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As players go, there were none with greater pedigree in the absent years of the mid to late 1980’s as Jon Purdie. Schooled by Arsenal from 15, Jon played in a star-studded youth team in North London encrusted with names such as Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Paul Merson and Michael Thomas. Make no mistake, Jon was an absolute talent. What was against Jon was that he was probably ahead of his time. His preferred number ten role certainly wasn’t favourable in the lower leagues at that time and he often got played where it suited the manager and the team and, least of all, Jon.

As a youngster Jon was hot property. From the age of 12 he was offered professional contracts and he was honest in as much as school went out of the window. “There were clubs from all over interested in signing me,” he says. “Nottingham Forest and Leicester City had shown most interest. I had gone to Forest as a schoolboy and briefly ended up training with the first team and it was just after they had won the European Cup. We never saw much of Brian Clough at the time, but on the day me and my family were there to meet him they were playing Ajax. Forest lost and Cloughie refused to see anybody and that was that.”

Jon had been called up to England schoolboys, and it was there he was spotted by both a Manchester United scout and an Arsenal scout. There was strong interest from North London and the Purdie family were duly invited down for talks. “They spoiled us,” Jon recalls. “We went to Highbury and saw the swooping marble frontage. We stopped in a plush hotel and went to see Cats. I’m not going to lie, it turned my head and I felt wanted.” That was always important to Jon, throughout my interview with him and listening to his story it was evident that stability was paramount to him.

Jon, in his opening line about Arsenal, gave complete honesty.

“I shouldn’t have gone. In hindsight I was living in a big city and I was like a fish out of water. There was little guidance and people didn’t seem to care. I’d left home and the people in the digs didn’t care and I instantly had regrets.”

On the field however, Jon was creating waves. He was playing regularly for the youth team and later on, the reserves. Jon had formed a friendship with ‘champagne’ Charlie Nicholas and was beginning to enjoy the lifestyle off the pitch, maybe a little too much. “Charlie had a Mercedes sports car and I liked the lifestyle as a young impressionable man looking to his peers and I tried to live the champagne lifestyle… on lemonade money. There was a booze culture in the game and I was following the likes of Kenny Sansom and Graham Rix and, as much fun as it was, I wish at the time I did have an arm around me.”

Fast forward six years and Arsenal had won the league in 1989/90 in a thrilling climax to the season with another former teammate Michael Thomas, toe-poking home the winner. “Regrets? Of course I have. There is always thoughts of what might have been, I’m human, I have depth, surely that’s natural? It was partly my fault. I was very homesick and every weekend when I went back home, I really didn’t want to return to London. It was almost a sink-or-swim attitude I’d had to develop. There were mitigating events and circumstances that to protect people, I don’t want to go too deep into, but the main reason was the character-testing as they called it then. Or as I know now, bullying.”

It was a difficult time for Jon. He’d moved away from a loving home whilst still young and without the experience that life gives you had to fend for himself. By his own admission, Jon found football easy but not so much life away from the pitch. “Later on in life it was highly publicised the problems that two former team- mates Tony Adams and Paul Merson had. I’d never have swapped their problems for mine though, I knew how to deal with what I was going through.”

Jon was offered another year at Arsenal. He had been playing regularly in the reserves at 17 and was on the verge of a first team call up, under the then manager, Wolverhampton-born Don Howe. “Myself, Rocky (David Rocastle) and Michael Thomas were hauled before Howe. He offered us the same deal on the same money which was £150 a week first year, £175 second year. It was a take it or leave it deal. I challenged it. I thought it was unfair as I had to pay for digs and the other boys were local, and that was a third of my money gone straight away.”

In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, Jon believes he should have kept quiet as in turn it went against him. “I began to suffer injuries. Initially I had a bad ankle injury and then I did my knee ligaments at Palace. I was out for eight weeks and there was no rehab programme. I was beginning to see that it was coming to its natural end and eventually it went to a vote. Basically, to stay on in the second year there were five of the management team who would take to a vote to seal your fate. I had two yes’s and two no’s, and the casting vote fell to Don Howe who had rarely seen me play. His casting vote was a no and that was the end at Arsenal.”

Jon though, saw this as a new opportunity. “I had a misguided belief that there would be a choice of clubs waiting to sign me, just as there had been when I was a youngster. How wrong could I be?” The two suitors appeared to have one common denominator – they were pot-less. Wolves and Notts County both had Purdie in their sights.

