Shropshire Star

The period when the Seagulls left Wolves in a flap

As Wolves go searching for a much-needed win at Molineux on Saturday, there was a time when Brighton would have been the worst possible opponents. Fortunately, things have improved in recent years, but at one point Brighton were the complete personification of a ‘bogey team’. Paul Berry looks back.


Brighton? Please no. And that’s nothing against its very deserving status as an attractive and cultured resort on the East Sussex coastline. Not to mention the fact it was once labelled the ‘happiest city’ in the United Kingdom.

It’s a ‘no’ purely and simply because for Wolves fans, particularly during a 12-year spell including the entire 1980s, the very word Brighton was enough to bring out the cold sweats and pained and anguished expressions.

During that period, from the end of 1979 to the end of 1991, Wolves played Brighton on 13 occasions. And they didn’t win a single one of them. Unlucky for some.

Having a bogey team, one which proves an almighty struggle against no matter what the situation or respective league positions, is a rite of passage for any self-respecting football fan.

In more recent Wolves history let’s not talk about Huddersfield, against whom Wolves have lost five in a row without scoring, and only won two of the last 18.

And let’s definitely not talk about West Bromwich Albion, Wolves having only won three of 23 since doing a famous double back in 1996/97.


Let’s stick to Brighton, and a sequence of that bitter baker’s dozen which included nine successive defeats, six successive games without scoring, and a 5-1 thumping at the Goldstone Ground.

And even, after Wolves finally lifted the curse when goals from Mark Burke and Andy Mutch secured a 2-0 win, there has been plenty more agony to endure since.

A crushing defeat on the road during a time when the 2003 play-off winning team were otherwise beating an inexorable march towards promotion, a rollercoaster ride of a Molineux sharing of the spoils when Stale Solbakken punched a hole in the home dugout and that horribly toxic afternoon of 2013 which sealed the dismay and devastation of double relegation.

With team rivalries – and so-called ‘bogey teams’ – come similar examples at individual level as well.

Gently reminding former Wolves and England Under-21 goalkeeper Matt Murray that he was between the sticks for that hefty defeat at the Withdean Stadium nearly two decades ago receives the instant response of: “Bobby Zamora!”

Murray continues: “He scored in that game for Brighton, and he also scooped one over me in the draw at Molineux earlier in that season.

“He always seemed to score past me whether it was for Brighton, West Ham – he even had me on toast in England Under-21 training sessions as well!”

In three games up against Zamora, Murray was beaten four times. So those ‘bogey teams’ which afflict every set of football fans bar the very best extend to players and opponents as well!

And for Wolves, hoping to register a vital success against Brighton this Saturday afternoon, an examination of previous skirmishes with the Seagulls certainly reveals some dramatic narratives.

In historical footballing times it’s actually only fairly recently that Wolves and Brighton started doing battle and this dreaded bogey rose to the surface.

The first meeting took place in 1970, a 3-2 League Cup win for Wolves thanks to Hughie Curran (2) and Dave Woodfield and the second, in the FA Cup, finished in the same score in 1979 thanks on the gold and black side to Norman Bell, Steve Daley and an own goal.

It was then, as league hostilities began, that so too did the crushing disappointment.

Four successive league doubles as part of that awful run, and for Daley, for whom his effort at Brighton enroute to a semi-final defeat against Arsenal would prove his last ever cup goal for Wolves, that was mirrored by his own fortunes.

“I’d love to say I remember that goal and game against Brighton, but I don’t,” he says with a laugh.

Well Daley did notch 43 goals over eight years for Wolves from 244 appearances. Plenty to choose from.

And that time, towards the end of his Molineux career, was when he performed at his peak as one of the most creative talents in English football, hence why Manchester City came forward a few months later to make him a British record signing for the princely sum of 1,437,500 million English pounds.

“I was flying at that time,” the man himself recalls.

“We had a great team, and I really enjoyed playing in that midfield alongside Kenny Hibbitt and Willie Carr.

“The rapport between the three of us was brilliant – we all managed to score a few goals and we could all play in each other’s positions.

“That meant if one of us went on a run, someone else could fill in to cover.

“It also helped that we not only worked hard together on the pitch but we were close off it – we socialised together, we were good mates and we’d do anything for each other.”

It is the loss of that rapport when moving to City that remains one of Daley’s biggest regrets about making the move, even though at the time it was a new and exciting opportunity and one which had been sold by manager Malcolm Allison around taking the team into a new era.

That didn’t quite happen, instead players were sold rather than brought in, and the dream quickly turned into a nightmare with Daley unable to find the form which had seen him prove such a success with Wolves and the team’s fortunes nose-dived.

