Trailblazer Bob Hazell on his Wolves days and racial abuse both on and off the pitch
Bob Hazell didn’t score too many goals in his career. As a defender, his job was more about stopping them at the other end.
He did score once against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, just as every Wolves player will be aiming to do this Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t for Wolves however, but for Queen’s Park Rangers, in a 3-0 win in early 1982 which would ultimately help his team to the equivalent of the Championship title, Wolves also securing promotion in second.
Hazell can’t specifically pinpoint the memory of that goal, but he can recall much of a 12-year career in the senior game, even if there was some of it which he might understandably prefer to forget.
And that is the many examples of racism and discrimination which Hazell, as a young black player making his way in the game, had to suffer.
The abusive chants from the fans. The belittling even from his own team-mates, and the discriminatory language which once prompted Hazell to come to blows. Not to mention the story, which he is now revealing for the first time, about how he needed to be removed from his accommodation whilst at Molineux because his landlady had been shunned by friends and neighbours for, ‘taking in a young black man’.
Hazell looks back and wonders if he should have said more at the time. Kicked up more of a fuss publicly. And yet, even though the efforts of him and other similar pioneers ultimately paved the way for so much progress – progress which is still ongoing – it almost feels wrong to spend part of our hour-long conversation talking about it.
Not because it isn’t important because clearly it remains massively important. And the issue of racism is one which still hasn’t gone away. But because ultimately Hazell was a footballer, and a very good and successful one at that. A footballer who, having been born in Jamaica before moving across to Birmingham just before the age of four, overcame substantial challenges in his formative years to go on and become a Wolves Player of the Season, a First Division title-winner and FA Cup runner-up with Queen’s Park Rangers and an England under-21 international.
All of that is, in itself, a brilliant achievement and a brilliant story. Even before the selflessness of a post-football career which has featured working with young offenders in Birmingham alongside he and wife Joy giving a chance to so many young people in their long-serving role as foster carers.
Still, even now at the age of 64, Hazell has never taken anything for granted.
“Whenever I get asked for an autograph, I always think it’s going to be my last one,” he says with a laugh.
“Then I go to a QPR game, and the fans are all there asking me for autographs and pictures, and I’m overwhelmed to be honest.”
The deserved adulation that Hazell continues to receive is just reward for the dedication and hard work with which he launched his career from an early age.
A boyhood West Bromwich Albion fan, he describes himself as a ‘product of the English schools’ system’, keen at one stage to try and sign for the ‘Villa Boys’ youth team, but ending up representing the Dunlop Terriers team which produced so many professional players out of Birmingham.
Hazell’s defensive abilities were accompanied by a powerful presence - he looked far older than his teenage years – and several big clubs were already circling before he and his Dad went to visit Wolves for talks and a lookaround.
“They took us into a room and presented a contract which would be put away into a drawer until I was old enough to join properly,” he says.
“My Dad asked me there and then if I was going to sign it, but to be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to do as I was going around all these different clubs and receiving the superstar treatment every time!
“But, at the end of the day it was the best move I could have made, as the manager Bill McGarry looked after me and took a real interest in my progress.
“I also remember the one day, when I was maybe in fourth year of school, that I went along to the ground, and poked my head around the first team dressing room door, which young players really weren’t supposed to do.
“The Doog (Derek Dougan) spotted me, and shouted at me to come on in, and told me he knew who I was.
“Because of that, because he brought me in and sat me down in front of everyone, that meant I could go back to the dressing room again later on – the Doog had given me my pass!”
Hazell flourished within the youth set-up at Wolves and was a key part of the team which went all the way to the FA Youth Cup final in 1975/76, only to suffer the disappointment of a 5-0 defeat over two legs at the hands of Albion.
“The run to the final was enjoyable but those finals were horrible, the Albion really handed us our backsides,” is the brutal Hazell assessment.
His progress continued under the stewardship of Sammy Chung, and Hazell made his senior debut as an 18-year-old which, despite ending in a 4-0 defeat at Newcastle, only whetted the appetite for more.
“We lost the game, and I was disappointed, but I still came off the pitch beaming,” he recalls.
“I had made my debut.
“I can still remember being on the pitch, and Newcastle being on the attack with the roar of their crowd, and the more they roared the more I wanted to stand up to it.
“I felt like those roars were for me, I got lost in it, I grew in it, and I became a giant – it was an incredible feeling.”