It is one of those iconic photographs which has become an integral part of Wolves’ history.
Mike Bailey, chaired on the shoulders of John McAlle and Geoff Palmer and surrounded by the rest of the Wolves class of 1974, raising the League Cup aloft following victory over Manchester City.
A proud and pivotal moment, and also a breakthrough moment, ensuring one of the greatest captains in Wolves’ illustrious history was able to enjoy the success which both his footballing talents and leadership qualities so richly deserved.
It was a day which many feared might never come.
Wolves had lost to Tottenham in the UEFA Cup Final of 1972 when the previously injured Bailey came on as a substitute in the second leg, then in the League Cup and FA Cup semi-finals the following campaign, again to Spurs and then Leeds United.
Would Bailey ever get his hands on a major trophy having led the team to the top-flight with promotion in his first full season?
It was because of that question that the two goalscorers on that wonderful Wembley afternoon, Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards, felt more satisfaction about their captain, then 32, finally enjoying his day in the sun than their own considerable contributions.
“We had gone through a very difficult time losing the UEFA Cup Final and then those two semi-finals, and I am sure Mike must have thought that his chances of winning a trophy with Wolves were dwindling,” Richards recalls.
“He was such a great captain, but there was the real prospect he was going to finish without a major trophy, and to go through his career and not win something really wouldn’t have been right.
“So, to get to the final in ’74, and go on and win it, I think everybody in Wolverhampton – all of the players, fans, anyone associated with the club – were so delighted for Mike because he really deserved it.
“To see him go up there at Wembley and lift the trophy is one of my greatest Wolves memories, without a doubt.”
Hibbitt agrees, and even the return of that unforgettable moment to his memory bank brings flickers of raw emotion.
“Just sitting here and thinking about Mike walking up those steps and lifting the cup gets me going to be honest, I can still see it now,” he recalls.
“That was one of my highlights at Wolves, seeing Mike with the trophy, it was an absolutely wonderful moment and he was proud as punch.”
Mike Bailey turned 80 on Sunday. The messages and well-wishes from his former team-mates – no, scrap ‘former team-mates’ – his friends – remain every bit as genuine and powerful as they were on that remarkable day under the Twin Towers 48 years ago yesterday.
The age of 80 is another of life’s landmarks, and offers an appropriate opportunity to gather thoughts and memories of a player who forged an indelible impact on the history of Wolverhampton Wanderers. And whose playing career, and captaincy, remains so fondly and warmly cherished.
Speaking to half a dozen of the players who graced Molineux during Bailey’s era, their respect and admiration for the ‘skipper’ seeps through every word.
There would be many more who would say the same if space allowed for unlimited contributions. So many more.
“He was the greatest captain I ever played with,” says Hibbitt, without fear of contradiction.
“I can’t fully describe how much respect I have for Mike as a player and as a person,” adds Richards.
“Mike is my idol, he was an absolute inspiration to me when I was playing,” says Steve Daley.
“We loved having him in our dressing room,” says Phil Parkes.
And Palmer: “Mick led from the front, and never asked you to do anything that he wouldn’t have done himself.”
Winger Terry Wharton was several years into his own career when Bailey arrived in March of 1966. A year which wasn’t just to prove great for English football, but also for Wolves.
Signed from Charlton for £40,000, interest had first surfaced several months earlier when Bailey had popped into the Wolves’ dressing room after a 2-2 draw to catch up with his England Under-23 roommate, Ernie Hunt.
“I remember Mike coming in a few months after Ernie, and he was a great player,” says Wharton.
“I’d also say he was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character as well.
“On the pitch he was a great captain, a winner, he was tenacious and he was loud.
“He got people moving and he got people going and you just knew he was a captain.
“And then off the pitch? He could have been a vicar.
“Such a lovely man, quiet, with his lovely wife Barbara, and myself and my wife Sue have always enjoyed meeting up for lunches as we have over the years.”
Those captaincy skills emerged quickly to the fore even with Bailey at the age of just 24.
There was something of a changing of the guard with Ron Flowers passing the baton, but, in already showing his leadership qualities, even when being handed the armband just over 12 months after arriving, Bailey only called himself the ‘acting captain’ until his more illustrious team-mate retired.