Including, for Daley anyway, a bad day at the office against – you guessed it - Brighton, when he was sent off for a poor challenge on later-to-be Aston Villa manager, John Gregory.

“The referee that day was actually a psychologist who phoned me after the game to apologise for sending me off because he could see I was in such a bad way,” Daley recalls.

“Everything was going wrong for me at that stage and that challenge – which wasn’t a good one – was a sign of my frustrations.

“I remember walking off the pitch after being sent off and just thinking I’d had enough of just about everything, it was the lowest of the low.

“When they used to announce the teams at City, I thought I had changed my name to Steve ‘Daleyboo’!”

Daley’s time in Manchester was, by his own admission, a disaster, but fortunately he was able to rebuild his career in America and then, post-football, become an award-winning after dinner speaker and now still regarded as hugely popular by the Molineux faithful.

But that miserable Brighton experience was one which continued for those he had left behind at Wolves.

SPORT A hole can be seen in the home dugout after Stale Solbakken the head coach / manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers punched a hole in anger which broke the perspex

The first ever league game between the two was played out on a snow-covered and frozen Molineux four days before Christmas in 1979, and a Wolves side missing Andy Gray and John Richards fell victim to a Peter Ward hat trick in a 3-1 defeat.

The Seagulls won the reverse fixture 3-0 the following April, and were soon into their dominating stride, Wolves going six of those league games without finding the net.

And when they did, it was an own goal from Gary O’Reilly in a 5-1 defeat towards the end of the 1984/85 season, as Wolves suffered their second successive relegation. Which rings a bell!

But by the time hostilities were renewed in the 1988/89 campaign, so too Wolves had been renewed and refreshed, back in the second tier thanks to successive promotions courtesy of an ambitious and inspirational squad under the management of Graham Turner.

But such upward momentum counts for nothing when Brighton & Hove Albion are in town. Tuesday, September 12th, 1989. Molineux Stadium. Wolves lost 4-2. Even with Steve Bull and Mutch on the scoresheet, it wasn’t enough to bury the Brighton bogey.

And so, it continued. A couple of 1-1 draws – actually Wolves first points against Brighton in the league - a 3-2 defeat at home despite Bull and Mutch scoring again, and a lively 3-3 draw away with, you guessed it, Mutch (2) and Bull on target.

Finally, however, the run was broken, with that belated Christmas present in 1991.

Brighton were struggling - this time it was them on the way to relegation - and first half goals from Burke and Mutch which didn’t really tell the full story of Wolves’ superiority were enough to register a first league win in the fixture.

Having seemingly broken the curse it would be over a decade till the clubs met again, Wolves having marooned themselves comfortably in the Championship and Brighton lower down.

Successive lower division titles had the Seagulls flying high, and so it was that they locked horns with Wolves again in 2002/03.

It finished 1-1 at Molineux, Kenny Miller cancelling out Zamora’s opener which had Murray flailing, before the clash at the Withdean Stadium, Brighton’s temporary home, complete with associated athletics track, in the February.

Buoyed by an epic FA Cup success against Premier League Newcastle, Wolves had steered their misfiring promotion campaign onto more solid foundations, and off the back of a 4-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday, occupied sixth place when they made the long journey to the South Coast.

By contrast Brighton were propping up the Championship table, had won only four of their previous 30 league games, and would ultimately make an immediate return to the League One equivalent.

Yet they won 4-1, and Murray remembers the pain.

“Awful,” he recalls. “We were awful.

“The Withdean was always such a horrible place to play.

“It was really open and always seemed windy, the dressing rooms weren’t great and the fans were miles from the pitch.

“Conditions were always horrendous and it must have been horrendous for the fans especially that day, because they travelled all that way and we were rubbish.

“Obviously Zamora scored, as he always did against me, and I remember for one of the goals I slid out and Nayls (Wolves defender Lee Naylor) kneed me in the head.

“For another the ball just about crossed the line, and it was just one of those really bad days at the office where everything went wrong.

“We were so bad, it felt like we just didn’t turn up, and yet we had been so good after Christmas and on the back of that Newcastle result.

“The way it was at that stadium, you had to walk off in front of the Wolves fans, and I think they gave us a reality check that day, letting us know that we certainly hadn’t cracked it.

“Maybe there was a bit of complacency, I don’t know, but no one played well that day, and it was one of those where you really didn’t want to look at your rating in the Express & Star on the Monday.

“The gaffer (Dave Jones) gave it out to us in the dressing room that day, as he did a couple of games later at half time at Ipswich as well.

“On that occasion we were 2-1 down and came back to win 4-2.

“I would say the way Dave managed his reaction to games was one of his biggest strengths.

“He always seemed to know when to let us ‘have it’, when to let us sort it out between ourselves or when to leave it to the Monday.

