TALES FROM THE TAPE
STEVE DALEY - THE MAINE MAN
In typical Steve Daley ‘self-deprecating’ style, he told me his story. We were at The Mount Hotel and Steve, unlike when at Maine Road, was in brilliant form. I couldn’t help think that his story was tinged with a regretful undertone with his quick-witted humour masking the pain of what had happened all those years ago.
Steve has made a fantastic living as being one of the best after-dinner speakers on the circuit for many years. If you got to see him tell his tale you were one of the lucky ones. If you missed it this will be the next best thing.
I introduced Steve on the podcast with a well-rehearsed spiel that I had done many times at the dinners. The intro, written by Steve, tears him to shreds. Then he responds: ”I didn’t think I was that good!”
Born in Barnsley, Steve had big shoes to fill. His father was a professional with Coventry and his brother with Sheffield Wednesday and I joked that he must have got his football talent from his mother! It was taken in good jest, but the reality was that Steve would be the very best of them all.
“As soon as I could walk I was kicking a ball, but I never really mastered it! My Dad was secretary of the local working men’s club, Cudworth West End. I was 15 and he asked me if I fancied a game. I was playing against big men in their 30’s and I scored 46 goals in my first season and my brother played too. It was my brother who phoned local side Wath Wanderers, a feeder club to Wolves, to come and watch me. I scored three or four on that Sunday and on the Monday morning I was down at Molineux for a trial.”
The initial month’s trial turned into three months for a young Steve Daley and he made a big impression. “I don’t think anybody knew I was there!” he joked “Most of the time was spent tidying the first team dressing room and cleaning Mike Bailey’s boots. I ended up at Wolves for nearly ten years and I was one of Bill McGarry’s first signings.”
Steve would eventually play under Sammy Chung and John Barnwell too but it was McGarry who instilled principles that would last him a lifetime. “He was a disciplinarian and he gave me principles that I adhered to throughout my life. If you did wrong he would come down on you like a ton of bricks. He didn’t want you to like him, just respect him. I remember, some years after I had finished playing I was walking the dogs in Codsall and a car pulled up. ‘Hello Stephen.’ It was Bill McGarry. I called him boss and he told me that he wasn’t my boss anymore and just to call him Bill. I said: ‘I can’t, you’ll always be boss to me.’”
That respect was mutual and on October 9th 1971 Steve made his full league debut against Southampton scoring the fourth goal in a 4-2 win. “On the Friday, Sammy Chung told me to train with the first team lads and to tell my parents to come down as I was probably going to be playing on the Saturday. Southampton had a good side. They had Brian O’Neil and a real bruiser of a player, John McGrath. They weren’t known as a footballing side and were really physical.”
Steve Daley was given a warm welcome to the world of professional football and there was no better person to introduce him to the game than Southampton hard-man McGrath. “Early on in the game I went past him and I crossed the ball and ‘The Doog’ (Derek Dougan) headed it over the bar. I got a good reaction from the crowd and there was also a reaction as if somebody had been hurt. I turned round to see that John McGrath had still carried on his slide-tackle to demolish an advertising hoarding. Anyway, I had to get back to defend the goal kick and John McGrath is waiting for me. Clearly he wants a word.”
Steve’s voice began to break. The Southampton stopper had a few words of wisdom for the Wolves whippersnapper. The conversation went something like this:
John McGrath: “Listen ‘ere you. You try and get past me again and I’m going to break both of your legs just below the kneecap.”
Steve Daley: “You’ve got to catch me first pal.”
John McGrath: “Consider yourself caught. You ain’t gonna finish the game today mate.”
Steve Daley: “I’m a young man coming into the game, you’re an old man going out. I’ll still be playing when you finish.”
John McGrath: “There is a hospital bed in Wolverhampton and it’s got your name on it. You’ll be on traction for six months and fed through a drip.”
