Following our successful interview with Kenny Burns at the end of last year, here is our 2nd interview with a former Blues legend – this time Joe Gallagher. Along with Kenny, Joe was one of my heroes in the ’70s.
I was chatting with Joe for nearly an hour, and I found him to be a really friendly person who clearly is still fond of the club.
The article is a little long, but I didn’t feel there was a logical break so I have published it all in one go unlike Kenny’s interview.
I hope you enjoy it.
I started the interview by asking Joe how he arrived at the Blues from Merseyside.
I played at school, and was lucky enough to play for the U11’s Liverpool Schoolboys and played in Penny Lane. I progressed through the aged teams, I was selected for the Liverpool Schoolboys U15’s and played in the England Trophy final, the schoolboys equivalent to the FA Cup. During the 1st leg against East London at South Liverpool’s ground, the Birmingham scout asked if I would like to sign for the Blues – and as a 14 year old I jumped at it. A few months later, Don Dormon sent a one way train ticket for me to get the train from Lime Street to New Street.
Don met me at the station in 1970. I had holes in my shoes, holes in the back of my trousers and he took me up to St Andrews. I was totally in awe at coming to a big football club like the Blues. I was on trial for a couple of weeks and then I was signed as an apprentice. You were an apprentice from 15, which was my school leaving age, for 2 years up to 17. If you are good enough and are wanted – you are signed as a professional at 17. Thankfully it went well for me, and Freddie Goodwin signed me on my 17th birthday.
Tell us about the youth side, were you in the same youth side as Kenny Burns, (Kenny spoke very fondly about the side)?
Yes I was. Ken and Trevor are about a year older than me. They were a fantastic side. Kenny, Trevor and many other really good players. We through most stages of the Youth Cup but knocked out at the quarter final stage at Highbury by Arsenal. But a great side, and many great memories.
The 1972 promotion year was the year I discovered the Blues, what was your memory of that year?
It was just before I broke into the first team. However I was at the ground and have great memories of us getting promoted. There were some great players too Trevor, Roger Hynd Dave Robinson.
So back to you, what a 17th birthday present!
I know, I look back now and think it was just fantastic. Signing for Birmingham, a big professional club, as an apprentice and then as a professional was a dream come true – something that any lad would love.
You made your debut for the 1st team at 18, tell us a bit about that
Yes it was down at Arsenal. I think we lost the game 1-0. Liam Brady made his debut, who went onto to be one of the great Arsenal and Ireland players. It was a great memory and a great privilege that I made my debut in the same game.
Did you become a regular fairly quickly?
Yes, although Freddie was very protective of his younger players – as we saw with Trevor. He played him and then left him out. Trevor was so good, the manager wanted to play him – but left him out from time to protect him. I was in the team pretty regularly and was captain at 19.
In those early days, who did you look to of the experienced players, to learn from?
Roger Hynd was in the position that I would eventually take. He was a big older player – a thorough professional. Freddie always took the team to the St Johns Hotel in Solihull before the game, and I was always in the same room as Roger – the same with the away games. The reason was so I could learn from Roger of how to be a a professional. Not just football, but the way he behaved, what he ate, what he drank etc. To be honest it did have a big impact on me, and I did take on a lot of this as a professional.
I guess when you leave home at that age, you need help
Yes absolutely. Just before I came to Birmingham, I went on holiday with the school and I got really homesick. I ran away to go home with a mate, and the Police came and found us and took us back. A few months later when I came to St Andrews, my brothers wondered if I could cope. But I did take to it, but the input from Roger really helped that to be honest.
You played for the club over 300 times scored 20 or so goals. What was your best moment?
Unfortunately there wasn’t that many really great moments – other than playing for the club against players like Kevin Keegan and such like. My happiest, or best moment, was scoring the winning goal against Liverpool. We won 2-1 and Trevor got the first. My Mom and Dad had come to watch the game and were sat up in the main stand opposite the edge of the box.
Now all week in training, Trevor, Archie Styles, Ken, Howard Kendall and I – had been working on a free kick routine. Howard would get the ball on the right hand side of the box, Archie and Howard would send work the ball with eventually a cross coming over to the back post where I would be running into it. We’d practiced this ALL week and it WOULDN’T go right! Either Archie and Howard got mixed up, the ball would be played wrong or the cross would be off target.
Anyway, in the Liverpool game – we got a free kick in the same position. We signalled to each other that we would try the routine. So I moved up over the half way line and moved towards the back post. Archie and Howard set themselves up, the other lads moved into position in front and behind me ready to make their runs to free up space for me.