“There were some big egos in that dressing room, and understandably so because there were a lot of big players who had been very successful, but the characters didn’t bother Dave – he just said what he felt was right.

“When you look back on that season there were a few big moments when it all ‘went off’ a bit between the squad which did us good – and full time at Brighton was one of them.”

Whatever was said, it certainly worked.

Over the final 16 league games of the season which followed, Wolves lost only one at Portsmouth which, according to Murray, ‘doesn’t count’ as the squad had been afflicted by illness and the Pompey goal was ‘wind-assisted’.

“I would have saved it otherwise,” he laughs.

Wolves then of course clinched promotion to the Premier League by winning the play-offs and, even when it comes to Brighton, Murray has enjoyed happier memories since.

He was in the travelling party in 2004 when Wolves prevailed 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kenny Miller, and indeed Scottish striker Miller was to prove the complete antidote to the Brighton woes that had preceded his Molineux stay.

Because in five appearances for Wolves against Brighton, Miller scored in every single game!

Murray then later co-commentated on radio for another 1-0 away win in which his close pal Carl Ikeme produced a goalkeeping masterclass, and also then for Sky Sports in a pre-Christmas draw, on those occasions with Brighton now occupying the far plusher Amex Stadium.

COPYRIGPHT EXPRESS & STAR PIC DAVE BAGNALL 22/4/06 WOLVES V BRIGHTON Kenny Miller scores from the penalty spot

But the huge Brighton-shaped blot on Wolves’ recent landscape is of course the final day defeat in 2013 which condemned the team, after a sustained spell of turmoil, to a second successive relegation, down to League One.

It was a poisonous afternoon – the highly unlikely prospect of Wolves surviving via a decent-sized win and Barnsley and Peterborough both losing never really looked like coming to fruition – and a 2-0 defeat ended in uproar and vitriol among a hugely disgruntled fanbase.

Karl Henry was captain that day. Little did he know that his 250th league appearance for his home-town club would also prove to be his last as he was among several senior players to depart Molineux that summer. Wolves were on a downward spiral which seemed impossible to halt, and so it proved on a truly dismal day by the sea.

“Of all the away games I played in my career, that was probably the strangest in terms of the build-up, which was horrible,” Henry recalls.

“Normally when you travel to an away game there is a feeling of togetherness and positivity and the camaraderie of a long journey with a lot of laughing and joking.

“There was none of that on the way to Brighton.

“When we got to the hotel, the mood was still sombre, because even though we were all hopeful, and still thinking we could win the game, we were also realistic and knew we were facing an uphill task.

“It was about controlling the controllables, trying to be positive and give ourselves every chance of looking after our result as we couldn’t afford to focus on anything that was going on elsewhere.

“But then we conceded so early on, which killed us, and another before half time, and from then on, we could all feel the fans’ anger, knowing our fate was sealed.

“I remember Jamie O’Hara getting a lot of stick from our fans, and he didn’t handle it well, but we all felt it – we all knew we had let everyone down.

“I have said many times, that as a hugely disappointing, infact horrific end to what had been a good period for the club.

“There was no shame in getting relegated from the Premier League, there is no doubt that we lacked enough quality for that level, but with the team we had there is no way we should have gone down from the Championship.

“We just couldn’t get ourselves out of that rut, which was epitomised by that last game at Brighton, which was an awful experience.

“It’s a game I have probably tried to put right to the back of my mind, and just talking it about now – as the captain and someone from Wolverhampton – brings back all the emotions of just how disappointing it was.”

Henry had already had a different disappointment against Brighton earlier that season, receiving one of the five red cards from his 574 career appearances in an incredible 3-3 draw at Molineux which ended with Roger Johnson’s last gasp headed equaliser in front of a frenzied North Bank.

The angry reaction of Head Coach Solbakken to one of Brighton’s goals was to smash a pane of glass in the top of the home dugout, which was later framed and auctioned off to raise money for Wolves Foundation.

“It's o-k – it could have been worse!" Solbakken said at the time.

"I have a good right hook but my left is better – I am a southpaw!”

Solbakken’s was one of many serious acts of frustration to have exasperated those of a gold and black persuasion on so many different occasions against Brighton, but a journey through the record books does at least paint a far more optimistic picture for Wolves in recent years.

The crushing 3-0 home defeat at Molineux in April was Wolves’ first in the fixture in eight games stretching back to 2018. Granted four of those were draws, but also a couple of wins, to suggest, finally, that the Brighton bogey has been laid to rest.

Three points on Saturday would certainly add to that feeling and come at a very welcome time, albeit, with it being Brighton, anything can happen, as Daley, Murray, Henry and fans of previous generations can remember only too well.

Maybe Wolves should bring Kenny Miller out of retirement.