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The Relegation Trilogy

Discussion in '1980's' started by Beowulf, Oct 14, 2012.

  1. Beowulf

    Beowulf Senior Member

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    1983-84

    In the concluding match to the 1981-82 season Wolves defeated a strong West Ham United team 2-1 but, despite the positive score line against The Hammers, relegation to Division 2 had already been secured in the preceding weeks following a calamitous three game losing streak. The Wolves supporters, however, were in a positive frame of mind following the final whistle against West Ham. Perhaps optimism was further heightened due to the warm and gloriously sunny mid-May weather, but the South Bank were in no doubt as they roared their defiance; “We’ll be back in ‘83†was the chant. So it proved.

    In complete contrast, the ignominy of relegation back to Division 2 just a couple of seasons later provided no such positivity from Wolves fans. Whereas the 1981-82 season offered some genuine hope amidst all the turmoil of that season, a blatantly underfunded Wolves team endured a predictably wretched start to the 1983-84 campaign (despite a creditable opening day draw against Liverpool) which was enough to extinguish any faith from even the most optimistic Wolves fan.

    As a teenager back then, my personal memories of that grim season surround the despondency I felt from frequent defeat so it’s no surprise that, in a season that yielded only six victories and a paltry 27 goals, highlights were very few and far between. Oddly enough, I recall a 5-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest as a lasting memory. It was Andy Gray’s final appearance for Wolves before he left for greater glory at Everton. A couple of years previously, in a vociferous Waterloo Road demonstration against chairman Harry Marshall (“We’re fed up with Marshall’s Lawâ€), Wolves fans had urged Gray to stay with Wolves following strong media circulation of his impending transfer. This time, however, Gray left with barely a whimper of protest from the fans. Two enduring highlights from the Forest match; in a predictably abject team performance from Wolves one man stood apart – goalkeeper Paul Bradshaw. Despite the paradox of conceding five goals Bradshaw was magnificent that day and if it wasn’t for a series of excellent saves Wolves would have been further embarrassed. Finally, in adversity, the vocal support from the large Wolves contingent was similarly excellent. Such was the level of support from Wolves fans it later prompted fulsome praise from Brian Clough. It was humorous too; a rare Wolves corner late in the game was greeted with wildly exuberant celebrations akin to a goal being scored! Black humour from the Black Country indeed.

    I was fortunate to be present at The Hawthorns for Wolves’ first win of the 1983-84 season. For reasons too lengthy to explain, I’d infiltrated Albion’s Birmingham Road End together with a very handy firm of my Uncle Graham and my 11 year old cousin Dave! Not quite the Subway Army invasion that had occurred prior to kick-off just yards from where I was stood, but it was quite audacious in my mind at least. The Match of the Day cameras were also present to witness the momentous occasion of a rare Wolves win. Whenever I watch the footage of the match now I’m able to pick myself out amongst the crowd, leaning nonchalantly against the railings whilst surrounded on all sides by the enemy, my then-14 year old self briefly preserved for posterity. Of course, this being Wolves, any lingering happiness from our first win in 14 matches was completely obliterated the following week in a 5-0 Molineux thrashing. For the first and only time that season I was stood on the North Bank for that match against Watford. All I recall of the game is of Mo Johnston scoring and as he celebrated in front of the North Bank, in a fit of understandable pique someone hurled an apple at him at great velocity!

    My personal highlight of the 1983-84 season was probably the two home matches in the Christmas period when Wolves scaled intoxicating heights with back-to-back wins against Everton and Norwich. Not only that, but two clean sheets to celebrate as well! Truly, my cup runneth over that particular Christmas! The match against Everton saw the return of Andy Gray to Molineux. I don’t recall the kind of reception he received from Wolves fans but I do recall a decent atmosphere on the South Bank for both matches, even though there were just 12,761 and 10,725 in attendance respectively to see our first home win of the season quickly followed by our second.

    Of course, the highlight of the season was the stunning 1-0 win at Liverpool. Unfortunately, my meagre pocket money wasn’t able to stretch to a visit to Anfield and so, in those relatively primitive times, I had to nervously wait for any updates from teletext and local radio. Every time Radio WM’s iconic goal signal sounded it prompted a Pavlovian response of nail biting, but Wolves held out against the might of Liverpool and thus the goal scoring abilty of Steve Mardenborough's shoulder would earn itself a small place in Wolves folklore. Normal service resumed the following week with a home defeat against Luton Town and just two more wins in the final five months of the season put the black cap on a truly abysmal season.

