Bobby Gould: 'I'd have broken my grandma's leg to score'
Winning the FA Cup with the Crazy Gang, managing Wales, run-ins with Sir Alex and advice from Cloughie – Bobby Gould's unconventional autobiography is a torrent of warring and scoring. Phil Shaw meets Bobby Gould
Sunday 03 October 2010
Bobby Gould was watching cricket from the balcony at Taunton while chatting to the former Australia and Somerset batsman Justin Langer. A text message arrived. "You've just been on TV," it read. "Only one of you is talking and it's not Justin. You're boring him senseless."
Gould is many things – a 200-goal striker with 10 clubs, manager of Wales, and of Wimbledon when the "Crazy Gang" lifted the FA Cup, word-mangling radio pundit and author of an entertaining new autobiography. Yet boring he isn't.
To ask the 64-year-old anything about his half-century in football is to unleash a torrent of anecdotes. One minute he is explaining why Wales' new caretaker manager Brian Flynn is ideal for the role, even though Gould fired him. The next he is recounting dragging the curtains down on top of himself as Trevor Brooking's overnight guest. "Boogaloo", as Sir Trevor was known at West Ham because of a resemblance to a baseball player of that nickname, was "useless at DIY".
His reminiscences highlight a blend of passion and quirkiness. One concerns Gould's stint as assistant to manager Mike Bailey at Hereford. "We were desperate for a goal-scorer. I put my hand over the names in Rothmans Yearbook so we'd just see the appearances and goals," he says. "I did page after page. Finally I said, 'Found one'. Mike said, 'Move your hand'. It was me."
Gould was noted for his finishing if not his finesse. "I'd have broken my grandmother's leg to score. An appalling statement, but that's how important it was to me." Starting with his home-town team, Coventry City, where he revered manager Jimmy Hill, then at Arsenal, Wolves, West Ham and West Brom, his "predatory instinct" guided him into the path of crosses or shots coming back off the goalkeeper.
Ah, goalies. He "detested" them (although son Jonathan would play there for Celtic and Scotland). "I always tried to upset the keeper in the first 10 minutes with a shoulder charge. They'd spend the next 80 wondering 'where's that little bastard?' rather than concentrating on the ball."
Early in a 1969 game, he provoked Gary Sprake into a left hook that decked Gould and sparked a free-for-all between the Arsenal and Leeds players. "He got the ball, I nailed him and he hit me like there was no tomorrow. We were both just booked. The funny thing was that on TV, Jimmy Hill said, 'I don't think Sprake connected with him'. I went up to the telly with a fat lip saying, 'What's this then?' But if you gave it, you had to take it."
Entering management with Bristol Rovers in 1981, one of the managers he rang for advice was Brian Clough. "Cloughie said, 'First, make sure you get your backroom team right, from the coaches to the kit manager. Second, it's Mr Clough to you. Bye-bye'. He was my mentor. I once asked him to bring Nottingham Forest for a charity game. He did it on condition that our physio gave him a foot massage!"
After his first match, Gould, an "emotional person", sat in his office and burst into tears. "I'd always been one of the lads. Suddenly I realised how lonely management was going to be." Back at Coventry in the top flight, he assembled – mainly from the lower divisions – the majority of the side who would win the FA Cup under John Sillett and George Curtis in 1987. A year later his Wimbledon team stunned all-conquering Liverpool to win the trophy themselves.
For the semi-final against Luton Town, they arrived in a mini-bus driven by Gould and in private cars, throwing White Hart Lane's jobsworths into a tizz. Forty-eight hours before the final he took the players to Wembley. "I winked at the groundsman and said 'You going for a cuppa?' He went 'OK'. We had a little match and when the game came they felt at home."
The shock result stemmed, he argues, from Wimbledon's indomitable spirit, tactical flexibility and "ultra-professionalism" rather than their fabled craziness. "The biggest thing was the squad's inner belief that we could win. After Luton I said: 'We ain't changing for anyone. We're gonna play long-ball football because that's what we do well.'
"Then on the Friday afternoon, (coach) Don Howe suggested switching Dennis Wise from the left wing to the right to double up with Clive Goodyear on John Barnes. It worked a treat. Later I looked out of my office at Plough Lane. It was 5 o'clock. Two of the lads were still practising penalties with Dave Beasant. He saved one in the final."
The Dons celebrated their triumph in a marquee on their pitch. Gould was dancing with long-suffering wife Marjorie when he felt a tap on the shoulder. It was striker Terry Gibson's mother, demanding to know why he had taken her boy off.
During four years in charge of Wales, the unconventional style which served him well at Wimbledon now drew hostile coverage. The scrutiny was intense. "The media branded me a Muppet because I took the players to Usk prison. So I turned up at a press conference wearing a piggy mask."
Manchester United's habit of withdrawing Ryan Giggs from friendlies was a persistent problem. Gould met Alex Ferguson to seek an understanding. Some time later, as he drove across the Severn Bridge, Fergie rang to give him the "hairdryer" treatment. He mimes holding the phone a yard away, but a 4-0 rout by Italy at Bologna in 1999 tipped him over the edge. "I'd taken a battering psychologically. My personality changed. So I told the players 'I'm walking'. I think there was mutual respect in the end."
Whether or not that was true, he endorses former Under-21s coach Flynn, whose first match is against Bulgaria in Cardiff on Friday. "I sacked him," he remembers. "He was still managing Wrexham and I felt he couldn't do two jobs at once. I acted in Wales' interests. It was no reflection on his ability. He's the right man to take over; he knows every senior and youth player. I'd also recommend he brings in Giggsy, Chris Coleman and John Hartson to help."
Forthright opinions and a pleasing tendency not to echo the commentator make Gould a distinctive summariser on TalkSport. Yet he is probably better known for what he confesses is "gobbledegook"; hence John Motson's "shepherdskin coat", Dirk Kuyt becoming "Dick Van Dyke" and a keeper playing "like a rabbit in the headlines". He added: "Marge reckons I get over-excited and that's when the words come out funny. But this weekend I've got Sunderland v Man United. I must be doing something right."
The eternal enthusiast trekked to Cornwall in midweek to claim the first copy of his book to come off the printing press. Although full of ups and downs, warring and scoring, it is essentially the story of "a lucky man".
"I have a wonderful wife and live in a lovely house by the Severn, looking over to Wales. When I go running, people shout: 'Hey Gouldy! Heard you on the radio. You were crap'." And that, the hearty laugh tells you, is always better than boring.
24 Carat Gould (Thomas Publications, £15.99) is published on Thursday
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