At this point Steve knew that John meant what he said and he was about to feel the full force of these words. “Phil Parkes threw a great ball to Derek Parkin. He controlled it and pinged a great ball to me on the left wing. The full back has tried to close me down really quickly and I’ve knocked it inside him… and seen John McGrath coming towards me.”
Steve then paused and took a gulp of fresh air before he continued. “I’ve overhit the ball which was unlike me, and the ball is now closer to John McGrath then is it to me and I’ve got to make a quick decision. I can either go through and take him on again. I can back off and let him take the ball away or I can close my eyes, go in full belt and if he gets hurt…then bad luck.”
John made the decision for him. “I woke up on a stretcher lay next to the goals with Chungy (Sammy Chung) asking me how many fingers he was holding up?! I said, ‘what’s up Sammy, has he hit you as well’?”
Steve bedded into the Wolves side like a perfectly fitting glove and he was in and amongst some real 70’s superstars. The word ‘legend’ is used too often in football now but this Wolves team was amok with names that are ingrained into our memories. “What a player Mike Bailey was,” says Steve. “He was brilliant. I don’t think he was appreciated as much as he should have been. He would always encourage those around him and it took them years to replace him.
“Frank Munro was incredible. If the opposition’s goalkeeper had the ball on a goal kick or out of his hands Frank would always say to the centre forward, ‘I’m going to nut you right in the back of the head when that ball comes down here mate, as soon as that ball’s in the air I’m coming for you’. The centre forward would go to head it and end up ducking and Frank would duck and let it go back through to Lofty. That would happen four or five times a game. He came to us as a midfielder. He had such control of the ball and was always so cool even under pressure.”
The plaudits were raining in. “The most elegant full back I’ve ever seen is Derek Parkin. His appearance record will never be beaten – 609 appearances – no chance!” Derek was one you wanted on your side. “When John McGrath whacked me Derek told me that if he comes down this left hand side, to let him go and he would see to him. That’s how the game was then. The top pros would always look after you and it gave me so much confidence knowing they had my back.”
There were two other players who are still great friends to this day with their good mate whom they affectionately know as ‘Dales’. “Kenny Hibbitt and Willie Carr. Wow. The 1976/77 promotion season saw all three of us be virtually ever present in the team and we were all in double figures on goals. That’s nearly 40 goals from midfield alone!
“The first time I had properly spoke to Willie was on the coach going to an away game and he was trying to put his overnight bag on the overhead rack. Well, his 5ft 6’ frame kept throwing it up and it would fall back down. It would be thrown up again and come back down as he couldn’t reach. I offered to put it up for him and when I had done it, asked if that was ok? He said that he wasn’t happy… ‘well, which one are you then?’, I asked him.”
A joke was never out of reach for Dales and he always had a quick-witted answer tucked up his sleeve. “I used to be really buoyant in the dressing room and never shut up before a game. Kenny and Willie would be sat quietly reading the programme and I’d be bouncing off the walls!” Funny that Steve.
Steve earned himself the nickname ‘The Daley Express’. A goal scored in just 18 seconds against Ferencvaros in the UEFA Cup semi-final crowned him the fastest ever goalscorer in Wolves’ European history. “Waggy (Dave Wagstaffe) was injured and Bill McGarry put me out on the left wing. We kicked off, the Doog passed it off, the ball found its way to Alan Sunderland who played it down the line and then it came straight across to me. It beat everybody and I never even thought about what I was going to do and just hit it first time and fortunately it went in the bottom corner.”
Big match players get big moves and on the 5th September, 1979, Malcolm Allison parted with £1,437,500, to set a British record transfer fee at the time which in 2019 was reported to be the equivalent to over £60,000,000. That wasn’t all that Malcolm parted with as he depleted the great City team of the 1970’s to get his man.