     
  2. Beowulf

    Beowulf Senior Member

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    1984-85

    Arguably, the backdrop to the opening of the 1984-85 season restored a reasonable level of optimism amongst Wolves fans. The appointment of Tommy Docherty had, if memory serves, been generally well received, even though The Doc’s recent managerial appointments were rather modest. One fan, at least, was sufficiently impressed enough to spray graffiti on a North Bank wall exclaiming his support for “Tommy Docherty’s Gold & Black Army.†A gauge to measure early levels of optimism were through home attendances. Almost 15,000 were present at Molineux for the opening match against Sheffield United. Admittedly, this figure included a large following from South Yorkshire who, I remember, loudly chanted their support for Arthur Scargill and his striking miners with frequent refrains of “the miners will never be defeated!†Although events subsequently proved otherwise with regard to the miners, the Blades themselves weren’t defeated that warm and sunny day, but Wolves still emerged with a creditable 2-2 draw nonetheless.

    Just over a week later, over 13,000 were at Molineux for the mid-week visit of Manchester City (including a certain Mick McCarthy). At first glance, those attendances don’t appear to be particularly impressive but set against attendances from the previous season, where gates at Molineux had frequently dipped well-below 10,000, they displayed a marked improvement and thus, in my view, symbolised a certain early optimism amongst Wolves supporters. Docherty had seemingly strengthened the team with players of First Division experience in Tommy Langley, Tony Evans and Alan Ainscow. Allied to that were players such as John Humphrey, Alan Dodd and the youthful promise of Tim Flowers. Certainly, these players helped Wolves to a bright opening to the season with just one defeat in five games, but it was to prove a false dawn as Wolves soon descended into a five game losing streak. Attendances, by then, had declined to the same sub-10,000 crowd witnessed in the previous season of woe.

    In many respects, the 1984-85 season was even more abject than the one that preceded it for there were, of course, no heroic victories over the might of Liverpool or a defeat of Albion to celebrate. We couldn’t even find the quality to beat Brighton and Hove never mind West Bromwich. Even worse, at that stage of my life, I hadn’t started drinking so I couldn’t even begin to anaesthetise the pain of losing 3-0 at home to Oldham Athletic one week and 4-1 away at Notts County the next. The statistics are truly damning for that season and tells the tale sufficiently, so it certainly doesn’t require me to resurrect them in all their ingloriousness.

    Only one highlight stands out; a 3rd Round League Cup tie against First Division Southampton where we secured a hugely creditable 2-2 draw at The Dell. There were just over 13,000 at Molineux for the Tuesday night replay a week later. Unfortunately, despite a decent performance where we hit the woodwork a couple of times, Wolves weren’t able to score past Peter Shilton in the Saints goal. But what stood out for me particularly was the sensational atmosphere generated on the South Bank that night. Even though the chanting largely consisted of the then-fashionable “’Ere we go!†sung ad infintum, the decibel levels raised from the tightly packed South Bank choir was very impressive indeed and drew subsequent praise from Tommy Docherty. The replay against Southampton had been secured through a two goal contribution from on-loan forward Jim Melrose. It was felt at the time that if Wolves signed Melrose on a permanent deal he could have made a significant contribution. Although his scoring record was relatively modest in his brief loan period, Melrose did seem to have something tangible to offer Wolves. I recall a fine headed goal from him in a 1-0 away win at Portsmouth and there was little doubt that, for a short period at least, performances and results improved with the inclusion of Jim Melrose in the Wolves line-up. Alas, Wolves were unable or unwilling to part with the £40,000 fee that would have secured his potential goal scoring services.

    Although the defence was relatively settled throughout the season, towards the latter stages of the campaign Tommy Docherty became increasingly desperate with his forward line. He seemed to have something of a ‘throw it against a wall and see if it sticks’ policy and utilised various striker combinations. At one stage Peter Eastoe and Steve Biggins were used in the vain hope of solving Wolves’ chronic scoring record. I don’t think they scored a goal between them. I also recall arguably the fattest and unfittest Wolves ever seen in the portly form of Ray Hankin. At least Hankin actually managed to score during his mercifully short-lived Wolves career; a consolation goal in a 4-1 defeat at Notts County, a goal that was greeted with wild abandonment from the Wolves fans celebrating the fact that it was our first goal in eight matches.

    Although performances were dire and thus instantly forgettable, the odd game has stuck in my mind due to its atmosphere. One such occasion was the home match against Oxford United. A crowd of 10,647 is certainly a very modest figure set against Wolves’ proud standards but, at that late stage of the season, it represented the first five figure Molineux league crowd since September of the previous year! But once again the South Bank were in fine voice, buoyed by the challenge faced with the visit of the then-league leaders and also, no doubt, the dizzying euphoria that followed a rare victory just days earlier, a 1-0 away win at Carlisle United – our first win in 22 league and cup matches!

