culture into which young black players were operating at the time.

It came when he was still at Wolves, and still a teenager, and was suddenly called away midway through a training session by coach Brian Owen.

“Brian said I needed to have a quick shower and go off to my digs, but he wouldn’t tell me the reason why,” says Hazell.

“To be taken out of training, it had to be something really serious, and Brian was driving with a stony face that made me worried to ask any more.

“When we got there, he told me not to worry, that what happened wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t the old landlady’s fault, because she didn’t understand.

“He told me to go in, grab my stuff and come back out, and when I did the lady was standing at the door and was telling me I shouldn’t have played my music so loud which was nonsense because I always played my music through my headphones.

“When we got back in the car and left Brian told me that her neighbours and her friends had stopped talking to her, because she had got a young black boy living with her, and that she needed them so I had to leave and they would find somewhere else for me.

“I was just a young boy you know, and had been thrown out through no fault of my own, I was absolutely distraught.”

Aside from the understandable emotional and psychological turmoil, from there it proved difficult to find Hazell new accommodation – at one stage he was living in a room in the old Molineux Hotel – and eventually, before he was able to buy a house, he headed back home to Birmingham and an area which had also provided its own problems as he was growing up.

But within all that, and his career as a whole, the motivational seeds were sown for life after football, which for many years featured working as a Sports Prevention Manager with young offenders in Erdington, and has always involved being a foster carer.

“I came over to England just before my fourth birthday, and, growing up, there weren’t too many black people around,” he reflects.

“I got in a bit of trouble from time to time, nothing really serious, although I got away with a hell of a lot as well!

“When people ask me why I decided to become a foster carer, one of the reasons is that there were many people who were so good to me when I was younger.

“I grew up in the Boys’ Brigade, and some of the people there are the best I have ever met in my life.

“There was so much we had to deal with, but there were so many who went that extra mile to help me, and fate has shined on me in being able to give that help back.

“I give thanks that I was lucky enough to go through that, and it plays a part in how we became foster carers, and being on the board of the Birmingham Foster Care Association.

“We do it for the long term, for young people who want a home, and when they come back later on, and bring their own kids to see us, as you can imagine that’s a really good feeling.”

Hazell actually had a second really brief spell at Wolves during the 1985/86 season, initially to try and add his experience to a struggling team, but his loan spell from Leicester lasted just one game before injury struck.

Football has continued to follow him more recently, his nephew Reuben played for Tranmere in the 2000 League Cup final against Leicester and son Rohan was a promising player who spent three years with Sheffield United until his own injury problems forced him to stop.

Hazell senior is now a regular at Walsall home games, supporting his ‘young mate’ Darren Byfield who is now on the Saddlers’ coaching staff.  Still helping, still supporting, passing on his knowledge and experience.

If he does indeed wonder whether he did enough to speak out about the distressing experiences from his own career, about whether he should have stuck his head above the parapet more often, then maybe actions speak louder than words.

His sheer presence and the way he conducted himself – putting himself out there proudly and defiantly in front of thousands of fans week after week – will undoubtedly have inspired and invigorated so many other young players to follow in his footsteps.

And his altruism away from the pitch will also have made such a hugely positive impact on so many young lives.

“I’m one of those who always tries to see his glass as half full,” he insists.

“I can feel people over my shoulder telling me I’m always complaining but I get up in the morning and give thanks for the life I have had so far.

“When I look back on my career, yes, there were negatives, but I prefer to dwell on the many more positives instead.

“When I think back to the way I was treated by my Wolves team-mates after that sending off – ‘come on Bob, head up let’s keep going’ – those are the things I prefer to remember.

“And that’s along with the First Division championship medal, and the FA Cup runners-up medal, which I still have very fond memories of.

“I’ve got a hell of a lot more to be thankful about then to complain about, that is for sure.”

Bob Hazell isn’t the only player to score a crucial goal at Selhurst Park. But he has done, and continues to do, so much more.