Steve spoke truthfully, holding nothing back about his ill-fated move to Manchester City in which the fee hung around his neck like a lead weight. “Malcolm Allison signed me and I was assured that they wouldn’t be selling any players. If I’d have known he’d have to sell the club’s best players to get the transfer through, I wouldn’t have signed. They sold Gary Owen, Asa Hartford, Peter Barnes and Mick Channon who were all internationals so it was always going to be an uphill battle.” True to form, it was.
“We played Halifax in the FA Cup. We were in the First Division and they were struggling in the Fourth Division and I don’t think they had won a game all season. They beat us 1-0 and with 15 minutes to go I looked over to the bench and saw Malcolm Allison holding up a board with ‘11’ on it. I thought to myself, ‘we must be playing bad, he’s fetching us all off’. I had left a fantastic midfield at Wolves and thought I was to be signing for a fantastic midfield at City. The team was ripped apart and the player that got signed for the most money people understandably expected things from and they pointed the finger.”
All the fingers and eyes were on Steve Daley. I asked Steve as to why it was such an obscure amount of money and not a flat 1.5 million. “I don’t know…I’m still paying it back!”
The return on City’s investment wasn’t great. Four goals in just 53 appearances for a man who had signed a whopping, record and bank-breaking ten-year contract and he certainly wasn’t reliving the form and promise he had shown at Wolves. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It may have been the pressure but it wasn’t just about what was going on, on the field but off the field too. It was an incredible situation and I can joke about it now but at the time it was frightening.”
The move and mood took a serious turn. “I had death threats. I had mail coming to my house telling me that if I didn’t leave Manchester I wouldn’t see my 27th birthday. I even got threatened that my kids would be kidnapped. To be honest, at the time they were playing up so it wouldn’t have been a bad thing!” Even in the face of this adversity Steve always tried to raise a smile and crack a joke to detract from the gravity of the situation. “Manchester City had got nothing to do with this. I’m just glad there wasn’t social media back in those days…I wouldn’t look as young as I do now!”
Steve was still bemused by the offerings from City. “I signed a ten-year contract which I believe is still a record to this day. They haven’t done it since as they saw what happened with mine!” City felt sure that they had to secure their investment hence the decade deal, but he was never going to see it out.
During my research I watched a documentary from the 70’s which is still available on YouTube, aptly named ‘City’. The footage centres around Steve Daley and you can see the weight of the world on his shoulders and the pressure was evident. “There is nobody more disappointed than me that it didn’t work out. The abuse I was getting in the press was disgusting and it wouldn’t have mattered where I was in the country they’d have followed me. When I made my first appearance for City we lost 1-0 to Southampton. I’d already enquired if John McGrath was playing before the game! The abuse from the fans was disgraceful too. What struck me first…was a meat pie! So at least I got a pre-match meal. The fans were throwing pennies at me and saying that’s all you are worth Daley.”
The move was bittersweet for both Steve and Wolves. Three days later, the money had burnt a hole in the pockets of the club and they signed Andy Gray and went on to win the League Cup in 1980 with Gray grabbing the winner. “I went to do a corporate lounge at City recently for a game against Wolves. There were 400 people in the room and when I walked through the door I got a standing ovation. I told them that it’s a pity they didn’t do that in 1979! I also told them that they never expected to be paying to see me again!” Ever the joker.
It wasn’t just at City where there were disappointments. Whilst at Wolves, Steve was an unused substitute in both legs of the 1971/72 UEFA Cup Final in an all-British affair against Tottenham Hotspur. “I was still learning my trade at the time and Bill McGarry kept telling me I was going to be a player! He told me he had to play the experienced players and that Mike Bailey was his captain and his main man. It was disappointing but I understood and when you are a young man you think that these times will happen again.”
Steve may have gone on to cost City millions, but he saved Wolves a fortune too! “We played in Dublin in a friendly. Mike Bailey was injured so he put me in the middle of the park. After the game he said ‘well done son you have just saved me a quarter of a million pounds. I don’t need to buy a midfield player now, I’ve got you’. Bill
McGarry never praised players openly so for him to say that meant the world to me. I remember a game against Burnley one time and Kenny (Hibbitt) scored and he just nodded his head at him. Whenever he praised you, you felt ten feet tall!”