    By the time Huddersfield Town came to town for the last home match of the 1984-85 season just 4,422 were present to see the last rites performed on Tommy Docherty’s beleaguered team. The Molineux sun and a 2-1 Wolves win totally belied the gloom that had encircled Wolves throughout that season. Wolves duly completed their campaign away at Blackburn Rovers on 11th May 1985 but no matter how dejected Wolves fans felt after a 3-0 defeat and the season as a whole, a sobering perspective was applied when contrasted against the Bradford City Fire Disaster that very same day.

     
  3. Beowulf

    Beowulf Senior Member

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    1985-86

    Sammy Chapman was probably the most unlikeliest of managers in the long and proud history of Wolverhampton Wanderers. He was, if I recall correctly, the club’s chief scout at the time with no managerial experience whatsoever, so his appointment (on an initial temporary basis I believe) was an oddity. Chapman was reappointed as manager following the failed second coming of Bill McGarry and the fact that he was willing to take on the ugly car crash that was Wolves speaks volumes for the man. Sammy Chapman is something of a footnote in Wolves history and although his tenure was predictably unsuccessful he at least provided Wolves with an important legacy through the signing of Andy Mutch.

    I have further reason to think highly of Sammy Chapman. I met him once at the Wolves training ground in Castlecroft during the 1985-86 pre-season. I was the only supporter there at the time and Sammy stood next to me behind the white railing and chatted at some length whilst we watched the Wolves players train. There can't be too many supporters, I imagine, who have had such direct access to a Wolves manager, or one who was willing to talk candidly and for so long. Unfortunately, I can't recall precisely what was said (other than a reference to a Jon Purdie goal and fine performance in a pre-season friendly) but I do distinctly recall Sammy's passion and integrity. I'll always be grateful for the time he afforded me and his managerial insight into the club.

    As the record books clearly show, Wolves endured yet another annus horribilis; their third in successive seasons. The same pattern of repeated defeat was established from the outset of the season. At the beginning of 1986 Wolves had won just four times. Once again, the season proved to be a barren one in terms of highlights and positive memories. Our First Round League Cup matches against Walsall proved to be of some interest early in the season. At Fellows Park in the First Leg Wolves fans, as you’d expect, turned out en masse. In the follow-up at Molineux there was, for that time, a decent sized crowd (over 11,000) that turned out to see the return of former Wolves player Steve Daley in Walsall’s colours and an ensuing single goal defeat to the Saddlers.

    In January, Wolves’ fall from grace was further highlighted with their debut in the lower league cup competition, the glamorously titled Freight Rover Trophy. I have no idea how many Wolves fans were present for the inaugural match at Exeter City but I was part of a paltry crowd at Molineux for the match against Torquay United just over a week later. One can only imagine what veteran Geoff Palmer, once part of a more prosperous era for Wolves, must have thought upon the pitiful sight that greeted him that freezing evening at Molineux as he emerged with his teammates from the Waterloo Road tunnel; vast windswept spaces, with two stands empty and decaying, 1,618 hardy souls spread thinly around the white elephant of the John Ireland Stand far in the distance and the vast South Bank that once teemed with a swaying mass of 30,000 people. I’ve written previously of my recollections of the Freight Rover Trophy/Sherpa Van Trophy at Molineux Mix (http://www.molineuxmix.co.uk/vb/showthread.php?t=55693), so I feel no real need to add anything further. But, on a final point, it’s ironic that a competition that was understandably greeted with so much initial apathy later became such an important milestone in the renaissance of Wolverhampton Wanderers, a fact measured by the many thousands that were in force for both Semi-finals against Notts County and, of course, the Final itself.

    My abiding memory of the 1985-86 season was that it was a slow, painful demise played out amidst the rotting carcass of Molineux. Although fans had mobilised in the form of protest marches, meetings and petitions, with repeated match day chants calling for the removal of the Bhatti’s from a near-deserted South Bank, there didn’t appear to be the fiery spark of previous protests; when we demonstrated against our former chairman and his ‘Marshall Law’ in the early 80s there were fan boycotts, noisy demonstrations outside Molineux and the occasional protests on the pitch. Back then, we had demanded; “bring back our Dougan to us.” Our knight in shining armour duly arrived but, unbeknown to us at that time, had opened the Pandora’s Box to release the evils of the brothers grim. If one of our own was unable to save us then who could? Fortunately, there were other unlikely figures that would answer our clarion call, but until that time came there seemed to be a weary resignation of our fate.

