Shropshire Star

Andy Blair: Wolves' first ever loan signing

You probably haven’t heard this as a quiz question down the local, but maybe it should be added to the quizmasters’ portfolio: ‘Who was the first ever loan signing to play for Wolves?’


There have been many successful ones down the years, and some perhaps less so.

But it is unlikely that any of them will have taken as much enjoyment out of a loan spell as that very first incumbent, almost 40 years ago.

Even more unlikely about that is the fact that Wolves were going through such a terrible time when he arrived.

It was the end of October in 1983, and Wolves had failed to win any of their first ten league games in the top division having been promoted the season before.

They were then to lose their next three fixtures 3-0, 5-0 and 3-0 respectively.

Blair in action for Villa

And yet, that did nothing to tarnish the good feelings of our man, the club’s first ever loan signing, who had joined from Wolves’ next opponents Aston Villa.

Our man, is former midfielder, Andy Blair.

“It was a very important loan spell I had at Wolves,” Blair recalls.

“I hadn’t been doing that well at Villa and wasn’t really involved and I just wanted to play football.

“Wolves gave me that opportunity, and to pull on that gold shirt, with all the history of the club, is something I will always remember fondly.”

Blair actually represented three of the West Midlands footballing fraternity, having started out as an apprentice at Coventry after the family moved from Fife in Scotland down to Bedworth – where he still lives – at a young age.

“October 28th, 1978,” he offers up, with perfect clarity.

“The day I made my first team debut for Coventry City, a surreal day, and the best of my professional life.”

That was the start of three successful years within the first team set-up of the Sky Blues, and a 2-1 debut win against Birmingham City augured well for his next move, joining Villa in the summer of 1981.

The switch came just after Villa had clinched the First Division championship, and while that meant the chance to work with some star-studded quality, it limited Blair’s impact in terms of a regular starting spot.

“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have that good a time at Villa,” he admits.

“I wasn’t great, but I was lucky enough to be part of that European squad, and as a result I am probably remembered just a little bit.”

Blair was an unused substitute on that famous night when a goal from another ex-Villa and Wolves alumni Peter Withe secured a 1-0 win against Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.

He did however play the full 120 minutes of the 3-0 second leg Super Cup win against Barcelona in January, 1983, which secured a 3-1 success on aggregate.

Heady days. But sadly the exception rather than the norm, which meant that towards the end of that calendar year, Blair was, temporarily at least, swapping Villa Park for Molineux.

There were no qualms about leaving a club sitting ninth in the table to one which was winless, second from bottom and, even if no one quite knew the depths to which they would ultimately sink, on the edge of a precipice.

Even with the additional difficulties of those first few games, Blair could take the positives.

Blair in action for Coventry

“To go to Wolves and play with the likes of Andy Gray and Kenny Hibbitt was absolutely magnificent for me,” he explains.

“To play for another great football club as well was magical, even though it was on a downward spiral at the time.

“Results weren’t great - far from it - but as a player you never quite realise what is going on with every single aspect of a football club.

“We didn’t know there was a huge decline coming and I was just grateful to be given the opportunity of first team football with a bunch of players who I enjoyed lining up with.

“I also enjoyed working with Graham Hawkins (manager) and Jim Barron (assistant manager).

“Human nature is such that when you are not playing, but then move to an environment where you are playing and are perhaps feeling wanted, then you are always going to enjoy it.

“And every experience you go through in your career has some advantage or disadvantage when it comes to your learning curve.

“The couple of months I had at Wolves was a great part of that learning curve.”

There were a couple of good results to at least briefly light up the gloom which was starting to envelop Wolves at that time.

Notably the first win of the season, a Danny Crainie inspired 3-1 success in the big derby at West Bromwich Albion when a bearded Blair won the ball and broke forward before setting up his fellow Scot for the second goal of his brace.

And then a 3-0 win against Everton at Molineux on Boxing Day which provided a winning end to the Blair loan.

“I am glad people remember my goals and assists because I struggle to do it now,” Blair laughs.

“People talk a lot about players like Kevin De Bruyne and how many assists they provide but back in my day they weren’t really registered.

“As a midfield player, I always preferred setting up someone else for a chance and doing my bit for the team rather than scoring myself.

“I’d like to think I’d have some reasonable stats if they had been recording assists back in my time!”

Andy Blair, front left, admits he did not have the best of times at Villa but themidfielder helped the claret and blues to European Super Cup success in 1983

That rare win against Everton did prove Blair’s last outing in a Wolves shirt, and while he would certainly have entertained the opportunity to make the move permanent, no such discussions ever took place.

Heading back to Villa he still found regular football difficult, but where his Wolves action really came into its own was in helping him show his abilities to pave the way for his next move – a permanent one – to Sheffield Wednesday.

