Freedom on the wing: Danny Wallace’s unheralded impact at Southampton

This piece was kindly written for @TFHBs by Eleanor Hobby - you can follow her on Twitter 

Quick and a natural at controlling the ball, Danny Wallace joined Southampton at the age of 13. A year earlier Keith Hodder, a PE teacher from Wallace’s school, had written to Southampton asking if Wallace could go on trial. At just 16 years and 314 days Danny Wallace became the Saints youngest-ever first-team player, a record since broken by Theo Walcott. Lawrie McMenemy gave the winger his debut at Old Trafford on 29th November 1980 in a 1-1 draw.

Danny Wallace’s first full season for Southampton came during the 1982/83 campaign. He netted his first goal for the Saints in a 4-2 League Cup win against Colchester United. That season saw Wallace boast his best goal return, scoring 12 goals in 35 league appearances.

In March 1983, in a 2-1 win away to Nottingham Forest, Wallace showed his ability to produce spectacular moments in games. Wallace’s goal was the second of the match, after David Armstrong had scored from a previous corner. Steve Williams` corner was contested by Chris Fairclough, whose headed clearance fell for Wallace on the edge of the area, Wallace volleying the ball home with his left foot. Southampton’s number eleven had threatened just moments before, catching Bryn Gunn out in the Forest man’s own half, before shooting straight at the keeper.

Ever tricky to stop on the right wing, Wallace had no problem outpacing his opposing fullback. In a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford that season, Saints star winger showed how key his runs were. Left back Arthur Albiston was no match for him as Danny floated a pinpoint ball into substitute Nick Holmes path. Holmes shot was blocked before Martin Foyle levelled with the rebound.

It is often said that a winger that can combine their speed with dribbling is lethal. At his peak, Wallace has stated he could cover 100 metres in only 11 seconds. In a 3-3 away draw to Luton, the first time Saints had scored three goals away from home during the 1982/1983 season, Wallace demonstrated his blistering pace. In the 26th minute he even took John Motson by surprise, beating Kirk Stephens, darting into the box on the left-hand side before the ball bulleted off his right foot into the bottom right corner.

Seven years after he signed for Saints as a youth player, Wallace scored Match of the Day’s Goal of the Season in the first game to be televised live at The Dell. In a First Division campaign that saw Southampton go toe to toe with the current champions, Wallace demonstrated his ability to suddenly accelerate down the wing very quickly.

On a cold March Friday night in 1984, the wingers brace secured the win for Southampton, leaving them fourth in the table. Towards the end of extra time in the first half, David Armstrong, and Kenny Dalglish both went up for a header in Southampton’s half. Dalglish leaned into the Southampton midfielder with the home fans screaming for a foul. The referee played on as the ball was cleared up field before being hammered back by the opposition into Southampton’s half. Mark Wright then dribbled the ball running inside of Craig Johnston, before passing to Frank Worthington just on the halfway line who turned and played the ball through to Mark Dennis on the left wing. Dennis, initially blocked by Johnston, crossed it into the box onto the head of Wright who nodded it into the path of Wallace, who performed a glorious overhead kick, guiding the ball into the top left corner.

Later in the game, Sammy Lee charged forward for Liverpool before being dispossessed by Wallace 35 yards out. Armstrong then took the ball, passing to his teammate on the halfway line who passed to his right to a darting Wallace, who demonstrated his exceptional pace, beginning his run as soon as Armstrong had taken the ball. Wallace ran down the pitch straight into the box, Alan Hansen trying but failing to stop him. Wallace turned and crossed into substitute David Puckett, who just kept it in play. Puckett in a tight area, played the ball back down the left-hand side to Dennis. Dennis’s cross into the box met Wallace who headed it on the side of his head past a diving Bruce Grobbelaar into the top right corner.

Southampton beat Liverpool at home for a second season running, thanks to the confidence of Danny Wallace who as Jimmy Hill enthused was “the toast of Hampshire for two moments of splendid opportunism”.

A month later on 28th April, Saints beat Coventry at home 8-2, Wallace and Steve Moran both scoring hat tricks that day. Wallace completed his hattrick by heading in David Puckett’s cross to make it 8-1.

Later in his career, Danny was joined by his two siblings Rod and Ray at Southampton. In 1988, in a disappointing 4-1 loss to Everton at Goodison Park, Danny and his brother Rodney combined to score the opener. The ball reached Colin Clarke on the left wing. Clarke then fed the ball through to Rodney Wallace on the left side of Everton’s box. Rodney then dinked the ball with his left foot into the path of his brother Danny, who was unmarked, heading it past Neville Southall into the bottom left corner. Rod and his twin brother Ray had signed for Southampton in 1986 as apprentices, nine years after Danny. Like Danny, Rod played as a winger. He could play with pace, but he was particularly brilliant at crossing the ball and linking up with other forwards.

In his last away fixture for Southampton at Maine Road during the 1989/1990 season, Danny scored a brace against a newly promoted Man City. Matt Le Tissier displayed some lovely skill on Saints righthand side, before passing back to Rod Wallace. Rod then floated a pinpoint cross into the box as Danny ran onto it, volleying the ball into the back of the net.

Wallace’s second came from some nice work again from Le Tissier on the right wing, twisting and turning Ian Bishop. Le Tissier once again floated a ball into the box and the cross was initially won in the air by Brian Gayle before the ball fell to Paul Lake. However, Lake failed to clear, and City’s number 2 and Gayle got in each other’s way allowing the ball to be kicked through their legs and into Wallace’s path who smashed it into the back of the net.

Wallace at Manchester United

Many were full of praise for Wallace’s ability to control the ball, with Wallace’s “gaffer” Lawrie McMenemy once describing him as someone who can “kill it straight away, then be off on a run”. But perhaps Barry Davies described Wallace best during the 1990 FA Cup semi- final between Man Utd and Oldham. Brian McClair had sent the ball racing down the middle of the pitch. Rick Holden and Earl Barrett, both out of position, had no chance of catching an unbelievably quick Wallace who raced after the ball, slotting it past Jon Hallworth, who had come out to try and close Wallace down. “Test of his pace, now a test of his finish. And he’s equal to both...”

©The Football History Boys, 2023


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