Steve hadn’t been banking on Halifax to become his bogey side. “I came on as sub against Halifax in the second round of the League Cup during the 1973/74 cup winning season and that was my only appearance in the competition. I was disappointed not to play in the final but I remember the words from Bill McGarry. We had just got on the coach and he told me that he thought Mike Bailey was going to be fit for the final. If he is, then I wouldn’t be playing. He told me that Mike was a lot older than me and this could be his last chance at Wembley. Bill knew exactly what Mike could do and the influence he had on the team. He finished by telling me I had a long career ahead of me and I had every chance of going back to Wembley.”
Well, Bill McGarry wasn’t wrong. “He was dead right…we won the Daily Express five-a- side at The Empire Pool Wembley!” I asked Steve if that was the only thing he’d ever won. “Well I haven’t got a trophy cabinet!” came the reply.
Then there was the small matter of the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal at Villa Park. A dream so close yet so quickly taken away. “To make it worse Alan Sunderland scored one of the goals. A few of the players were in tears after the game. We knew that they were a good side but we were extremely proud of the fact we had started the competition in the first round and got that far.”
There would be no silverware at City neither, nor a silver lining. I asked Steve if he had any regrets? “It gave me an unbelievable character and it taught me about life and what people can be like.” Steve always found the positive from the negative and he became one of the best after-dinner speakers in the country after his career had finished. “I turned it around and went into speaking and I won soccer speaker of the year three years in a row.” I playfully reminded Steve that he had been voted ‘football’s biggest waste of money’ two years in a row too. “See, I did win something! I’ve stopped doing the after-dinners now. I was a speaker longer than I was a player – funny that!”
Wolves fans were lucky, that two of their idols, Steve Daley and Steve Kindon, were widely regarded as two of the finest football after-dinner speakers in the UK. “Kindo (Steve Kindon) helped me along the way and I have a lot to thank him for,” says Daley. “I was on the circuit for nearly 20 years and I am a motivational speaker now, speaking in schools, colleges, football clubs and prisons. I think it’s very important to speak about the low points in my career now due to mental health and breaking the stigma that surrounds it.”
Those dark days, that he has since made a post-football career out of in laughing off the scrutiny he received, had impacted heavily on Steve. “Part of the presentation is to show the newspaper cuttings about me being the biggest waste of money in football history. One manager at Manchester City, who will remain nameless, said I was the biggest baby he had ever met in his life and also said that I wasn’t fit to be a father and that I didn’t treat my fellow professionals like I should. I went around the dressing room the next day and not one of the players agreed with the comments.” This, you would hope simply wouldn’t be allowed to happen today. It was a cruel lesson for Steve and a sad state of affairs.
Things happen for a reason. Maybe Steve wouldn’t have had the self-deprecating approach that lent itself perfectly to his after-dinner routine had these abhorrent incidents not taken place.
He had to leave City and create a bit of space from Manchester and the Atlantic Ocean provided just that distance. “I had to leave the country. America was the perfect place. Nobody is going to try and swim and catch me are they?” Steve signed for Seattle Sounders for a reported £300,000, so City did at least get some money back. “It might have been dollars Jase,” Steve joked. “I think it was two dollars to the pound back then too!
“Seattle got a bargain let me tell you! I was playing without the pressure of that situation but still had to perform and it was brilliant. Alan Hinton was the manager and we had got to the Soccerbowl Final against the New York Cosmos. We had big Joe Corrigan in goal. Ray Evans, David Nish, Bruce Rioch, Peter Ward, Kenny Hibbitt and myself. It was a great team but one of the rules was that you had to have four American players on the pitch at any one time. I was there for two-and-a-half years and loved every bit of it.”
Steve played against all the greats who had travelled to the States to sample ‘Soccer’, American style. “I played against Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Neeskens. I didn’t play against Pele but he spoke to me once. He said ‘excuse me’, so I let him past!
After playing against Franz Beckenbauer I asked him if there was any chance I could have his shirt after the game. When we were coming off the pitch I asked him again and he started to take his shirt off and he asked me for mine. I asked him if he needed it to wash the car with or something? He told me that he knew who I was as I had cost huge money and then we went and had a beer in the bar.”
I told Steve that if you go into Franz Beckenbauer’s house now, legend has it that there is a shirt adorning the wall with Daley emblazoned on it. Steve replied: ‘Yes a Derby County shirt with Gerry Daly on the back!”
It was a family affair in America. “All of the family had come over with me and we all loved our time there and it was a great time in our lives and very educational too for the kids. I then came back to Burnley just for a season then went back out to San Diego for another two years.”
We then hit a sour note when Steve told me a compelling story about what had happened to his UEFA Cup Final medal which in Steve’s words was, “the only thing I ever won, and I lost that!”. Steve continued. “While we were over in America, I went to pick my lad Ryan up from school and it was ‘show and tell’ day where they had to take something into school to show what their Dad did and tell the story. Well, Ryan had taken in my UEFA Cup Final medal and when I went to pick him up from school he was crying. I asked him what was up and he told me that somebody had pinched the medal. He was in bits, sobbing. I just said to him, ‘let’s go home’. I’ve never seen the medal to this day.”
Steve then completely killed the moment with his off-the-wall humour. “Then when I got home I had a right go at him for losing it!”
Steve has an amazing and special relationship with his family and they are still very close to this day, in proximity too, only living a few miles apart. “When Ryan first saw my motivational speaking slides, he asked ‘did you really go through that Dad’? It really upset him.” This was a journey the whole family went on.
“I’ve had a great career, a great life and I have a fantastic family,” he says. Steve ended his professional career at Walsall, by pure default. “I came back from America and went to see the Port Vale manager, John Rudge. They were playing Walsall in a friendly at Fellows Park and after the game John just disappeared. I saw Garry Pendrey and he asked what I was doing there. I told him that I was meant to be signing for Port Vale and he told me not to move and stay put!
“He brought back Alan Buckley and I signed for Walsall within 15 minutes. I loved it there. Alan was the best manager I played for throughout my career and as a man- manager he was excellent. To be honest, I think they thought they were signing my namesake Gerry Daly so I had to get the lads in the dressing room to call me Gerry every time the chairman walked in!”
Steve’s story had left its mental scars and physical ones too. “When I walk through an airport now, it bleeps. My right knee is metal, my left knee is metal and the lights flash on and off when I get near the machine. Last time it happened, the guy who was searching me told me that he had a bit of pain in his knee too. I told him I was the patient, not the surgeon!” Never a dull ache or a dull moment.
Steve, to this day, is still welcomed back at Molineux with open arms and despite being Barnsley born he has made Wolverhampton his home.
“When my grandson Joe was little, he asked if I could get him to be a mascot at one of the Wolves games. I said Joe, leave it with me and I’ll speak to Sir Jack (Hayward). So I rang Sir Jack and he told me it wouldn’t be a problem. Infact he had the fixtures in front of him. ‘Two weeks Saturday Steve, we are playing Manchester City’,” he said. I said, ‘No Sir Jack, please don’t do that, not that game, any other game but not that one’!” Sir Jack kindly saved the blushes of the Daley family and young Joe duly got his opportunity to be a mascot, but not between two of his grandad’s former clubs!
All good things come to an end. I know Steve well and he had been there for me during a particularly difficult time of my life. I thanked Steve personally for being the first person to call me after my wife had died. We were both naturally in tears on the phone call. “I need to thank you for answering that call Jase,” he says. Steve has since given up his time freely for the charity on many occasions helping raise thousands of pounds.
He really is one in a 1.437 million!