Bob Hazell

Former Player Remembers: Bob Hazell

Former Leicester City centre-back Bob Hazell also starred for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Queens Park Rangers, Reading and Port Vale before being forced to retire through injury just before his 30th birthday.
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As well as representing the Foxes between 1983 and 1986, Hazel featured for QPR in the 1982 FA Cup Final. Bob was born in Kingston, Jamaica, grew up in Birmingham and began his career at Wolves.

“I played for Birmingham Schools,” Bob explains. “At the time, I had one foot in the Birmingham City camp and the other foot in the Wolverhampton camp.

“Through my Sunday League manager, I ended up at Wolves. We reached the FA Youth Cup Final in 1976 and got beat 5-0 by West Brom. I was signed as a professional by Wolves manager Bill McGarry.

“He brought me into his first team squad and he almost put me in the team, but he got fired. His number two, Sammy Chung, became manager.

“I blossomed under him and he gave me my debut in an old First Division match in December 1977. This was at St. James’ Park against Newcastle.

“A few months later, we played Arsenal in the FA Cup and I got sent off.

“My defensive partner was George Berry. At the end of that season, I won the club’s Player of the Year award. That was terrific, especially as they’ve still got it at Wolves with my name on.”

In September 1979, after another season at Molineux, Bob was transferred to QPR for a fee of £240,000. By this time he had played for England Youth, England Under-21s and the England ‘B’ side.

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Bob Hazell
Bob Hazell

Hazell made over 100 appearances for QPR before joining the Foxes in 1983.

“We had a change of management at Wolves,” Bob continued. “I had been liked and favoured by Sammy Chung but not by the new manager, (John) Barnwell, and his assistant, (Richie) Barker.

“They saw me as not being for them. That’s the world isn’t it? I could have joined my old manager, Bill McGarry, at Newcastle.

“I wanted to go to London so I signed for Queens Park Rangers, who had been relegated to the Second Division at the end of the previous season.”

His two managers at Loftus Road were Tommy Docherty (for the first year) and then Terry Venables. They had very differing styles on management.

“Tommy Docherty seemed to float above things,” Bob recalled. “He’d come round and have a laugh and a joke with you and then fall out with you. There didn’t appear to be any structure.

“Terry Venables on the other hand controlled everything. All the training went through him and was exactly as he wanted it.

“He always gave you the impression that it was all free and easy, but he had a structure within there and it was all pretty tight.”

In 1982, Venables’ Rangers just missed promotion, but they did reach the FA Cup Final.

I remember coming out of the tunnel at Wembley and I was in deep concentration, feeling the buzz. Then I just kind of let myself go. I could feel myself floating and could feel the noise.

Bob Hazell

Bob remembered: “When the semi-final draw was made, the team I wanted to avoid was Leicester, which we did. We beat West Brom and then faced Spurs in the final.

“I remember coming out of the tunnel at Wembley and I was in deep concentration, feeling the buzz. Then I just kind of let myself go. I could feel myself floating and could feel the noise.

“I remember Princess Anne asking me: ‘Are you going to win today?’ It was a pretty boring game, though. It went into extra-time. There weren’t many chances.

“I can’t remember their goal, but I remember being 1-0 down. Then there was a long throw in and I flicked it on to the far post and Terry Fenwick headed it in for the equaliser. We lost the replay 1-0.”

At the end of the following season, Rangers went back to the old First Division as champions, along with Gordon Milne’s Leicester City, who also gained automatic promotion by finishing third.

Early the following season, after only six games, Bob left Loftus Road to join Leicester, who had lost all six of their opening games.

“At the time,” Bob continued, “I was negotiating a new contract with QPR, but I’d been told a few months before that Arsenal were interested and I was speaking on the phone to the Arsenal manager at the time.

“Then he told me that they weren’t going to go through with it in the end. I was disappointed. I signed a new contract with QPR and the following weekend, I got knocked out in a game and found myself in hospital.

When I arrived none of their shorts would fit me. I thought: ‘They are making shorts for 12-year-olds! They are not used to having fit athletes like me!’ The shorts just weren’t big enough!

Bob Hazell

“When I was discharged, the club told me not to come in for a few days. That’s when I got the call off Terry Venables. He came on the phone and told me that Leicester were interested in signing me.

“I spoke to Leicester and then asked Terry what his thoughts were. I was enjoying it at QPR, I was in the team and had this cult hero status at QPR.

