Matt Maher: Why Ally Robertson was praying for anyone but Chorley for Wolves

Ally Robertson had only one wish for Wolves ahead of the FA Cup fourth round draw and it wasn’t granted.

Graham Turner, Steve Bull, Ally Robertson.
Graham Turner, Steve Bull, Ally Robertson.

“Don’t get Chorley,” he says. “I was sitting at home pleading at the TV: ‘Please, don’t get Chorley’.

“It’s not because I’m particularly worried about Wolves getting knocked out. It was because I knew if they got Chorley they would show the game from 1986. I played and I don’t want to bloody see it!”

Sadly, there is no chance of Robertson being spared, now Wolves will once more come face-to-face with the non-league outfit who tormented them over the course of 270 minutes a little over 34 years ago.

The 3-0 first round, second replay defeat is widely regarded as the lowest point in the club’s history and also comfortably ranks among the worst moments of Robertson’s own career. Three-and-a-half decades on, the scars remain.

“Does it still give me nightmares? Yes,” he says. “To be at a club like Wolves, even in the Fourth Division, and to lose to a non-league team. It was a horrible experience.”

Robertson looks back with huge fondness and pride at his time with Wolves, which would see him captain the club at Wembley and win two promotions.

But the defeat to Chorley, at the time, seemed to confirm fears he had made a colossal mistake by agreeing to cross the Black Country divide from Albion just a few months earlier.

Frozen out by Ron Saunders after 18 years at The Hawthorns, Robertson needed little convincing when Brian Little offered him a move to Molineux. Yet what initially looked like a fresh start, quickly began to resemble a nightmare.

“I knew Wolves were in the Fourth Division, obviously,” he says. “What I didn’t know was the complete mess the club was in.

“Had I seen the state of Molineux before signing, I don’t think I would have agreed to it.

“But Brian called me up. I lived in Walsall, him in Sutton Coldfield, and so we met near his house and the deal was done.

“I still remember turning up for the first day. There was no training kit. I drove back to Albion and went to their kit man Dave Matthews to see if there was anything spare.

“I said: ‘I can’t have anything blue and white, Dave. What have you got?’

“That is how low the club was. The ground itself was falling down. There were holes everywhere, windows were smashed.

“I always remember driving back home after my first day. I phoned up a couple of the Albion lads that night and said: ‘What on earth have I done?’”

Within weeks, Little was sacked and replaced by Graham Turner. Then came Chorley.

A 1-1 draw at Bolton’s Burnden Park (Chorley’s own Victory Way deemed too small to host Wolves’ substantial away following), was followed by the same scoreline in a replay at Molineux.

Turner’s men travelled north for the third meeting on Monday, November 24, barely 48 hours after a 3-0 home defeat to Wrexham which left them 11th in the Fourth Division table.

The nightmare unfolded quickly, Charlie Cooper opening the scoring on 16 minutes when he rounded Wolves goalkeeper Vince Bartram. Mark Edwards then doubled the lead after half-time before Cooper danced past a visiting backline - Robertson included – to seal victory.

“I can still hear Graham Turner’s voice in the dressing room after,” says Robertson. “The stick he gave us was really something but we all deserved it because we played like a bunch of amateurs.”

Happily for Wolves a renaissance was just around the corner. The signings of Steve Bull and Andy Thompson, who actually joined days before the second replay but were ineligible for the match, had a swift impact on their fortunes.

Robertson maintains that had the Chorley tie taken place four weeks later, the result would have been very different. As it was the defeat piled pressure onto Turner and Robertson admits to having his own doubts about the manager’s methods at the time.

He recalls: “I went to see Graham about two weeks after he had arrived and said: ‘I can’t play like this.’

“He was wanting to hit balls long, down the channel. I’d been brought up to play football.

“His actual words to me were: ‘Ally, when you won the ball you could give the ball to Bryan Robson, Tony Brown, Len Cantello, who have we got you can pass the ball to?

“Play it over the top and get Bull and Mutchy running for it. In this division, this works.

“To be fair to him, after four weeks I went back into his office, held my hands up and apologised. It was a manager knowing what he had to do to win in that league.”

Wolves would miss out on promotion that season through the play-offs but went up the following year as champions and repeated the trick to win the Third Division title in 1989.

For Robertson, who had never won a trophy during a celebrated career with Albion, there was also the joy of breaking his duck with the 1988 Sherpa Van Trophy success.

“The great thing I can always say when people bring up Chorley is: ‘Yeah, but we went on to win the fourth and third and the Sherpa Van. So we weren’t that bad!’

“Graham got the whole team playing the right way. How great it was to see the gates bounce back from 2,000 when I joined to 20,000 when I left. Getting the fans back on side, it was brilliant.”

Still, he’d rather not think about Chorley. Tomorrow night, Robertson is hoping the current Wolves team can exorcise the demon.

“I’m hoping Wolves can go there and beat them 5-0!” he says, in a tone which suggests he is only half-joking at most. “Put five or six past them, come on!”

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