His inimitable way with millions of indispensable words made David Instone a genuine legend to me as a Wolves fan growing up.
He’s still the first name I think of when I hear the title ‘Wolves correspondent’ and were I to name the top three heroes to leave an indelible impression on my formative years, he’d be keeping company with Steve Bull and Dad.
Dad for his love. Bully for his goals and Instone for his words.
Partly due to ‘digital’ not being a thing when the pen and paper ruled supreme and partly due to my burning desire to be a journalist for as long as I can remember, but David Instone wasn’t just a by-line on a back page to me, but a bona fide big deal, whose exclusives can still prompt me to remember where I was when I first read them. (John de Wolf and Don Goodman press conference = Leysters Bus Shelter as Dad picked me up from school in 1994, having travelled to Tenbury Wells to lay his hands on a copy).
Anyway, to commemorate his 16 years as Wolves’ correspondent for the Express & Star and 30th anniversary in the Molineux press box, David has penned his recollections via ‘Between the Golden Lines’ and it goes without saying that I lapped up every word.
Bringing his years with the UK’s largest regional to life – of which I would also serve with much less aplomb – David has triumphantly narrated my own era I’ll treasure most (1987 onwards) and if I could implore you to read one single Wolves book from now on, then this would be it.
Devouring these 256 pages in the time it took a Thomas Cook plane to cross the Atlantic last week, you are reminded just what a crackpot club we were, and treated to some previously unheard sub-plots and stories behind the scoops, with today’s successes under Nuno acting as an inadvertent juxta-position to add poignancy to each failing regime, whether it be Turner, Taylor, McGhee or Lee. Timing, in this rare instance, has surely been perfect for David – and long overdue.
There are too many anecdotes to relay in this attempt at a book review, but the overall impression having read Between the Golden Lines is that David Instone was a stellar, Premier League journalist in all but job title, falling agonisingly short of reporting in it when effectively sacked in quite scandalous – if not ironic – circumstances.
Having covered so many disastrous appointments and exits himself, there was something of the ‘art imitating life’ when his own employers acted with the same impulsive ineptitude as Jonathan Hayward when pulling the trigger. In many ways, fate could only afford David Instone an exit quite like this. Not that he complained, only sounding disappointed when missing out on the Promised Land at the very moment he thought he was there. Something else in common with McGhee and Taylor, at least.
He wrote: ‘By the time Wolves did make it back to Highbury, Old Trafford and Anfield, I was no longer at the Express & Star and by no means covering every game. This, therefore, is as much a record of following the team to Chester, Halifax, Hartlepool and Scarborough as of visiting the big venues. In many ways, the rise from the ashes, the revivalist spirit, the record-breaking work of Bully and others at the unglamorous league basement was MY time.’
Unwittingly perhaps, this book throws up levels of comedy, tragedy and romance on a King Lear scale, thanks to similar levels of hairbrained thinking during David’s tenure along Queen Street. And aside from reliving the gargantuan contribution made by Steve Bull from the press box, Instone’s fractious relationship with Graham Turner – which completely disintegrated by the time the manager resigned – was arguably the most significant moment in his career, as it forced him to sniff out the scoops with GT on mute.
And boy did the scoops arrive, thanks to a vault of copper-bottomed contacts and an insatiable work ethic which all us fans benefited from, if not his own personal life. Again, he didn’t complain.
The one about Graham Taylor arriving was the stuff of legend, as he broke the news before anyone else was even close.
‘We had some high quality sources to mark our card during the search that followed (post Turner)…We had known for months that there was some admiration among the Molineux board for Graham Taylor and I was dispatched to England’s World Cup qualifier away to San Marino in November 1993…
‘…We went big on Taylor’s chances of landing the job when it came up in mid-March, especially as we heard through a trusted intermediary that Graham would jump at the chance. Through our informant, we confirmed the following Monday afternoon that Taylor was coming in as soon as he was back from a trip away. The Express & Star loved the fact that we felt confident enough to write: “Graham Taylor WILL tomorrow be named manager of Wolves.
‘It was so much more powerful than couching it in terms like ‘is in line to’ or ‘is poised to.’ There was no ambiguity. We had the story nailed – a huge one at that.’
Other anecdotes to live in the memory was a similarly stunning bit of work along with chief snapper Dave Bagnall to oust the impending arrival of David Jones, scooping more nationals in the process on a tireless day of work while a match was going on. You felt exhausted just reading it.
Stories such as these, interspersed with tales of maddening short sightedness makes Between the Golden Lines an absolute must-read. Different regimes looked numerous gifthorses in the mouth, it would transpire, including Ian Taylor and Nigel Pearson on a plate from Sheffield Wednesday, while Jason Roberts was even worse, effectively giving him away without giving him a chance, before Roberts plundered seven goals post-Christmas for WBA which ultimately kept us down.
It wasn’t like David was being wise after the events with many of his stories either. His infamous piece about Bully needing to leave Molineux to get the chance of Premier League football was actually quite prophetic, while his cringing at Jonathan Hayward’s attempt at a joke when unveiling Mark McGhee was telling, even back then. ‘And now…please welcome our new manager Dave Bassett,’ he quipped. The perceived dinosaur was yet another to reach the Premier before we ever did, finishing 27pts clear of us when taking Forest up. Hilarious.
Such misplaced irony seemed commonplace back in the day, when just about every dice possible was thrown to get us to where we are today under FOSUN’s brave new world.
Being able to read the past through the prism of today really does make for a compelling read and as a lifelong David Instone fan, I can only thank him for taking the time.
If you like comedy, you won’t be disappointed either.
After a tortuous drive up to The Shay in Halifax in 1986, Instone reflects on a ramshackle press box that greeted him in the bleak midwinter, with no lights where he was sitting.
‘Oh, there are, lad, reet there,’ an official told us pointing. ‘But you have to bring your own bulb.’
‘Out of darkness, cometh light’ sounds about right.
‘Between the Golden Lines’ is a hard-back costing £18.99, excluding post and packaging. For details of how to order email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 07734-440095.