“As a captain, for me he followed in the mould of Ron, Billy Wright and Bill Slater,” declares Richards.
“Wolves had that period of 20 years or so where they had such outstanding captains, and Mike was up there at that level.
“He gave me – just as he did with all the young players coming into the team – so much help and guidance in training and matches on and off the pitch.
“There were so many little tips and pieces of advice and I remember how he first taught me how to come off defenders.
“He would say ‘when I get the ball John, just push the defender away, come towards me, lay the ball off and then go again’.
“There was so much advice that he would give to us all, and it had a massive influence.”
Palmer was the same, vividly recalling Bailey’s words of wisdom ahead of his own league debut, away at Birmingham in October, 1973.
“I remember Mike saying to me, ‘Geoff, all you can do is your best, and if you try your best, every single match, the Wolves fans will take to you’.
“He told me the other lads would look after me, the likes of Frank Munro, Derek Parkin and John McAlle, and to go out and enjoy myself – he put me at ease.
“He knew how to get the best out of players, whether that was maybe to give them a bit of a rocket or whether to put an arm around the shoulder.
“He was a captain on and off the field, and you always knew you could talk to him about anything.”
Those leadership skills were certainly recognised and appreciated by the often-demanding management style of Bill McGarry.
From the moment he arrived at the club in November, 1968, through the cup finals, semi-finals, promotion and even a relegation, McGarry recognised Bailey as very much his Captain Marvel.
As this recollection from Parkes clearly illustrates.
“Bill McGarry used to call him Michael, not Mike,” reveals the former goalkeeper.
“I remember when he came into the dressing room on his first day after arriving from Ipswich, and he had a chat with us.
“At the end he said, ‘Michael Bailey captain, I will see you in my office’.
“I think that upset Derek Dougan a little bit, who thought if he was calling Mike, Michael that he should be called Derek, and not ‘The Doog’!”
Therein lay another challenge for Bailey, handling that mix of exuberant youth and steely experience within the Wolves dressing room.
There was so much respect from those younger players but then also the more established figures such as Dougan, Wagstaffe and Munro.
Parkes joined Bailey, Wagstaffe and Munro in a close-knit social group described as the ‘gang of four’ by Richards.
“We’d socialise together, usually at the Moreton Country Club, now the Moreton pub, on a Monday night,” says Parkes.
“We all lived in the same sort of area and would meet up and Mike would also always organise a golf trip in Scotland at the end of the season.
“He is a leader, and one of those people, even now, that when he walks in a room, you can just see how much respect everyone has for him.”
If those leadership qualities which secured such high dressing room esteem describe Bailey as a captain, what of Bailey as a player?
Operating as a half back, a central midfielder in today’s money, he was an accomplished all-rounder, who could pick a pass, chip in with a goal or two but perhaps, most memorably, was so fierce in the tackle.
Lifelong Wolves fan and former Express & Star Sports Editor Steve Gordos once described Bailey as: “a barrel-chested bundle of energy who showed all the qualities that Molineux regulars admired in a half back – he was in the best tradition of Wolves’ old-style wing-halves.
“He was tough in the tackle and a good passer of the ball.”
“Mike’s approach was infectious, we would see him going in for a 50-50 and that would spread to the rest of us,” says Palmer, who when asked to come up with a more modern equivalent to Bailey’s style picks out former Wolves and England captain Paul Ince.
“It would inspire us to follow his lead.
“McGarry would say to us, ‘look at what the captain is doing and go out and do the same.
“So often the first 50-50 of the game would see Micky Bailey go in and hit somebody and it would rub off on everyone else.”
“He was one of the strongest tacklers I have ever seen,” adds Hibbitt.
“He didn’t go in with his leg, he went in with his whole body.
“It was always fair, he never went in to hurt anyone, but if you accidentally got caught by him in training you certainly knew about it!
“Walking out from the tunnel with Mick Bailey leading the team always gave you that added confidence because you always knew what you were going to get from him.”
That term ‘barrel-chested’ could have been invented for the athletic and versatile skipper. And so committed, commanding, a leader of men, steadfast and true.
