Danny Crainie recalls Wolves' derby triumph like it was yesterday

With a memory as razor-sharp as the left foot which once graced Molineux, Danny Crainie can still remember the goals with unerring accuracy.

Danny Crainie with his man-of-the-match award from Wolves’ victory at Albion in 1983.
Danny Crainie with his man-of-the-match award from Wolves’ victory at Albion in 1983.

“Kenny Hibbitt floated a cross over, Wayne Clarke challenged and the ball fell to me to smash it in,” recalls the former Scottish forward.

“And then Andy Blair, remember him? On loan from Aston Villa. He robbed one of their players and slipped it to me on the halfway line and I took it on and cut inside to curl it into the top corner.”

The travelling Wolves fans who made the short trip down the A41 on November 26th, 1983, probably recall the goals with the same clarity – and unparalleled delight - as the man who provided them.

West Bromwich Albion 1, Wolves 3. A first league win of the season for Wolves at the 15th attempt, ending a dismal run of 19 without victory in all competitions stretching back to the previous campaign when they had infact been promoted to the top flight.

And, as time has passed, quite a rare success on enemy territory for Wolves when it comes to recent history.

The next trip to The Hawthorns came some six years later – enter Steve Bull stage just outside the box to write his own script with a last minute winner right in front of the Wolves faithful on his first return to his former stomping ground.

But following that, and ahead of the latest resumption of Black Country rivalries on Monday evening, Wolves have returned victorious from just one of their last 15 trips to B71 – Iwan Roberts the hat trick hero on that occasion – and that run has included ten defeats.

Quite a sequence, which adds to the significance of that success nearly four decades ago which was as well received as it was somewhat surprising given the relative fortunes of the two sides.

It was definitely one of those derbies where fans travelled more in vain hope than serious expectation.

Danny Crainie

But, after a goalless first half, it very quickly turned into Crainie’s day.

“Aye I won’t forget that one against the Baggies,” he tells the Express & Star.

“It was the last game of my loan spell which then became permanent, and is one I will always remember.

“It was a really nice one for the Wolves supporters on the day.

“Results hadn’t been great but they still kept on going week-in, week-out and cheering and singing.

“We certainly gave them something to sing about that afternoon.”

It was Crainie’s fourth game in a Wolves shirt, but he had already been made to feel at home by a Molineux fanbase who have always cherished players promising flair, excitement and a creative intent.

Crainie’s flowing blonde locks shaped into a magnificent mullet befitting of the era and his fantastic left boot were just a bonus.

“Even before the Albion game I felt settled and I felt the fans were always really good to me,” he says.

“Maybe it was my style of play, I enjoyed taking people on and trying to entertain, and even though we were getting beat and getting beat and getting beat, I actually loved Wolverhampton, I really did.”

Crainie was actually a lodger with the family of then Wolves director Roger Hipkiss during his loan spell, before buying his first house near the training ground in Castlecroft after his move became permanent.

By his own admission he enjoyed a spot of the local nightlife during his career, and was also part of the pool team at Rocky’s bar in Tettenhall.

“I did like a night out and that probably curtailed my career a little bit,” Crainie admits.

“I enjoyed Wolverhampton, and used to go to Rocky’s, the little wine bar which was part of the Rock Hotel.

“I got on well with the lads at Wolves and Kenny Hibbitt in particular took me under his wing but I also had a group of buddies away from football and would go and play pool.

“I was in the team – although I didn’t always get a game, as they said I was too fancy on the pool table!”

That Crainie settled so quickly on and off the pitch was crucial given he had made the switch South of the Border from his beloved Celtic, where he initially burst onto the scene with considerable success.

A boyhood Hoops fan – a Bhoyhood fan even – the young football fanatic hailed from a family of Celtic fans and was taken to games all over the world by his Dad.

Mum deemed the young Crainie too young to attend the European Cup final of 1967 when the Celtic side acclaimed as the ‘Lisbon Lions’ lifted the trophy after a 2-1 win against Inter Milan.

But he was in the San Siro shortly before his eighth birthday for the 1970 Final when Celtic were overcome by Feyenoord after extra time.

