The DA continues the Mitre Football cities united tour
I can only apologise to Wolverhampton for the terrible first impression created in my head before I’d even stepped out of the door. A severe case of man flu does not make anyone long to trek out into the rain at 7.30 in the morning knowing full well they have to stop off at Cheltenham due to the Rail Network’s traditional ‘let’s dig stuff up’ Saturdays. To put it bluntly, I would rather have spent the day with El Hadji Diouf.
Having been pretty intimidated by Birmingham City supporters who didn’t care for my accent, and having just visited the Ricoh arena’s tribute to silence, I wasn’t enthused by my trip back to the Midlands. My journey from Reading via Cheltenham (virtually Wales without a toll) did not help and felt a bit like stepping around a giant dog turd on a much larger, but more inconvenient scale. What spurred me on was knowing full well the reputation Molineux and Wolves had of being a proper, traditional football club.
In fact, a little bit of trivia here but Wolverhampton Wanderers are largely credited with aiding the creation of European competition. Seen as the Manchester United of the 50’s, winning 3 titles under Stan Cullis and inviting the likes of Real Madrid to come play on their patch, someone somewhere decided this whole European competition thing had legs and decided to create a proper trophy. Unfortunately, at that stage, no one could’ve predicted the existence of Michel Platini…From there Wolves obviously felt they contributed enough and passed over the baton to somebody else…
But they’ve always maintained that air of importance. I was bought up flicking through old Wolves programmes, my dad having been a big fan of the tables toppers during the glory years (ironically his closest top flight team was Chelsea…how times have changed). In the 90’s they were also that team considered too big for the then division one (Championship) but who somehow never managed to make the giant leap into the Premier League. Wolves legend Steve Bull seemed to score around 80 a season yet that still never seemed to be quite enough. They were always pipped by someone like Watford…Or Barnsley.
Today then they must have been delighted that Blackpool were coming to an established Premier League side very much underdogs looking to pull off a shock. Ignoring the fact that Wolves sat bottom of the Premier League at the start of play, because let’s face it, a run of defeats from Chelsea in this league would see them looking over their Championship shoulder, and Wolves were the favourites looking to secure a banker home win against the only other team to choose orange/gold as their preferred colour of football kit. Molineux was to be an Umpa Lumpa’s paradise for just one day.
I was disappointed to learn that Blackpool’s Charlie Adam was suspended for the game, as I was keen to see what all the hype was about, but this news seemed to put Wolves fans in a good mood on the train journey up there. What put me in a foul mood was the fact it was still p***ing down with rain after my 4 hour journey to the city and my sniffles/deadly man flu was not withstanding the current climate particularly well. There was a moment I considered abandoning ship and heading home, but realising that would involve another trip to Cheltenham, I decided to plough on.
First impressions of Wolverhampton gave me a similar feeling to Birmingham and Coventry. It was not the most attractive of places. In fact, it had been rather summed up just before our train pulled into the platform by a series of neglected industrial units followed by a field where someone had genuinely made the effort to place a cardboard horse…A cardboard horse. If you don’t live in the countryside, you don’t live in the countryside I’m afraid. Stick with what you’re good at. JJB Sports outlets and ring roads. But the place quickly grew on me. It wasn’t any near as run down as Birmingham, and was obviously very much centered around a university population which was encouraging modern investment and a string of very nice pubs positioned next to the station. Three in fact made up a pleasant little area overlooking a central roundabout in what felt a bit like a Mexican standoff of bars. Three sets of bouncers looked over at the others waiting for them to make the first move; all did nothing.
I however found myself a burger and a beer for £4.99 in a nice little place called Varsity who did the basics very well. They gave me a sofa to sit on, put of Sky Sports News and fed me a damn average burger. Just what I needed to recover myself from the soaking a five minute walk from the train station had dished out. From that moment on I won’t lie, I didn’t see a lot of Wolverhampton. I had a short stroll once the rain had died down and took in a Halfords, Wickes and car wash, but like Coventry a few weeks previous, this felt very much like a residential city, not one that sees tourists flocking to it’s hotspots on a regular occurrence. That said, it seemed like a perfectly nice place to live and could see myself happily settling there if ever necessary – which certainly couldn’t be said for Birmingham.
Add to that the fact that Molineux is a perfect stadium to visit for a neutral visitor. The ground is within a stone’s throws distance of the station and all the pubs are very much in the middle on route. Although I did get a tad lost to start with, mainly because of the sheer volume of golden shirts wondering all over the place acting like confusing beacons, it’s very hard to miss the orange stanchions charging out of the city’s roots. What I would say is somewhere along the line it feels like the city has been somewhat punished for loving their football club a little bit too much. I was only attending the Wolves Blackpool fixture because the planned Wolves v Spurs trip had started at £41 a ticket. I don’t care what league you’re in, that is nothing short of disgraceful.
Entrance fee for this encounter itself was £31. It is a nice ground, with a good atmosphere and convenient facilities, but no fan should be paying that sort of money to fund it. It is quite simply unsustainable. Despite the prices, pretty much everything and anything was sponsored inside Molineux too. At around 1.30 the pre match announcer began reeling off exactly what had been covered by advertising grabbers and just about finished his long list in time for kick off. ‘Today’s ballboys are sponsored by Dave’s Tyres; their parents are sponsored by Simple Pizza and Simple Pizza’s sponsorship of the ballboys parents is sponsored by Dave’s Tyres…’ I kid you not, it was ridiculous.
The announcer was in fact one of those really annoying ‘entertainers’ who thinks telling everyone to make ‘lots of noise’ is enough. It’s like pantomime gone wrong as everybody sits there downing a Bovril and mumbling under their breath for him to shut the f*** up. We’d all paid £31 to get in; we’d make some noise when we bloody well felt like it.
Wolves do play some noise inspiring football though. Despite Blackpool appearing about as competent as Gordon Brown in a beauty pageant, Wolves terrorised the flanks and whipped in quality ball after ball to the hapless Blackpool box. It didn’t take long to break the deadlock and as soon as Matt Jarvis had beautifully placed the ball into the corner of the goal my neighbour turned to me and said ‘this is going to be a landslide today.’ He wasn’t wrong.
After DJ Campbell decided to ’spin’ around and clobber his marker in the face the game was an absolute breeze for Wolves, who for my money should be nowhere near the foot of the table. Two wins on the bounce though and they could be challenging for Europe. That is how crazy the Premier League currently is. A 4-0 win here did their chances of avoiding the drop no harm and the fans fizzled out of the stadium in good spirits sharing some of that infamous Black Country humour that makes them a pleasurable group to be around. You would never know the team was bottom; such was the positive and chirpy spirit around the stadium.
The biggest compliment I can pay Wolverhampton is that with man flu very much a hindrance, I was all but typing a negative review before I’d even got out of bed. But having experienced a day at Molineux I have no substance for such negativity other than the price of entry. It’s a great place to watch a football match, not to mention convenient (providing Network Rail don’t have another one of their turns) and I would quite happily trot along to every home game I could if I was in close proximity of the ground. For £41 a ticket though, I’d probably take a rain check…Commercial managers please take note. Because that won’t be the last time you hear that sentence.