    It became all too common heading back home from Molineux after our latest defeat at the hands of Newport County, Bournemouth, Brentford and their ilk, being so utterly dispirited that I’d quietly vow to myself that I wouldn’t go again. But I was there again the following home match and the odd away fixture, helping to keep the gold flag flying high whilst witnessing inevitable defeat, closely followed by a renewed vow of abstinence. I knew though that I’d never, ever leave them – for better or worse, Wolverhampton Wanderers were in my DNA. But it was like being on a slow treadmill in purgatory, misery and despair ad infinitum. It was all that I knew, though, as I had no sustained period of Wolves success to measure it all by; I’d seen our 1980 League Cup success but by the time I was considered old enough to attend matches on my own, during the latter half of the 1980-81 season, Wolves were beginning their near-terminal decline.

    My personal Wolves nadir was probably our 6-0 defeat away at Rotherham United in the First Round of the FA Cup. I vividly recall my despondency during that long coach journey back home, staring vacantly out of the window, alone with my thoughts and oblivious to all attempts to cheer me up. I was just 16, battle-hardened and cynical through relentless and remorseless defeat, prematurely questioning just where my life was heading. Well, in the short term it was to Molineux a week later and a 3-1 defeat against Gillingham.

    The opportunity of revenge against Rotherham presented itself just a few months later. This match was slightly odd in that no South Bank choir formed that day. The usual huddled and surging mass at the top of the South Bank had given way to wide open spaces and of fans sitting on the near-empty terrace. This resulted in another rarity - there was absolutely no singing during the match whatsoever. No chants of encouragement or of protest even. Against this slightly surreal backdrop a turgid, goalless match unfolded beneath a peerless Wolverhampton sky when suddenly, in a dramatic and unforeseen turn of events, Wolves were awarded a penalty in the dying moments of the match! We awoke from our torpor, rose to our feet and in honour of Geoff Palmer, the player bestowed with ending our collective boredom, we finally found our voices with several renditions of "Zico!" as he stepped forward to take the penalty kick. My recollection is that Palmer’s attempt sailed high over the crossbar but I’m now led to believe that, rather than a kick more suited to Twickenham than Molineux, Palmer’s effort was actually saved by the Rotherham keeper. Whatever the case, the penalty was missed and the collective groan of the 2,838 crowd soon gave way to dark, morbid thoughts of ending our misery as the opportunity of celebrating a rare win was squandered.

    Perhaps the highlight of the season was the trip to Blackpool. A weekend exploring the salacious delights and gritty charms of the northern resort had enticed a large following from the Midlands, including a significant number of our more ‘unruly’ supporters. On that very subject, during the match itself, I recall being somewhat taken aback by the sight of seeing someone who I knew quite well from my time at school, approach a lone policeman at the front of the open terrace where the Wolves fans were massed and proceed to head-butt him. This was the cue for the others he was with to join in with the attack on the helpless policeman before they all quickly melted back into the crowd. It was certainly no surprise to learn that my one-time school colleague was arrested almost two years later as part of Operation Growth. Events were somewhat brighter on the pitch, however, as Wolves achieved their only double of the season courtesy of a late Dean Edwards goal. The joyous scenes that greeted the final whistle were something to behold as hundreds of Wolves fans invaded the pitch and, having earned their spurs on that Lancastrian field, chaired off Edwards and Tim Flowers as if they were footballing gods.

    If I recall correctly, following the win at Blackpool, Wolves were still in with a fighting chance of avoiding relegation. But, in a crucial Tuesday night match at Molineux against the league leaders Reading we conspired to throw away a two goal lead and lost the match 3-2. Such a bitter defeat began the death throes on our hopes of survival, encapsulated in a sorry 3-0 home defeat to Bournemouth the following Saturday. A third consecutive season of relegation was resultant as Wolves, just six years after defeating European Champions Nottingham Forest to win the League Cup, joined the bottom tier of English football. Our steep decline had been truly remarkable. Surely, the once-mighty Wolves couldn’t sink any lower, could we…?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 14, 2012
  4. Vietnam Wolf

    Vietnam Wolf Just doesn't shut up

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    Wow - speechless. What a great thread Beowulf ... although it makes unpleasant reading it's great information for young wolves fans to learn their history. There's not many that could recall so much of those three years - you were clearly a loyal fan.
     