It’s a passion for Celtic which has continued to this day as illustrated by our conversation a few days after the disappointing season for the Green and Whites was effectively ended by a Scottish Cup defeat to Rangers.

“If you’d got hold of me on that Sunday I would have been in a very different mood,” says Crainie with a laugh.

He does boast some far better Old Firm memories however, scoring after a reported 90 seconds of his first ever derby match in front of almost 50,000 at Celtic Park in 1982.

“It was 86 seconds actually,” he counters.

“And I should know, I’ve watched it once or twice on VHS!

“That derby is always something else.

“When I later played in Australia, I was on the same team as another former Wolves lad in Mick Hollifield, and he came over for an Old Firm derby the once.

“He couldn’t believe it – I think he knew about the atmospheres at Liverpool/Everton or Arsenal/Spurs games and I may be biased but Celtic against Rangers is on another level.”

In Crainie’s case the age-old cliché of it being a dream come true to have broken through at Celtic after impressing in his formative years with Celtic Boys Club is absolutely true.

Particularly when he broke into the team as a 19-year-old in that 1981/82 season and helped their charge to the Scottish Premier League title.

“To sign for Celtic was out of this world for me,” he adds.

“In that 81/82 season there were a few injuries to players like Charlie Nicholas, Davie Provan and Frank McGarvey.

“Billy McNeill was the manager and I think he was almost forced to put me in with those injuries and it went really well.

“I think I scored maybe eight goals in around 15 games, and we came from behind to overtake Aberdeen and win the league.”

The return to fitness of those more senior frontmen such as Nicholas and McGarvey limited the aspiring Crainie’s chances in the following campaign, and when David Hay came in to replace McNeil the year after, and brought in Brian McClair and Jim Melrose after Nicholas moved to Arsenal, his days at Parkhead were numbered.

He had made a name for himself however, not just north of the border where he became a Scotland Under-21 international but also further south, especially via his contribution to a tournament known as the Daily Express Five-A-Side which was competed for annually at Wembley Arena.

Prior to his first team breakthrough, Crainie was part of a very young Celtic team which took part in the tournament as the more senior players were involved in a cup tie.

It was shown on the popular midweek BBC Sportsnight programme – and Celtic only went and won it!

Some top players and teams were despatched in the process, including Manchester United (Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and Lou Macari), Ipswich Town (Frans Thijssen, Arnold Muhren and Alan Brazil) and Southampton (Alan Ball and Kevin Keegan) in the final.

Crainie joined Nicholas in notching four goals in the four games.

“It was only a five-a-side tournament but the ages we were at, 17 and 18, we felt like World Cup winners,” Crainie recalls.

“Sportsnight showed all the games and it probably raised our profiles although obviously it was only five-a-side.

“But maybe it made the manager sit up and take a wee bit of notice that we could handle it, and control a ball and take people on which was definitely my forte.”

McNeil certainly did sit up and take notice, as no doubt did many other managers to Crainie’s talents across the country, but when the move came about almost three years later there was a certain element of being in the right place at the right time.

“I was playing for Celtic reserves against Aberdeen, and it was when you played at the stadium if the first team were away,” Crainie recalls.

“So there were maybe 3,000 or 4,000 people at Celtic Park, and among them was Sammy Chapman, who was scouting for Wolves at that time.

“He had come up to watch a certain David Moyes, who was playing in our defence, but I scored a couple of goals and had a decent game.

“On the Monday morning David Hay called me into the office and said there had been an offer from Wolves to go down for a month’s loan.

“I spoke to a few people who knew a bit about the club, Charlie (Nicholas) who was a good friend of mine, Jimmy Lumsden, who had played in England and coached me at Celtic, and they both told me Wolves were a massive club and I should go for it.

“Of course Celtic were my club, but there was no point hanging about if I wasn’t going to play, so I decided to make the move.

“And as I have said, apart from the nonsense that was going on with the club and the Bhatti Brothers during those years, I absolutely loved it down there.”

The loan spell was poised to turn into a permanent move even before Crainie’s Hawthorns heroics, and despite Wolves’ fall from grace during his spell at Molineux, there were other highlights to savour.