Jon had already had a renaissance with Wolves when he had come to the club as a schoolboy and lasted just two days of a two-week trial. “I’d grown up with memories of Wolves watching Star Soccer. I’d watch Mel Eves, Willie Carr, Kenny Hibbitt and Phil Parkes and was fascinated at how they played. This wasn’t the club that I had watched growing up. I’m not mentioning names, but the coach who was taking the sessions and trial games used to knock off and see his bit of stuff as soon as the whistle blew… and I don’t think he got to see me once!”

When Jon signed professionally at Wolves after the release from Highbury, it was Sammy Chapman who had shown his faith and Jon felt wanted again. “Sammy was a lovely man. I also had a great friendship with his lads who both played for Wolves, Cavan and Campbell. I remember the early training sessions. We would run down to Castlecroft from Molineux which was about three-and-a-half miles. I buddied up with Danny Crainie so I could talk to him about Charlie Nicholas who he’d known from Celtic. The one day we ran to the training ground and there was only a few of us. I was pleased that I thought I was in the leading pack till a public bus came past and I saw all the lads on it waving at us!”

It was, though, a real apprenticeship to life for Jon. Gone was the mighty Arsenal where your kit was laid on, freshly laundered and pressed, to an absolute free-for-all on the puddle-soaked dressing room floors of Molineux where you would scramble for socks with no holes in and the rest of your kit you’d have to wash yourself. “It wasn’t what I’d seen on Star Soccer! Stands were closed, the club was in disarray, the Bhatti brothers who owned the club were nowhere to be seen but Sammy Chapman was doing a great job under the circumstances. He would be out every night of the week scouting at local games for talent who could improve our squad. None of this was Sammy’s fault, he was a great manager.”

Jon was rewarded for his efforts with £100 per week, £100 appearance money, £80 for a win and £40 for a draw. I joked with him that I bet he wanted to win and draw all games. “It was important I played, as if I did it was double money for your appearance bonus. I had a young family who I had to support and a mortgage.”

Off the pitch Sammy was still foraging the local leagues for the next superstar. Sammy had unearthed Neil Edwards from local Oldswinford so he knew the players were out there.

He had also found targets at local club Kidderminster Harriers, a side that would, in the end, be close to Jon’s heart, but the players were earning more playing part-time than they would have at Wolves full-time so the search proved fruitless.

I reminded Jon of Chorley. Jon hadn’t played in the first game, or the replay but made an appearance in the second replay when Wolves lost 3-0, reaching their lowest ebb. Jon had played through the pain barrier with a cortisone injection and wasn’t fit. When I asked him what he remembered about the game, he replied swiftly: “Nothing.”

Jon had once again succumbed to bonding off the pitch and became a founder member of the infamous ‘Tuesday Club’. ‘There was me, Micky Holmes and Dean Edwards who set the ball rolling. We’d have the Wednesday off to recover, so on the Tuesday we’d go to Kipps’ in the town, the Mermaid or sometimes Rockies. As it was different drinking hours, at 3pm we would go to the local pool club who kept serving so we’d always get a drink. Then it was Thursday training.”

The Tuesday club evolved. It became more popular and more people were getting involved including some of the senior crew. “Ally Robertson took it to the next level.

Ally introduced us to Birmingham which was a whole new adventure. Ally would be there in his Porsche with his private plate and we would pretend we had money. It was the next best thing.”

It was widely reported that in the late Eighties Graham Turner would receive phone calls and letters, usually by about the Friday, of the previous Tuesday Club’s shenanigans. Graham though would often turn a blind eye as on the pitch Wolves were doing the business so the phone calls fell simply on deaf ears.

Jon and company started a lucrative business away from the pitch. At a time when the players’ bars were a popular post-game meeting point, at all times they needed to be kept well stocked. Jon recalls: “We used to go down to Blakemore’s near Chapel Ash and do a booze run. We would then sell it in the players’ bar for a tidy gain and any profits at the end of the year were reinvested into a kitty for the Christmas bash.” That business opportunity had a limited window, as the players’ bars of today are as dry as the Sahara.

As we sat with our wine, Jon explained. “I loved my time at Wolves. Even though in the first year we got relegated I played some of my best football. I knew though my days were numbered under Graham Turner. Graham laid it out in black and white to me. He drew a line across a white board and said, ‘that’s where I need you to be every week, seven out of ten. You are either a nine or a five, that’s no good to me’.

Jon is honest as the day is long. “I was never the most hard working. I was skilful, I liked to make a difference to games, but tracking back, defending and getting stuck in just wasn’t me.” Asked about his best position Jon replied, “right wing, left wing, centre forward. I was good with both feet and loved to play out on the left to cut in onto my right.” He then paused. “I think my best position was substitute.” That was Jon all over.

