It’s six o clock and I need to be working, I’ve got court stories to write and have to analyse the growth of mass media for an essay, but I can’t. I got up to get a drink and my phone went off, it was Twitter telling me some of my followers had retweeted a photo Wolves had put up. “Ah that’ll be a picture of Benik Afobe holding up a Wolves shirt”, I thought. What I did see forced me to sit back down, I drew breath and gasped in sadness.
Had he been as good a player as he was a chairman, he would have probably amassed 600 appearances, been with us through the good and the bad and would be up there with Wright and Bull and all the rest of the stars to don the old gold.
It just so happened that one of, if not the greatest, legend of our club in modern times did all his work off the pitch. He wasn’t a player who dazzled on the pitch like Bull, he wasn’t a genius manager who led us to glory like Cullis. He was the man who picked up the pieces of the club he adored, got on his hands and knees and stitched the very fabric of this club back together when all hope looked lost.
How many clubs in English football hell, world football, can hold a chairman in as high regards as they do a former player. Not many, not many at all.
Sir Jack Arnold Hayward, OBE was and will continue to be a legend of the club. I hate using the word ‘legend’ and I hate saying that ‘the world legend is overused’. But there is not a better word to describe him, it hasn’t been thought up yet, no one could befit him, this is the nearest thing we’ve got to it.
The club could have cost 10 times more than what it did, Sir Jack would have still bought it. The club was in peril and who else was going to help?
He wasn’t from Abu Dhabi, or Qatar, he didn’t have oil money, he wasn’t royalty. He was a former Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force 671 squadron during the Second World War, he fought for his country during a global conflict and left the RAF as a flight lieutenant in 1946.
Sunnier climes would greet him after his valiant efforts in the Second World War, in 1956 Sir Jack left to go to the Bahamas to work for his father, Sir Charles Hayward. He quickly ascended and became vice-president of The Grand Bahama Port Authority.
If you’re lucky enough to go Freeport in the beautiful Bahamas you will find a school named after the former squaddie because of the effect his father and, to a greater extent, he had on that 50000 acre part of paradise.
His journey into legend status began in May of 1990 when he bought the club he most likely went to watch for £2.1 million – an unassuming amount, even for the time in which it was spent.
However, it is what he did after which sealed his fate as a hero to Wolves fans of all ages, spending £70 million on redeveloping Molineux into the golden Church we go to worship come rain, wind or snow, writing off annual debts left by the poisonous regime of the Bhatti brothers and starting the process of rebuilding one of the countries great clubs into the Wolf that roared rather than the Wolf that slept.
In September 2003, thirteen years into his tenure as the watchful guardian of the Wanderers, Sir Jack reached his nirvana and in some style with a first half dismantling off a dumbfounded Sheffield United and a second half master class by Matt Murray.
The residing image of that day won’t be Kenny Miller wheeling away to receive the adulation of tens of thousands of Black Country folk punching the air with two fists, chanting in beautiful unison and giving the Welsh a run for their money. It wasn’t. It was seeing Sir Jack being given the trophy in his suit and best gold coloured tie, on the Millennium stadium turf, his whole face the epitome of joy, that infectious cheeky grin beaming from ear to ear and back again.
In essence, he was a fan that had got on the pitch and nicked the trophy, he was representing us that day. He soaked up the atmosphere, drank the champagne, put his arms around Miller, Ince and Murray. If he had not known them as well he would have probably been getting pictures and autographs.
My most recent memory of Sir Jack was a couple of seasons, annoyingly, I can’t remember the game but it was during the season we got relegated, no not that one… that one. He stood up, his imposing frame standing out in a plethora of gold and waved toward an adoring South Bank who chanted his name louder than any players, past or present.
It was a rather unique moment, there he was wearing that trademark smile, the sort of smile that made you forget about his millions and made you see him for who he really was – a man who loved a football club and was able to do things with it that kept fans awake at night.
Despite being a fan for a nominal amount of years, when you stack it up against his contributions as a fan, I remember Sir Jack’s names being spoken in hushed tones around the ground, like a legend that people were in awe of. I had never experienced anything like it. Maybe it is what Scousers feel like when Dalglish is mentioned or when the Hammers discuss Moore.
My late Uncle John who was taken from me and my family far too early was the man who took me to my first Wolves game (a rather dull, but at the time exhilarating, 1-1 draw with Stoke City), within five minutes of me getting in the car, clad in enough Wolves paraphernalia to make me look like a walking catalogue, my Uncle John was telling me about Sir Jack like he was a superhero. About how bank rolled the club, invested millions into it and made it what it was today.
He will be forever remembered alongside Sir Jack Walker, Steve Gibson, Lionel Pickering as men who bought their club not for profit or loss. Not for grabbing headlines (looking at you Mr. Tan) or coming up with ridiculous statements (again, I’m looking at you, Mr. Tan) but because they were human beings with a big heart and they don’t want to see their club go under. Hayward took Wolves under his wing not only because he was a fan but because he felt it was his moral duty to the city.
My sincere and unreserved condolences go out to Sir Jack’s family. If one positive can be taken out of today, it further highlights what an incredible club we support. Yes, we get frustrated when Clarke misses a tap in from two yards out, we tut when we fail to win a game that looked easy. But, we are a club that sticks together, through the sparse ups and the more frequent downs.
Statues will no doubt be erected, memorials will be held, flowers will be laid but the real tribute will be against Blackpool on Saturday, when the fans get their turn to say goodbye in their own way because no amount of physical tribute will be able to match what those fans will sing on Saturday.
“This is our club and it knows no division.”
What an incredibly apt quote at this sombre time, an ethos, a motto, a maxim that I’m sure Sir Jack would have been proud to have known he created.
Rest in Peace, Sir.
(Images courtesy of assualtgilderstrust.co.uk, expressandstar.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk)