Terry Wharton took to the stage to talk about Phil Parkes at the recent ‘They Wore The Shirt’ tribute dinner for the popular big keeper at Molineux.
Only thing is, once he started, he just couldn’t stop.
The schedule for the evening’s entertainment, drawn up by organiser Steve Plant and host Steve Saul, pretty much had to be ripped up as Wharton embarked on a fulsome tribute to Parkes – with the usual fair bit of mickey-taking – involving memories of their time at Wolves, chat about their other team-mates, the meaning of life, and plenty more besides.
And the audience. Well, they absolutely loved it.
“That was the first time I had done anything like that,” Wharton, a few weeks on, recalls.
“Just stood up and spoke – normally it is a question and answer session – so when ‘Sauly’ asked me to do it and say a few words about Lofty I wasn’t too sure.
“I told him I’d think of summat to say, but once I got going, everything just came into my brain, and they couldn’t get me off the stage.
“I felt sorry for Jimmy McCalliog who was stood there waiting for his turn, I was going to ask him if he was a bloke waiting for my autograph!
“I had a lot more to say as well – and I would have done if we’d had a bit more time!”
Had he been afforded that luxury, Wharton would probably have carried long into the night if his football career was anything to go by.
He was still playing non-league at the grand old age of 52!
But the fact that he and so many other Wolves favourites ended up settling in Wolverhampton, and can get together for events like the Parkes tribute dinner, is testament to the fact that there are so many special people down the years that remain so proud and privileged to have played for such a special club.
And the humility of those heroes is matched only by the warmth towards them, even now, perhaps even more so now, from the Wolves fans. The love in the room at nights such as those is wonderfully palpable.
“The two Steve’s (Saul and Plant) do a great job and then our own Steve (Daley) is fantastic with organising the golf day when we all get together – I love it,” says Wharton, who turned 79 in July.
“So many of us stayed in the area after finishing and the affection that everyone has for each other, and the fans, is great.
“And one thing I must say is that the lads from the Seventies and Eighties who all had such good careers – as an older player from a few years before they always make me feel so welcome.
“They really respect me both as a player and as a bloke and they never leave me out of anything.
“If I can make it, I will be there, especially now I know I can get up and do a bit of talking as well!”
Wharton was a young winger on the opposite flank to Alan Hinton in his early years after breaking through at Wolves, and after Hinton’s departure formed an equally deadly flank duo with Dave Wagstaffe.
He had arrived at Molineux on the ground-staff as a 16-year-old, thanks in no small part to prolific England striker Tommy Lawton.
Wharton’s father Jackie had already made it in the professional game, also as a winger, for several clubs but chiefly Blackburn Rovers, which included a run to the FA Cup semi-finals.
Jackie had played alongside Lawton as a schoolboy in Bolton, the Wharton’s home town, and having become friends had recommended Terry to him whilst he was manager at Notts County.
Unfortunately however, Lawton lost his job just as Wharton junior was checking in, but shortly afterwards, he had moved on to some scouting for Wolves, and the recommendation thus switched from across the Midlands to Molineux.
Wharton arrived at a Wolves team in the throes of landing the second and third of their League titles, and the 1960 FA Cup, and boasting a glut of excellent wingers who initially provided a formidable barrier against first team progress.
“I think I was in the sixth team when I started out,” Wharton recalls.
“Johnny Hancocks had just finished but Jimmy Mullen was there, and Alan, and other wingers like Mickey Lill, Des Horne, Cliff Durandt and then Waggy a bit later on.
“The first team were winning things when I arrived, the Central League team won their league, the ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams won their leagues, and the two amateur sides won their leagues.
“Competition was strong, it was all a bit daunting to be honest and I remember looking at all those wingers’ names on the noticeboards thinking: ‘What on earth am I doing here’?”
However, Wharton was soon to show that he belonged at Wolves, and that he belonged at the level.