Daley has in his mind an image of Bailey, plastered in mud after another 90 minutes of hard graft, whilst Richards paints another vivid picture from his early days at Molineux.
“I was a young lad, not quite a regular in the team at this stage and was on the bench for an FA Cup tie at the Baseball Ground against Derby,” he recalls.
“It was January, very little grass on the pitch as there rarely was at the Baseball Ground, and there was a 50-50 ball just in front of the dugout.
“There was Mike, a natural right footer, up against Dave Mackay, a natural left footer.
“They both went in full-on for the ball, I can still remember the sound – I am sure I heard the ball squeal as well – and then everything went quiet in the stadium as they both ended up on their backs.
“Then they both jumped up, shook hands and carried on with the game.
“As a young lad watching on, the ferocity of the tackle was matched only by the genuine respect that two of the best players of their generation had for each other.”
Bailey chalked up a plethora of accolades and accomplishments during his time with Wolves.
His 436 appearances have only been surpassed by 12 others in the club’s history, from which he chipped in with 25 goals.
He led Wolves to promotion back to the top-flight in his first full season in 1966/67, not to mention a fourth-place finish in 1970/71 which remains the club’s highest of the last 60 years.
There were plenty of European adventures as a result, including winning the Texaco Cup of 1971 and reaching the UEFA Cup final against Tottenham a year later, during which Bailey’s influence was greatly missed through injury against Spurs, only coming on as a 55th minute substitute in the second leg.
Individually, he was named Midlands’ Player of the Year after that Second Division promotion, made four England under-23 appearances and won two senior caps whilst with Charlton, was awarded a testimonial match in 1976 and was among the second batch of inductees into Wolves’ Hall of Fame in 2010.
But to Bailey, like all good captains, it was the team that mattered most, and the 1974 League Cup triumph, Wolves’ first major trophy for 11 years one of only two across the last six decades, was undoubtedly his finest hour.
“I watched the Manchester City game back the other day,” says Palmer.
“And that day epitomised what Mike was all about as a player.
“There he was, in the first half especially, spraying the ball around so comfortably, he was fantastic.”
Richards adds: “The way Mike could command a game was something that always stuck out for me during his career, and that included the League Cup final.
“After Manchester City equalised, we were under the cosh, and he really came into his own.
“He was helping the defence, dominating the midfield, he got control of the match, ran the show, and if you look back at my winner, it was Mike’s pass to Alan Sunderland that helped set the goal up.”
An incredible influence, and all done not just with leadership and ability, but a healthy dash of humour as well.
Footballing humour, built on a Band of Brothers style camaraderie that develops and thrives in a dressing room and on a pitch. Only the sharp-witted need apply!
“Mike was nearly as bad as Kenny Hibbitt in terms of having a go at referees,” Richards explains.
“Nearly, but not quite, and Mike was more subtle.
“I can remember one game when the referee was a short and stocky fella called Roger Kirkpatrick.
“Mike was on at him relentlessly, with stuff like ‘Roger, keep an eye on the full back, he’s going in late on Waggy’, or ‘that’s our throw-in Rog, it came off their defender’.
“Then there was a break in play, I think due to an injury, and Mike ended up standing next to Roger and said to him, ‘come on Rog, that was a late tackle’.
“By now Roger had pretty much had enough, and suddenly turned towards Mike and asked him: ‘Do you know what Mike? I am beginning to wonder who is refereeing this game – me or you?’
“’Well Roger,’ Mike replied, quick as a flash. ‘It would be nice to know that one of us was’.
“It was just brilliant, typical Mike, and Roger just fell about laughing.”
Humour would of course work both ways, and the way Wharton talks with such fun about his former team-mate shows that Bailey was more than happy to take it as well as dish it out.
“I’ll tell you this,” says Wharton, his impish nature practically leaping down the phone line.
“I loved Mick like I have said, but he didn’t half keep passing it to Waggy rather than me.
“He was right footed and just kept passing it out to the left and I reckon that is why Wolves got rid of me – I never got the bloody ball!
“Seriously though, what a player? Two England caps? Only two? He should have got a lot more.”
