Matt Healey continues the series.
Paul McLoughlin was born in Bristol on the 23rd December 1963. He started his career playing non league for Mangotsfield and was then spotted by Cardiff City. After playing in the Football League for the Bluebirds, he left Ninian Park in 1986 and after a spell abroad playing in New Zealand, he then briefly joined Bristol Rovers and then Bristol City. McLoughlin was signed by John Newman at Hereford United in the summer of 1987. Despite finishing 5th during the 1984/1985 season the Bulls had bobbed around in mid table for the 1985/1986 and 1986/1987 campaigns and supporters were demanding success.
I asked him how John Newman sold the move to him ” I had been given a lot of information on Hereford by the Bristol City management team of Terry Cooper and Clive Middlemas. John (Newman) had shown interest in me, I was devastated to be leaving Bristol City, but they had plenty of other players in my position, so it worked out to be a great move coming to Hereford and playing regular first team football, John had signed a lot of new players that summer including myself and I was really excited to be a part of it”
McLoughlin made his Hereford debut in a 0-0 draw at home to Rochdale on the 15th August 1987 and scored his first home goal for the club a couple of weeks later in a League Cup tie with Bristol Rovers.
The Bulls started poorly during the 1987/1988 season and the club parted company with John Newman in the early autumn of that campaign. Player Coach Ian Bowyer was then installed as the new manager. “It was a strange feeling. John treated me so well, he was great in everything he did. I think some of the players who had been there a while were expecting it though and maybe things had gone a bit stale. Ian had come in as the coach and took straight over, as a player you accept things quickly and get on with it”.
McLoughlin scored two goals during the 1987/1988 season and was playing the majority of games out on the wing or in midfield. The preferred striking partnership then was Stewart Phillips, Phil Stant and Ian Benbow. The following season with Phillips departed to West Brom. McLoughlin found himself as Stant’s new striking partner and the goals flowed for the pair of them. I asked McLoughlin how it all clicked.
“It wasn’t the plan to be honest. Two things happened. I started really well in my 1st season, but then got blood poisoning and was out for three months. I was in hospital for two weeks. By the time I had come back Ian (Bowyer) had increased the squad, so the players that didn’t make the 1st team would play in the reserves with the youth team players. We played in the Macbar League which was a reserve competition, so Bowyer integrated the youth players with the professionals which looking back was a superb idea as it gave the youngsters experience”
McLoughlin continued “We played Bristol City away and Bowyer asked me where I wanted to play. I said to him I wanted to go upfront. I scored a couple of goals and it just carried on, during the 1988/1989 season me and Phil Stant then struck up a fantastic relationship. It was pure luck how it happened. Me and Phil were totally different personalities and players, but the balance worked, we complimented each other really well and we scored plenty of goals between us.
McLoughlin and Stant scored over 40 league goals between them during the 1988/1989 campaign. It would be the best striking partnership at Edgar Street since Dixie McNeil and Steve Davey in the 1970’s. The scouts came flocking to Edgar Street. Stant was signed by 3rd Division (Now League One) Notts County for £175,000. McLoughlin was signed by 2nd Division (Now Championship) Wolverhampton Wanderers for £45,000. I asked McLoughlin if it was a tough decision to leave Hereford.
“It was, I wanted to stay, I thought my career was taking off. I was out of contract and Hereford made me a great offer to stay, but football is such a short career. Wolves tripled my wage and it was a step up two leagues. I was married and me and my wife wanted children. I couldn’t turn that money down, a year or so earlier I was in a hospital bed thinking my career was finished. I had to think about my family. It knew it would be difficult. I was aware I would be going to Wolves as back up to Steve Bull and Andy Mutch, they were a great partnership. Bull at the time was an England international”
You can watch some of McLoughlin’s Hereford goals below.
McLoughlin spent two seasons at Molineux playing 28 league games. He linked up with Walsall on loan during the 1991/1992 season and scored against Hereford in a 3-0 loss for the Bulls.
He then signed for Mansfield Town on a full time basis and scored the goal as the Stags beat Hereford 1-0 on the 25th February 1992.
McLoughlin reunited with Phil Stant at Mansfield as the club won promotion from Division Four (Now League Two) during the 1991/1992 season.
I asked him what it was like playing against Hereford and scoring “It was difficult, as I knew some of the guys really well. You just have to get on with the game, its our career and you devote yourself to the club that pays your wages. Its hard to get across to supporters that football is a job. I would have loved to have come back to Hereford, but it wasn’t an option”
After leaving the full time game in the mid 1990’s, McLoughlin played part time for Forest Green, Weston Super Mare and Clevedon. He got involved in coaching and then managed Clevedon in the Southern League. He is now back living in is native Bristol with his wife and they have three daughters. He returned to Hereford in June 2019 for the reunion and keeps a regular eye on Hereford FC with our Facebook group.
Photos supplied by Ron Parrott and MH Archive.