Learning from those around him, from gruelling training sessions involving a lot more running than today, from practice games alongside and against experienced colleagues, from listening to advice and guidance, the ambitious young wideman made progress.
So much so that on November 11th, 1961, almost 60 years ago, the just-turned 19-year-old, made his debut against an Ipswich side who would go on and win the league.
“I found out at training at Castlecroft on the Thursday before the game that I was playing and yes, I was nervous,” Wharton admits.
“I was in digs in Whitmore Reans and remember on the Friday lunchtime going up into town and buying an Elvis (Presley) record – I can’t remember what it was called.
“But what I can remember is that I kept playing at all that Friday night when I couldn’t sleep before the big day!”
It was the champions-in-waiting who were All Shook Up the following afternoon as Wharton joined Hinton on the scoresheet by netting with a rare header as Wolves won 2-0.
As impressive as that debut are Wharton’s powers of recollection throughout the interview for names and matches. They are exemplary, kicking off with the starting line-up for that memorable afternoon.
“Finlayson, Stuart, Harris…Clamp, Slater Flowers…Mason. Murray, Broadbent, Hinton and myself,” he relates.
“That was a great side when you think about it.”
It sure was.
Although, with Wolves losing some of their most talented and experienced players , many who had underpinned their domination of the late Fifties, there was a relegation in 1964/65 followed by a top flight return two years later in what would prove Wharton’s final full season at Molineux.
“We had started to lose some of our experienced players – the likes of Peter (Broadbent) and Ron (Flowers) – and it was about building up again,” Wharton recalls.
“A decent side was then put together for that promotion including the likes of Mike Bailey, the Doog (Derek Dougan) and my mate Dave Wagstaffe – he were a cracker Waggy was.
“We had a great season up there alongside Coventry and got ourselves back up.”
In total Wharton chalked up 242 appearances for Wolves, an excellent goals return of 79 aided and abetted by his unerring accuracy from the penalty spot which saw his only miss come when playing abroad.
The spot kick secret? “Just hit it – pick your corner and don’t change your mind – just hit it.”
There is one particular highlight which continues to stand out from Wharton’s Wolves CV when, in March of 1963, he struck a hat trick in a 7-0 local derby win against West Bromwich Albion.
Not that the boss, the legendary Stan Cullis, let the then 20-year-old show even the tiniest of signs of getting carried away.
“I know a lot of the lads say this but you don’t really appreciate until your career has finished how important some of your achievements were,” Wharton explains.
“How important a hat trick against the Albion was – in those days you saw it as your job, you had to get on the end of chances and make sure you scored some goals.
“I still remember that day, a couple of tap-ins and another from 15 yards, and I remember the Monday which followed as well.
“We usually had Mondays off and would go golfing but the trainer Joe Gardiner told me that the boss wanted to see me on the morning.
“I told Joe that I was due to be playing golf. ‘Bad luck’, he replied.
“I went in having had the headlines in the papers all weekend and Stan just said to me, ‘Terry, I could have scored those three goals’.
“That was Stan, keeping our feet right on the ground, and it worked didn’t it?
“If I was ever told that Stan wanted to see me after training I would feel sick wondering what he wanted and even those experienced players like Ron and Peter – it was the same for them.
“Stan was one of those managers who never gave you praise, he just made sure he kept your feet on the ground all the time you were at the club.”
Cullis isn’t the only Wolves legend with whom Wharton shared plenty of interaction during his time at Molineux.
He was also Billy Wright’s boot boy during his time on the groundstaff.
Wharton must have made an impression, as Wright later revealed he had wanted to sign him when he was Arsenal manager, only for Cullis to unequivocally reject the request.
In later years Wright also asked Wharton to help him judge a beauty contest at Walsall Town Hall with the payment of half a lager and some flowers to take home for his wife for his troubles!
“He was a smashing chap was Bill – really great with me,” is Wharton’s over-riding memory.
His own time with Wolves was destined to come to an end in the latter stages of 1967, only days after he had featured in a 3-2 win over Arsenal.
