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Johnny Phillips: Never forget dark days of a decade ago at Wolves

Ten years have passed since one of the most shambolic months in Wolves’ Premier League history.

Tottenham Hotspur's Emmanuel Adebayor (left) in action against Wolverhampton Wanderers' Roger Johnson (centre) and Jamie O'Hara (right)
Tottenham Hotspur's Emmanuel Adebayor (left) in action against Wolverhampton Wanderers' Roger Johnson (centre) and Jamie O'Hara (right)

You may have consigned this one to the dark recesses of the memory bank, so apologies for dragging it back into your consciousness, but March 2012 was a desperate time for the club.

Yet, the intervening years have shown that matters can get a whole lot worse and also unimaginably better, as one of the most colourful periods in the club’s history played out in front of wide-eyed supporters.

Here’s the sequence of results for this month a decade ago: Fulham 5 Wolves 0, Wolves 0 Blackburn 2, Wolves 0 Manchester United 5, Norwich 2 Wolves1 and Wolves 2 Bolton 3. A rot had set in. Fans had fallen out of love with the club and its players.

The squad was divided, with rifts emerging in the dressing room over many months. Owner Steve Morgan and chief executive Jez Moxey had become the target of the supporters’ wrath, and the stability of those early years of Mick McCarthy’s tenure had fallen to pieces.

Players such as Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara, the two marquee signings of the Premier League summer transfer window in 2011, epitomised the malaise.

Both were involved in separate incidents that highlighted the discord.

After the walloping at Fulham, Johnson was sent home from training and fined £50,000 for turning up at Compton Park the next morning in an unfit state to train during Terry Connor’s temporary reign – although, in truth, he never actually paid the fine.

It was more a case of the club being seen to instil discipline.

After the next defeat at Molineux, against Blackburn, O’Hara was involved in an altercation with supporters as he made his way up the Waterloo Road after the match.

This came after supporters had gathered at the foot of the Billy Wright Statue outside the main reception to protest at the way the club was being run.

If some players felt the heat that season, then the end of 2012/13 was even worse.

Connor’s time had ended and the eclectic combination of Stale Solbakken and Dean Saunders left Wolves travelling to Brighton on the final day of the Championship season in search of a win to avoid a second successive relegation. They didn’t even look like scoring, let along picking up three points, and when Johnson attempted to offer his shirt to a supporter in the away end he was sent packing by the furious travelling contingent.

Even Brighton’s fans sided with the Wolves supporters, chanting “You stupid b******s, you’ve let your fans down”.

Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday fans would have a different opinion today, but in this instance relegation to League One was certainly the best thing that could have happened. Kenny Jackett’s contribution to Wolves will never be forgotten.

A cleansing of the squad took place, with Jackett placing his trust in youth after turning to an old hand from his Swansea days, Sam Ricketts, to lead an inexperienced pack.

An understated, set-the-example type, Ricketts proved to be the right captain at the right time. He walked away with the champagne moment of the League One season, too, scoring the decisive fifth goal in an astonishing 6-4 victory over Rotherham in front of a Molineux full house on Easter weekend.

Without such an early escape from the third tier and the subsequent seasons of consolidation, Fosun would never have cast their eyes on Wolves.

And all that followed, with Mendes securing Neves, Bruno replacing Nuno, those trips to Wembley, Turin, Istanbul and many more thrown in for good measure. The ongoing story of Wolves in 2022 continues to captivate, as they emerge from the global pandemic in a position of relative strength.

So much can happen to any club over the span of a decade, but it certainly feels as if Wolves have added more dramatic chapters than most during this time.

And a final word for that farcical month of March, 2012. On a personal note, the one that really grated was that 5-0 defeat to Fulham.

It was a desperate trouncing which made a brief hero of a journeyman striker who disappeared from the scene almost as soon as he arrived.

Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak scored six goals in his brief 12-game Fulham career and half of them came on that rainy Sunday afternoon in West London.

It was Connor’s second game in charge after a spirited 2-2 draw at Newcastle. And it was the day every Wolves fan recognised that, as far as Premier League survival was concerned, the game was well and truly up.

Ten years, gone in a flash.

Wolves fans are in no hurry to repeat that turbulent journey of downs and ups.

More trips to Barcelona than Barnsley would be the order for this next chapter.

It’s always good to remember where you’ve been but the days of being thankful for where Wolves are now, have surely passed; replaced by a desire to push on to that next level and aspire to even better times over the next 10 years.

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