Archie jumped over the ball, I made my run and Howard floated an absolutely brilliant ball over and there was Phil Neal, Tommy Smith and Emlyn Hughes Phil Thompson and Ray Clemance in goal. I jumped and beat them all to it and headed it straight past Ray. He got a minute fingertip touch to it – but it went straight in the far corner.
As it hit the net, I carried on running and turned and saw my Mom and dad in the stand it’s all blue except for my parents who were wearing red! Now my great hero was Roger Hunt, his celebration was running and punching the air. I didn’t score that many, but when I did I would do the Roger Hunt celebration. That was probably my best moment. My parents did want Liverpool to win, but they were pleased I’d done well.
That night I took them home and I was headline news in the Liverpool Echo that a scouser had scored the winner against Liverpool. My parents friends were saying not to let me in! However in reality they were pleased I’d done well.
Were you part of the 3-2 victory at Anfield?
Yes I was. When we went 2-0 up, we looked at each other to say – what is going on, teams don’t go 2-0 up at Anfield! They did pull a couple of goals back but we dug in and won 3-2. (*Note – To put this victory into perspective, Liverpool only lost 11 games at Anfield in the whole of the 1970’s!)
What was your worse Blues moment, (but I think I can guess!)
Yep you said it, it was THAT semi-final. Everywhere I go they talk about it. A terrible terrible memory.
Two things strike me about that tie – your equaliser and that you just COULDN’T get the ball!
For their goal you mean? Yeah Mitchell got his foot up and sort of flicked it hit me on the chest, hit Dave on the chest, hit Mitchell on the chest and I jumped over Dave to try and get the ball. Despite my scrambled attempts I just couldn’t get to it. Who knows what might have happened if we had got to the final for me as a footballer and for Birmingham City FC.
I’m sure if we had made it, we would have beat West Ham
I think a lot of people thought that. I know I would have loved to have played in an FA Cup final, especially with the Blues.
Another down point for you, was your car accident
Yes is 1977. Myself and my wife at the time had been from Tamworth to the Northfield area for a social event. Actually we were judges in a beauty contest! Anyway we were on the way back, I was sober as I didn’t drink as a young player. We were crossing the Coventry Road at the airport end it was like a country lane then. I was going round the bend to the left and the car coming the other way had cut the corner and hit me on the front right side where my right leg was. I don’t know any of the history of the other driver, it’s all a blur – and actually I’m not too keen to talk about that.
However, I’m glad you’ve mentioned it Kevin – because breaking my leg was a really big part of my life. I was on the verge of getting into the England side. I’d had a letter from Don Revie and Les Cocker saying keep your chin up you’re still in our thoughts.
You’d played for the B Side hadn’t you?
Yes I did, at St Andrews against Australia which we won 1-0. I was pleased I’d won one cap at least.
I was at your comeback match against Bristol City, I remember the Kop chanting “Joe is Back”
Yeah we won that match and I scored. I scored in the railway end from a corner and I scored at the near post. I had been out 6 months and a week, but I’d only had one game prior to that match. We had a very small squad so I was needed back in the side as soon as possible despite me being not fully match fit!
Thankfully we won and I scored a goal!
Who was your favourite manager to play for?
Well Freddie was my first manager and I will always be grateful to him for giving me my chance to play. Actually just to digress slightly, in my first couple of years of being a pro – I had lots of knee troubles and was in and out of the side. Anyway Freddie gave me a £5, (wow!), rise. I went to see Freddie and said I don’t want this I’m just grateful you’re giving me the opportunity to get over my cartilage trouble. In truth the club could have got rid of me because I was injured a lot.
He said you need this, we appreciate what you’re going through, keep going – it’s a little gesture for you to keep your head up. I doubt you’d get many players going back to the manager saying I don’t want this rise!
What about your time playing for Willie Bell?
Fred left just after we lost the semi-final and Willie took over. He was very good to be fair. Willie always played me and appeared to like me.
I remember Willie playing for Leeds United against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final in 1965, so I was in awe of him to be honest. He was very fair and liked me playing, and played me for the club.
Things started to go down hill and you left to go to Wolves. I gather that wasn’t the happiest of times.
Well I was really sold to Wolves, I didn’t want to go. I still had a couple of years of my contract left and I didn’t want to go to Wolverhampton.
What happens in those situations, are you just told – you’re going?
Well in my case, that was was true. At the time Birmingham had just sold just sold Keith Bertchin and were desperate for a striker. They had Pat Van Den Howe, who was a young lad at the time, who could take my position so the deal was a swop deal for me to go to Wolves and John Richards to come to the Blues. Jim came to me to say that there was a meeting with John Barnwell, myself and John Richards.