Wharton felt the fans were starting to turn on him and, in his mid-twenties, it was time for a fresh start.
“Having come through the ranks and played for around six seasons I just felt the crowd was getting at me a little bit,” he explains.
“If I shot wide you would hear the moans and groans but if Derek Dougan missed the target from seven yards he would sink to his knees and they would clap him!
“I just felt it was time to go and I asked for a move but I should never have done it, I should never have left Wolves.
“Especially after how I had gone all the way through, from playing my first game in the amateur league over on the Racecourse to progressing to the first team.
“Wolves fans loved their wingers, and if they had counted assists back then the likes of myself, Alan, Waggy – we’d have had loads!
“That is why I should never have left, and I have always felt with Wolves fans that they know their football.
“If you are having a good time they will praise you and if you are having a bad time they will tell you.
“There are never any excuses, trying to blame it on anything else, they can read the game and even though it affected me in the end, I think that is the right way to be.”
As deadline day approached home town club Bolton showed their hand, and Wharton was despatched for talks at the Crown Hotel in Stone, where he bumped into a player who was considering a swap deal in the other direction.
That player was Francis Lee, who told Wharton he had no desire to join Wolves, although his eventual switch to Manchester City paved the way for the gold and black winger to transfer from one Wanderers to another.
Things were steady if not spectacular back home at Bolton with Wharton afflicted by injuries more than he had been during his career at Molineux.
After a couple of years he moved on to Crystal Palace, where he repeated the feat of both Wolves and Bolton by scoring on his home debut, only this one was a little bit special.
“I chipped Banksy (Gordon Banks) when we played against Stoke at Selhurst Park,” Wharton recalls. He also scored against Peter Shilton. And other international goalkeepers to boot.
A bad injury which forced him onto the sidelines for 12 weeks saw Palace move to sign reinforcements and left Wharton on the move again, this time for a very different experience to play alongside the likes of Johnny Haynes and John ‘Budgie’ Byrne for Durban City out in South Africa.
It wasn’t Wharton’s first taste of football overseas, he had previously been part of the Los Angeles Wolves team which played a summer in the USA, and he thoroughly enjoyed his time with Durban which included scoring the opener in the 1972 South African Cup Final.
“It was lovely out there with the weather,” he recalls.
“You trained for three days a week and they got you a job on top of that and we had some good players out there and won a few trophies.”
On returning from South Africa, Wharton gradually wound down his career with a solitary appearance for Walsall and a handful for Kidderminster Harriers before moving on to the local non-league scene.
He also managed in non-league, including initially as a player/manager with Darlaston Town which was part of a deal which saw him train as a HGV driver with Coopers Road Services in Wednesbury.
From there, working life took him to Lucas Aerospace for 11 years before rounding things off with almost two decades driving a taxi for Central.
There must have been a fair few Wolves fans pleasantly surprised with the identity of their chauffeur!
“Aye I used to drive a lot of Wolves fans around and we’d talk a lot about things,” says Wharton.
“But the thing is, the longer they talked the more the meter was running!
“I always got a good tip off the Wolves fans which was nice.”
Home for Terry and wife Sue is now Brewood, with a quieter pace of life still featuring regular golf – “though not with Phil Parkes” another reference back to his tribute night soliloquy – as well as attending former player events including those of Wolves Former Players’ Association whenever possible.
The humility however has endured, like so many of his contemporaries, and the suggestion that nearly 250 appearances and a raft of goals for Wolves was quite an achievement is met, as we end our conversation, with a fairly laidback rebuttal.
“I don’t think I achieved a lot to be honest, it was just a job wasn’t it?” he replies.
“I was just lucky that I had a job I wanted to do which I loved and I enjoyed every single minute of it.
“I still enjoy it now, I still watch football now, and I think I always will.
“Having said that, the way things went at Lofty’s dinner, you never know, I might just get another career on the stage!”