On Saturday, I saw Wolves play for the first time since 1960; a lot has changed in 50 years and not merely in terms of the quality of the team, the weight of the boots and the size of the players` pay-packets/egos.
As a first, I met a friend in a pub, The Railway at Putney. In the late 1950s my father took me on his BSA Bantam, which he parked as close to the stadium as possible, and escorted me to the ground.
At Molineux he headed for the stand opposite the clock, which usually indicated that the pre-match kickabout was not about to begin, and I manoeuvred my way to a vantage point behind the goal on the South Bank.
Saturday, in the pub, conditioned over the years by horror stories of soccer hooligans, I kept quiet about my allegiance. Even without the stripy scarves or coloured rattles, the replica shirts and logoed leisure-wear proclaimed the loyalty of most drinkers. As my friend had informed me that we had a longish walk to the ground, he, his friend and I (and virtually everyone else there) remained in the pub a remarkably long time, one of the benefits of all-ticket, all-seater stadia.
We arrived at the ground with five minutes to spare, walking past sour-faced Met. policemen, who, by their presence and demeanour, seemed to confirm my worst fears about soccer crowds.
I bought a programme to commemorate the event but it cost a lot more than the 4d. I used to pay. To be fair it was much thicker than the single folded-up piece of paper, which I used to buy, and a far more interesting read, even if it did contain a good deal of irrelevant information about the opposing team.
At the turnstile, I waved my ticket at the man behind the window and tried to push my way through. Wrong! After I had failed dismally to poke the ticket the right way into the slot, he lost patience and let me through. We were in! After another florescent-coated official searched my bag but couldn`t find the answer to 3 across in my newspaper, we headed for the Putney End via a long queue for the gents, which I judged would shuffle forward at pace that would allow me to take my seat a little before half-time. Wrong again: I had forgotten that troughs can accommodate far more lunchtime drinkers than is possible with individual urinals. We sat down just as the teams lined up to start and if it weren`t for the kerfuffle over seating a couple of rows away (and, later, the arrival of a big bloke in front of me), I would have watched the whole match.
One thing that hadn`t changed at all was the atmosphere. Playing Free Cell on the computer, while listening to the live broadcast (or classic rock when I tuned in to the Southend game), or watching the highlights on Sky TV, pale into insignificance when compared with being there! Mind you, seeing the players on the box enabled me to recognize the starting eleven, which is more than can be said for programmes, old or new.
The Wolves supporters were wonderful, the noise issuing from the rows to the left a thunderous roar. Unfortunately, as I am now a little deaf (a youth spent listening to heavy metal wrecked my ear-drums: I actually liked the music being played over the Southend commentary), I could not make out the words. I thought I heard a chant that castigated the referee as a disgrace to the Premiership … or was that a reference to our team? Clogger Karl? You clearly never saw Eddie Clamp. I`m hooked … now how can I get a ticket for the Spurs match?
What about the game itself? One thing is for sure, namely, that the Wolves team of the late 1950s, which featured Finlayson in goal, Showell and Harris as full-backs and Clamp, Slater and Flowers as half-backs, would not have surrendered a one-goal lead in the second half. With Deeley, Stobart, Murray, Broadbent and Horne up front, they would have scored a couple as well: Stan Cullis`s boys were trained to perfection. (I know! I know! It is the FA cup winning team of 1960 but it`s the line-up I remember. I had hoped to insert a picture from the day’s commemorative Sporting Star but couldn’t master the technology).
Of the players, who started the game yesterday, I reckon that only Doyle would have got the nod in 1960. Where was the finesse? All too often passes went astray, even when the ball was not merely thumped upfield. The contrast with Fulham`s play on the ball was not only pronounced but also infuriating because it meant that whenever we lost possession (which was often) it proved bloody difficult to get it back.
Fulham fully deserved to win, reflected in my reaction to their second goal in extra time. It seemed so inevitable that I felt little disappointment. That`s not to say that the game did not spring its surprises. Why did Jones not start the game and what on earth was MM thinking about when he took van Damme off at half-time? He further compounded the offence by cluttering up the field with strikers, leaving our defence woefully exposed. That decision directly led to their equalizer and Fulham`s domination for the rest of the half. Then, of all things, he pulled Doyle off. Why was Guedioura not involved earlier (I would have brought him on instead of Jones) and why jump to stop a ball going along the ground? Given that we survived at least two good penalty appeals, we were lucky to get away with a 2-1 result.
Ironically, one bright spot of the day was the dismissal of Berra. Watching the games on Sky on Saturday evenings, I have always thought him suspect and ready to foul the opposition, when turned. The match on Saturday confirmed it. If it brings Mouokolo (or perhaps van Damme) in as a central defender, it will strengthen the team and help to redeem an albeit unwarranted reputation for over-physicality. If we don`t overcome this prejudice, especially if perceived as fact by referees and opposing teams, we might find that the Wolves medical team will be looking after more than Jones`s ego, Mouokolo`s and Zubar`s hamstrings, Hunt`s ankle, Fletcher`s foot and Kightly`s entire body.
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