He certainly should, albeit, as Hibbitt recalls, Bailey was plying his trade at a time when England were blessed with so much talent in his position.
“He would go up against any of them though,” Hibbitt recalls. “None of them would faze him.”
And Bailey wouldn’t always have a good game – that would be impossible – and towards the end of his Wolves career there was even the rare sight and sound of being on the end of a small amount of dissent from the Molineux fanbase.
“That was hard to understand, but it didn’t affect him either,” adds Parkes.
“He was such a tough character, all of that just went right over his head.”
All noted also that any dip in his own form would never affect his ability to keep providing encouragement elsewhere, but eventually Bailey did leave Wolves, shortly into another Second Division promotion-winning campaign in 1976/77, as his game time became more limited and the team moved in a different direction.
He departed with a heavy heart, but so much goodwill and, even several years before that day approached, unwittingly acted as another inspiration to one of his wide-eyed team-mates.
“I remember we had a pre-season game in Northern Ireland, when Mike was out injured,” says Daley.
“Bill McGarry called me over in training and told me I was going to play in the middle of the park instead.
“I got my mind on it, and I played really well, and the manager told me I had saved him a lot of money because he said when Mike finished, if he was still at the club, he would pick me to take his place.
“I haven’t told Mike this before, but can you imagine that? To just be mentioned like that, in a comparison to my idol, was just incredible.
“All I ever did was try to be like Mike Bailey, he is my role model and inspiration, and one of the greatest captains the club has ever had.”
All those interviewed agree on that, but also that Wolves perhaps now have another successor more than worthy of being named in the same conversation.
“As a style of player, the way he carries himself on the pitch, I would say Conor Coady can be compared to Mike,” says Richards.
“Conor is modest and genuine, a quality player who leads by example and you don’t see him getting involved in skirmishes – he is above all that – and that’s exactly how Mike was when he was playing.”
Bailey actually continued for several more years beyond that moment when Daley was moved inside, and also outlasted McGarry, rounding off his playing days in America with Minnesota Kicks before progressing into management, as player-manager with Hereford, then Charlton and Brighton, leading the Seagulls to their highest top-flight finish to date of 13th.
After that spell he was among the names considered for the Molineux hotseat, before the job went to Tommy Docherty, and later worked in Crete before returning to home soil for further footballing forays including scouting for Wolves during Dave Jones’ tenure.
And always, throughout everything, Bailey has remained in close touch with all things Molineux.
For many years he served as Chairman of Wolves’ Former Players Association, was a regular guest of the London Wolves Supporters Club and has attended as many functions as he possibly could, despite the extensive travelling involved.
“We still love to see him,” adds Wharton. Another view echoed by everyone else.
Bailey also wrote a book, ‘The Valley Wanderer’, linking up with lifelong Wolves fan and former headmaster Clive Corbett, for whom the project was the sheer definition of a labour of love.
“Working with a man as respected and admired as Mike – a fabulous player and a talismanic leader – made it an absolute pleasure,” says Corbett.
“He was fiercely competitive on the field, but his hugely laid-back disposition makes him hugely well-liked by former team-mates and opponents alike.
“Quite simply, he is the nicest and most humble person that I have ever met.”
Perfectly put, and even more poignant now.
Bailey’s family – wife Barbara and children Victoria and Andy, who is still a Wolves regular home and away – bravely went public with his diagnosis of dementia 15 months ago to try and raise awareness of the debilitating condition which makes life such a physical and emotional challenge both for the person affected and their loved ones.
His landmark birthday was celebrated with a family gathering, and Richards organised video messages sent from many of his former team-mates.
For them, and the Wolves fans, Bailey’s influence on one of the club’s truly Golden eras is immeasurable.
The 1974 League Cup win, Wolves’ first in the competition, will forever remain in the record books. Part of footballing history. Etched in Molineux consciousness.
And that picture. In the minutes which followed victory, painting a thousand words. Of a proud and honourable man surrounded by those who still, to this day, hold him in such high esteem.
That day, they did it for their skipper just as much as they did it for themselves. And yet their collective success and happiness was probably far more important to him than his own. That is what makes a leader.
Happy birthday Mike.