“He told me that Alan McDonald was coming through and it could be a bit of a fight to get into the team.

“It was at that point that I wanted out. I was disappointed that the manager offered me the chance to leave. We had just won promotion and it had taken us a long time to like London.

“You want to feel wanted, don’t you?”

An early problem Bob faced at Filbert Street was the size of his shorts.

“When I arrived none of their shorts would fit me. I thought: ‘They are making shorts for 12-year-olds! They are not used to having fit athletes like me!’ The shorts just weren’t big enough!

“In the end I had to wear shorts which came from an old kit store as they were the only ones big enough for me.

“My wife was born in Birmingham and she wanted to come back to the Midlands.

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Leicester City 1984/85
Leicester City 1984/85

Hazel and his team-mates pose for the Leicester City 1984/85 team photograph.

“One of the first things Leicester said to me was that they had no problem with me living in Birmingham because they had a few players already living there.

“Leicester had some good players. I had loads of respect for my centre-half partner, John O’Neill. I really enjoyed playing with him.

“We had a fearsome attack with [Gary] Lineker, as well as ‘Smudger’ (Alan Smith), and Steve Lynex, who were both Brummie boys. We used to travel in together.”

Bob’s presence in the City side for the rest of the season coincided with his new team rising up the table from bottom to 15th. He was, however, injured for Leicester's fixture at Loftus Road in April of that season.

Thinking back to that game, Bob remembered, “In the first half, I watched the game with friends who had a box at QPR, but because I’d got tickets for some family and friends in the stand.

“I decided to watch the second half with them. As I took my seat amongst the home fans, they stood up and started applauding me.

“All the Main Stand stood up and started singing ‘There’s only Bobby Hazell’ and then fans on the other side of the ground joined in.

“Then, the Leicester City fans said: ‘Hold on, he’s our player!’ So, they started singing and chanting my name too! That was one of the best days of my life!”

I always liked Frank [Worthington]. I have so much time for him. I remember once, I smacked him in a tackle. Later in the game, he did me back. I was seething but he just said: ‘You did it to me and I didn’t complain did I?’

Bob Hazell

The following season (1984/85), Bob was struggling with injuries: “During the pre-season, we were at Lilleshall and we played Telford and this fella came straight into my ankle. Foot and lower limb injuries take forever to get better.”

Bob was able to play regularly for the first part of the season, but in September 1985, he went back on loan to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who had just been relegated to the old Third Division.

“Because of all the injuries, I hadn’t played, so I was moving back to Wolves on loan for recuperation,” Bob explained.

“Then, 10 minutes after I’d given my word to Wolves that I would go back, Frank Worthington, who was then manager at Tranmere, rang me to ask why I didn't go to do a job at Tranmere for him.

“I said: ‘Frank, I swear that only 10 minutes ago I gave my word to Wolves that I would go back there! You are 10 minutes too late!’

“I always liked Frank. I have so much time for him. I remember once, I smacked him in a tackle. Later in the game, he did me back. I was seething but he just said: ‘You did it to me and I didn’t complain did I?’

“The way he said it, I just started laughing. Then we both had a laugh and we’ve been good ever since. He’s an absolute diamond.

“Wolves were in absolute decline when I went back. They were going through the courts and looking at winding up petitions and things like that. You could feel it in the dressing room.

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Bob Hazell
Bob Hazell

Hazell has done work to help rehabilitate young offenders through sport in his life after retirement.

“When I remember how disciplined the place had been, that had all gone. There were kit bags strewn all over the place.

“There wasn’t enough money to cut the grass or reseed the practice field or the first team pitch. It was really horrible.

“In my first game back, I remember chasing a ball and all of a sudden I heard a ‘whack’. I looked round and there was nobody there.

“Then I thought perhaps I’ve had a stone thrown at me, but there were only about six people in the stand and they were too far away as the ground developments meant that it was about a mile from the pitch!

“I was in pain, but it wasn’t excruciating. The physio came on and kept saying: ‘It’s gone, it’s gone’. I’m thinking: ‘What’s gone?’ He said: ‘Your achilles tendon has snapped.’ This was in the first half of my first game.”

Bob was sidelined for nine months. At the end of that season, Wolves were relegated to the Fourth Division and Leicester City gave him a free transfer.

Four months later, in December 1986, Bob signed for Port Vale in the Third Division for a two-and-a-half-year spell.

This culminated in promotion to the Second Division, at which point injury forced his retirement from playing just before his 30th birthday.

Leicester City Crest

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