Notably a memorable Merseyside double comprising a goal in a 3-0 win against Everton and an assist for Steve Mardenborough’s winner in an incredible victory away at defending champions Liverpool, who were enroute to retaining their title and lifting the European Cup.

Sadly though, those key contributions in three games amounted to half of the total of six won by Wolves that season, and the team's decline would continue under Tommy Docherty, a manager with whom Crainie didn’t really see eye to eye.

He did play more over the early months of the following 1985/86 season, as Chapman took the helm, but the start of the calendar year of '86 signalled the end of Crainie at Wolves after 73 appearances featuring four goals.

“That Liverpool game, that was something else,” he recalls.

“We deserved to beat the Baggies, but Liverpool absolutely battered us, and John Burridge in goal was unbelievable.

“That’s another day that I will never forget.

“Eventually things did go a little bit sour for me at Wolves and things weren’t great on and off the pitch but I really enjoyed my time and will always be grateful to Sammy for getting me down there.”

Crainie went on to enjoy brief loan spells with Blackpool and Dundee, before embarking on a complete change by heading Down Under to Australia, initially with the Greek-founded South Melbourne Hellas, and then another Wolves, those of Woollongong.

Life in the National Soccer League, with its heavy continental influence and style, certainly allowed the Wing Wizard of Oz to excel, and he was back among the goals during two years in New South Wales.

“The game in Australia suited me down to the ground as it was about what you could do with the ball and not how fast you could run,” Crainie explains.

“Well you could nae run fast, it was anything between 30 and 40 degrees over there!

“It was about keeping the ball and then having a trick up your sleeve when you got to the edge of the box.”

Crainie returned closer to home for further spells in Scotland with Airdrie, Kilmarnock and Ross County, as well as in Ireland with Cork City, before deciding to hang up his boots.

Initially, retirement involved a return to Celtic to serve as youth team assistant manager to his former team-mate Willie McStay, as well as coaching at a little satellite centre in North Glasgow.

Danny Crainie

A source of immense pride for Crainie is that one of those who emerged from that centre was Celtic and Scotland international midfielder Callum McGregor, who has made over 300 appearances in the Bhoys’ first team, notching over 50 goals and picking up a host of winners’ medals.

And yet there was a time when McGregor might have followed in Crainie’s footsteps and plied his trade at Molineux.

Having impressed when playing on loan for Notts County against Wolves, Head Coach Kenny Jackett was understood to be keen on signing the now 27-year-old, but Celtic decided to hang onto their man, which ultimately proved a masterstroke.

For Crainie, whilst enjoying the coaching, which was on a part-time basis, as the hours increased it started to affect his ‘day job’, working at a residential home for young people with behavioural issues.

Also keen to ensure he didn’t neglect family life, and spend plenty of time with his son growing up, he went back purely to being an enthusiastic football fan, and work was focused on helping the young people under his charge.

“And I’m still in the same job 21 years later,” Crainie reports.

“It is about helping kids who haven’t really been given a proper chance in life and are suffering from social behaviour issues, or have been let down by their parents.

“It can be very challenging as some of the young people have experienced so much trauma, but also fulfilling as well.

“Many have really suffered from a young age and we try and provide them with a wee bit of fun in their lives, and some positive role models.”

Whilst many of the young people may not be over-familiar with the career of Crainie the footballer, the power of You Tube – which still carries the Match of the Day highlights from that memorable win at Albion – ensure some of his footballing highlights remain available at the touch of a button.

“I was working the other night and one of the lads suddenly comes in and says, how the hell did you manage to score goals like that,” he says.

“’What goals’?” I asked.

“He had found that Albion game on YouTube and, just how I said to you, I could talk him through both of them.

“I am still really proud of that day, and still watch Wolves on the telly whenever I can.

“They’ve had an incredible few years and the football they have played under Nuno Espirito Santo has been fantastic.”

Crainie, now 58, will no doubt be trying to tune in come Monday evening for the latest instalment of that historic derby, and admits he would love to see another repeat of a 3-1 win for Wolves just as on that November afternoon back in 1986.

And a repeat of his spectacular second goal?

“Ah no chance,” he says with a laugh.

“No one will ever be able to top that!”

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