Jon was cup-tied for the 1988 Sherpa Van Trophy Final which may well have been his golden hour and sadly didn’t play quite enough games to obtain a Fourth Division League winners’ medal. “I’d played in the League Cup two-legged tie at Manchester City away. We’d won 2-1 at Maine Road. I played well and Robbie (Dennison) and Bully scored. I played better against better teams as the games were more open. For the second leg at Molineux I turned up early to see that I’d been omitted from the squad. No explanation, no nothing. I was quite upset, I didn’t stay, I just walked home. That was the beginning of the end really.”

A few weeks later Wolves entertained Cambridge where he got speaking to his old physio who was on the staff there. Jon procured a move to Cambridge, a deal was struck the next day and Jon went there on loan. “I just had to get away. I wanted to play football and Cambridge could offer that. I played in a Sherpa Van Trophy tie in an early round that got me cup-tied so once back at Wolves I had to miss the later rounds and the final.

“A few days before the game, we had gone to Lilleshall for a first-team against reserves game. I wasn’t in either side. Infact I’d been put on the bench for the first team as apparently they didn’t want me playing against the first team and embarrassing anybody. A coach who I won’t name turned to me and said – ‘well I thought you wanted to be in the first team, now’s your chance’. That was the end for me.”

Jon then left the rat race and joined the other team in the boat race signing for Oxford before spells at Brentford and Shrewsbury prior to dropping into non- league. “It was my choice,” Jon said. “I’d played under some great managers in the league – Steve Perryman and Mark Lawrenson – but at 23 I was losing my love for football. The whole situation was unsettling and unstable and I didn’t want to become a lower-league journeyman.

“I played some of my best football under Graham Allner at Kidderminster. We had great cup runs and I was enjoying my football. I’d also become an accomplished salesman outside of football so I was enjoying playing again. I was earning more money outside of football which took the pressure off of winning your next contract and your future always being in somebody else’s hands.”

Jon retired at 33. A total of eight knee operations had taken its toll and in the end the decision was made for him. Jon then told me of his void throughout his football career. “I craved stability, not each year or every few months having to prove my worth for a new contract. I was dedicated and set my heart on being a professional footballer till I became one. Did I want it bad enough? I don’t know, maybe not. In the end I did have regrets. I didn’t make the most of my ability and at times I simply wasn’t dedicated enough.” Jon was clearly his own biggest critic and his greatest strength was that he always remained true to himself.

For Jon, life was never far away from theatre off the pitch. A story Jon recalls fondly is the sheer simplicity and naivety of those days. “When I was at Wolves I lived in digs just off the Tettenhall Road in nearby Clark Road. I wasn’t driving at the time so I used to walk across the West Park to get to games and mingle with the supporters. It was quite incredible really as you would end up in general chatter with them and they would be giving their opinion on what the team would be for the game and what they thought the score might be… and talk to me like I was a Wolves fan. They didn’t know I was playing!”

Jon continues, ever honestly. “There was a back story of me walking to the stadium. I’d lost my licence and when I went to court, to save the embarrassment in the media, I told them I was unemployed. Technically it wasn’t a lie as to be honest, shortly after… I was!”

Once Jon had regained his licence, on the rare occasion he would travel in style to the game it didn’t always go to plan. “I was coming back from yet another injury and was down to play a game in the reserves on a Tuesday evening to prove my fitness for the Saturday game. I made the long journey to the Molineux by car which was about three-quarters-of-a-mile from my home just off the Compton Road and I had a red VW Polo, which was about 15 years old.

“I got to the lights on Waterloo Road and the car decided not to move anymore. I had to abandon the car and walked to the ground which in hindsight would probably have been quicker in the first place. Greg Fellows, who was the youth team manager at the time, offered a helping hand and used the youth team minibus to tow my pride and joy to Molineux so that I could deal with it the next day.

“At half time, Greg rushes into the dressing room and said, ‘Purds, Purds I got to your car but the fire brigade had got there before me’.” Maybe a subliminal message that Jon’s time at the club was soon to come to an end, but he rightfully played his part.

Jon returned to Wolves in 2010 as an academy coach but the ruthless nature of the job, shattering young players’ dreams was too much to handle for someone who had been on the receiving end of the same pain.

It was, simply, too close to his heart and may have been reopening raw wounds. With over 100 games for Wolves at a time where his flair may have gone un- noticed, Jon certainly played his part in the lighting of the flame during the earlydays of the resurrection of our great club.

Jason Guy, Always Wolves Fan TV


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