So the following night we went to the Holiday Inn and I sat with John Barnwell and Jim sat with John the other side of the bar. John Barnwell said to me, I don’t care how their deal goes, I want you at Wolves. I said ok fine. We spoke about wages and sorted the deal out. The meeting finished and we all went our separate ways.
Anyway this was a wednesday and John said to me I would like you at the Molyneux in the morning at 9.00 to sign. I arrived at the ground in the morning, (this was the thursday before the season started), and I went into John Barnwells office and I saw that Jim Smith was down the corridor talking to John Richards.
Again I don’t know what was happening, but I went into the office and John Barnwell gave me the pen to sign. I took the pen, and then gave it back to him and asked if I could go and have a word with Jim first. He said yes that’s fine. I went to Jim and said to him, Boss I don’t want to come here, I want to stay at Birmingham. He said to me Jim we need the money. You have got to come. So I realised he didn’t want me, so went back to Barnwell’s office and signed for Wolves. Not many people have known that story.
I found out later, that John Richards deal fell apart. It was something to do with a due testimonial.
On the Saturday I was captain for Wolves, we played Liverpool and won 1-0. But I underline that I didn’t want to go to Wolves, I wanted to stay with the Blues.
You were sacked from Wolves weren’t you over a PR event, but it wasn’t a misunderstanding?
No it wasn’t a misunderstanding that I was supposed to be in the photo. It was my fault that I didn’t do the photo.
What happened was that I arrived at the training ground, but the lads weren’t getting ready for training they were sat in the changing room. I asked them what the matter was. They said that they had been told to do a photo but they weren’t going to do it. We’re not getting anything for it. So I said what do you want for it?
At the time I wasn’t in the first team – so it didn’t really involve me. Anyway I said has anyone been in to see the manager? They said yes. Anyway I was sat on my seat. The manager came in. John Richards, Andy Gray etc said no we’re not going to do it.
Anyway Derek Dougan came in and said they had to do it as the club needed the money. Then he went round each of the lads and gave each of the players personal abuse that they had to do it. He verbally assassinated them. Anyway he missed me completely. It’s because I didn’t owe him anything. When he finished 20 or so players he said right I’m going to leave you to it.
After he left the players continued to sit there. I was looking round and because they had been hammered by the Chairman, one got ready. I said hang on the ball is in his court, lets wait and see what happens and one of them said no we’ll do it. Anyway in my stubbornness, I sat there. They went out and did the picture and came back. They then changed from the “old Gold” and put their training kit on. I did the same and we went and trained.
The following day I came in for training and all put our kit on. Anyway Jim Barron popped his head around the door and said the secretary wants to talk to me. So I went to the office and he said here you are Joe this is for you. He gave me an envelope. The letter said your contract has been terminated due to breach of contract. He told me I was sacked.
Basically I believe that I had 2 years left of my contract and I was in the reserves, and I believe that Derek Dougan used the opportunity to save the club some money. Anyway I went straight to the manager and I said they’ve sacked me. Did you know I was supposed to go on the photo, and he said no I didn’t know.
So you believe that this was from Derek Dougan?
Oh yes 100%. Because I was on 500 quid a week in the reserves and 2 years to go, he saw it as an opportunity to save money simple as that.
So after Wolves it was West Ham?
John Lyle rang me a couple of weeks later, and I was given a month to month rolling contract. Then Burnley manager John Bond called him asking after me. I said well I’d rather stay here if it’s all the same to you. John Lyle said well you are 28 so you should ask what he could give you. Anyway I asked for a 4 year contract and he gave me one. I was there for the full 4 years.
West Ham were a great club and would like to have been there when I was younger, however I will always be grateful to Birmingham for the 11 years I had there. The coaches, the manager, the supporters were second to none.
What are your thoughts on where we are going under Alex and the new board?
Well Michael Dunford is a really nice bloke. It all looks good to be honest. Hopefully they can do wonderful things for Birmingham City.
In regard to the team, things are going fantastically. Not just because of the run or that the club is playing better or where the club is in the league – although that is great – it’s the fact the new people have breathed fresh air into the club. The previous board did well in the 1st 10 years, but it went stale in the last 5 years.
What do you do now Joe?
I work at Land Rover full time, been there 15 years. I also work for the Press Association working with statistics mainly covering the Blues.
Well thank you very much for taking the time to talk to Joys and Sorrows Joe.
My pleasure Kevin, my pleasure.