  5. Edgmond Wolf

    Edgmond Wolf MolMix Poster of the Season Runner Up 2011-2012

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    Nice detail there mate


    Come on the Wolves
     
  6. Beowulf

    Beowulf Senior Member

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    Thanks VW & EW. Much appreciated.
     
  7. Wexford Wolf

    Wexford Wolf Guest

    Great memories thanks for sharing
     
  8. Big Nosed Wolf

    Big Nosed Wolf Just doesn't shut up

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    Very dark days which I remember well.

    Excellent thread for those who do not/too young.
     
  9. liquidatorwolf

    liquidatorwolf Just doesn't shut up

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    Thanks for that Beowulf, keep them coming.
     
  10. Beowulf

    Beowulf Senior Member

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    Many thanks Wexford, BNW and liquidatorwolf for your generous words.
     
  11. Zico

    Zico Senior Member

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    Very interesting and brought back lots of memories!

    One detail I remember (at least I think I do!) was going to Lincoln in midweek for the last match of the Third Division season, with the prospect of completing not only a trio of relegations, but a trio of bottom places. However, a rare victory there, including if memory serves correct a goal direct from a free kick, meant we avoided such ignominy!
     
  12. Beowulf

    Beowulf Senior Member

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    Cheers, Zico! That match at Lincoln City is an interesting footnote to what obviously proved to be our third successive relegation. Another "achievement" for Wolves following the Lincoln match was that we managed to avoid conceding the four goals that would have seen us concede a staggering 100 goals that season! At that point, I think we were just grateful for any small mercies.
     
  13. FLEET WOLF

    FLEET WOLF Just doesn't shut up

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    Thanks Beowulf, interesting, if depressing reading!
     
  14. Beowulf

    Beowulf Senior Member

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    Cheers, Fleet! As a teenager at that time, I suppose those grim days were character-forming if nothing else!
     
  15. long ball man

    long ball man Just doesn't shut up

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    Wow that brought back some memories.

    I remember the last matches of the 1985 and 1986 seasons vividly. I looked around Molineux after most of the 'crowd' had departed to take it all in just in case Molineux didn't exist by the start of the next season. Puts today's problems in perspective.
     
  16. Burton Wolf

    Burton Wolf Just doesn't shut up

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    I will never forget the 6-0 at Rotherham. My all time low as a Wolves fan. However things got worse before they got better. Then a certain S.G.Bull turned up and all Wolves fans should be eternally grateful to Graham Turner for signing him and Bully for what he did. Because without him I doubt we would have got back to where we are now, no one should ever forget that. We will never see his like again.
     
  17. torch55

    torch55 Guest

    Great account of very grim days. One minor point, though: Geoff Palmer's penalty against Rotherham, March 1986, definitely sailed over the bar into a deserted North Bank and was not saved by the goalkeeper. I remember it well because it was the moment when the answer to, "What am I doing here?", which I had posed to myself a few times in the previous couple of seasons, finally could no longer be ignored. Taking my leave of a sea of empty red seats in the John Ireland stand that was the last action I saw of the trilogy.
     
  18. Saltyjim

    Saltyjim Has a lot to say

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    My memory is different. I thought he hit it straight at the keeper. Best bit of that match was that Mutchy made his debut, which was a wee bit of a turning point as it finally gave us a bit of a goal threat.
     
  19. ricki herberts moustache

    ricki herberts moustache Just doesn't shut up

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    Hi, my first post: I am new to Wolves forums on the internet: have been a Wolves fan since 1983.

    I remember those grim years in the 80's only too well: from relegation top flight to fourth Division in consecutive seasons, dwindling crowds, decaying stadium and imminent liquidation on the cards.

    I still have my Wolves shirt from 1985 and amazingly: it still fits! Well, ok it is a wee bit tighter if I am to be totally honest!

    Oh course Wolves got a bit of publicity here in New Zealand when our own Ricki Herbert signed for Wolves. He was the first New Zealander to play professional in the Football League.

    Ricki is still very active for football in New Zealand
     
  20. Keith Maniac

    Keith Maniac Guest

    Just checked out my scrapbook from 85/86 season, from the rotherham game the last paragraph reads "newcomer David Mutch missed a snip after dribbling round the Rotherham keeper but then had his effort from 3 yards cleared off the line.
    And 22 minutes later in the 62nd minute,Geoff palmer had his penalty kick SAVED by kelham o'hanlon.
     
  21. Locks Heath Wolf

    Locks Heath Wolf Groupie

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    My first ever game, freezing that day with my Dad and couldn't wait to get home...little did I know that was as good as it would get for a looooong time!:hmmmm2:
     

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