Blair enjoyed an excellent couple of years at Hillsborough in the mid-Eighties, including another milestone on top of his Wolves loan landmark, becoming the first player to score a hat trick of penalties in a League Cup tie, scoring three goals from the spot in a 4-2 win against Luton.

He did then return to Villa with Steve Hunt on transfer deadline day of 1986 to help them preserve their top-flight status, but soon into the following season, suffered a knee injury which effectively ended his career prematurely.

He would have loved to have played on for the many more years which would normally have been expected of a player of his age, but has no bitterness or regret at how events transpired.

“I went and had a couple of loan spells at Barnsley and Northampton after the injury, but I was rubbish, absolutely rubbish,” is his honest assessment.

“I had to finish early and when I look back and summarise my career, I was delighted with what I managed to achieve.

“But I am really irritated and frustrated that it ended early, even if it was out of my control.

“At the same time there is no bitterness or animosity – that’s just the way it is.

“My career was great for what it was, and I’m frustrated I couldn’t do more, but thrilled to bits that I achieved what I did and played for some great clubs.”

Where Blair is also particularly appreciative is of how he has continued to retain strong links with Villa, including co-commentary work, being involved in club functions as well as hosting evenings with the likes of Andy Gray and John Gregory amongst others.

Football, however, has become more of a hobby alongside his second career, which has seen him working within the retail sector for over 30 years.

Blair with son Matty, who spent part of his career with Kidderminster Harriers

This has included displaying a similar creativity to that which he showed as a player, branching into different areas featuring schoolwear and branded workwear and including setting up a specialised embroidery unit.

“I enjoy it hugely, and I really don’t feel that I have ever worked a day in my life,” says Blair.

“I loved playing football, but I also love working in retail.

“Like a lot of working people, football now for me is the distraction, what I look forward to watching or keeping an eye on, and that interest – including wanting my former clubs to do well – will always be there.”

And keeping an eye on his former clubs promises to be particularly intriguing in the coming weeks.

Villa are aiming for Europe, Wolves to mathematically clinch Premier League survival, Coventry to cement a place in the Championship play-offs, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley to try and win the League One play-offs and Northampton to book automatic promotion from League Two. That’s a whole lot of results to keep track on!

It’s also fair to say Blair has always maintained a footballing watching brief in other ways alongside his retail business since hanging up his boots.

Colin Dobson, who passed away earlier this year and is described by Blair as ‘the best man I ever met in football’, took him as a scout to both Watford and Stoke, and he then spent many happy weekends watching son Matty turn out for clubs including Kidderminster, Fleetwood, Mansfield, Doncaster and Cheltenham.

After chalking up almost 500 career appearances, including several promotions, Matty was forced to retire at the start of this season due to a knee injury, sadly following in the footsteps of Dad.

“There is some irony there, isn’t there?” says Blair, for whom there is perhaps even more irony in that he himself once broke his foot celebrating a late winner for his son which took York to the FA Trophy final.

“But Matty did reach the age of 33 before having to retire though, so got a few more years in than me.

“He had a very good career and, it’s probably why I didn’t do as much of the co-commentating as I could have done, because I wanted to watch as many of his games as possible.

“I got a lot of pleasure out of watching him play, just as a Dad, and it was great for all of us as a family to see him in action.

“Just like me, he thoroughly enjoyed his time in football.”

As with anyone, family is hugely important to the Blairs, and perhaps even more so given the tragedy of losing other son Ross, who passed away at the age of 32 in 2017, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour three years earlier.

Suffering such a “devastating” loss is always going to bring perspective to everyday life, and puts the ups and downs of a footballing career into context, and for the Blair family – he also has a daughter Ashley – the memory of Ross will always live on.

So, there is certainly a perspective in that whatever happens between Wolves and Aston Villa this coming Saturday afternoon, there is more to life than a football match, even a big local derby.

Blair won’t be at Molineux for the game – a growing liking for golf is starting to take over a lot of his Saturday afternoons – but he is thrilled to see both of the Midlands giants having made some tangible progress in recent years.

“I’m always happy to see Villa and Wolves doing well,” he says.

“Villa have been fantastic to me down the years which I really appreciate, and, even though I had such a short time at Wolves, it’s always nice to be associated with them as well.

“I think Wolves have a very good manager there now, and they have always had great support, and are, traditionally, a fantastic and historic club.

“I wish them all the success going forward in the future.”

His spell may have been short, but it was certainly sweet, even with the difficulties Wolves were experiencing around four decades ago.

The club’s first ever loan signing is clearly someone who will always have fond memories of being a small part of Molineux history.

And just maybe, the answer to a quiz question in the future.