A repeat of 30 years ago will do just fine for Wolves in home opener
An impressive first performance at Old Trafford under Gary O’Neil has raised the optimism levels ahead of his Molineux bow this weekend. A repeat of the positive atmosphere, and result, from a home opener 30 years ago would do just fine!
There are several non-negotiables when it comes to Wolves’ first home game of the season.
Firstly, the weather. It has to be hot. It’s all about perspiration and not precipitation.
Then, the replica kits. If that weather is indeed favourable, or, to be fair, even if it’s not, what better sight is there on an August Saturday afternoon than a plethora of gold shirts streaming down Waterloo Road towards Molineux. Another given.
The atmosphere? It has to be crackling. Even if the first home game follows an away defeat, just as this year, even if the previous season was something of a letdown, it’s still a day of hope and not fear, expectation and anticipation. Come on boys. This is our year.
And then, the new signings. Whoever they are, opening day brings a proliferation of stirring support and vociferous acclaim. Make them feel at home. They might even get a song.
It’s fair to say there haven’t been too many new faces at Molineux this summer, and perhaps there won’t be any at all named in the starting line-up for Saturday’s home curtain-raiser against Brighton.
What Wolves do have, however, is a new man in the dugout, with Head Coach Gary O’Neil, a previous visitor to WV1 as both player and manager, hoping to build on such a positive start against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday night.
It’s not often every piece of the jigsaw comes together and the different notes join in perfect harmony, but that is exactly what happened some 30 years ago this Monday just gone.
Saturday, August 14th, 1993. Wolves against Bristol City in the Endsleigh League Division One.
The sense of excitement and buzz around Molineux was palpable.
It was a new-look Molineux as well, or at least, a heavily tweaked one.
The house that Sir Jack built, or was in the process of building, was taking shape, with £14million worth of improvements nearing their conclusion. The Stan Cullis Stand was already up and running, the Billy Wright Stand opened its doors for the first time ahead of an official launch for the following home game against Millwall, and the South Bank was in the process of construction ahead of the revamped stadium’s overall official opening against Honved three months later.
A number of former Wolves heroes were invited to game, John Richards and Roy Swinbourne among just two of those joining the then director Wright in enjoying some hospitality, and the scene was very much set.
To provide some context, this was Wolves’ fifth successive season back in the second tier after the wonderfully masterminded and acclaimed revival with back-to-back promotions from the old Fourth Division.
Previous finishes of 10th, 12th, 11th and 11th suggested Graham Turner’s squad had found stability at the higher level, but without finding the spark or consistency to make a sustained push for Sir Jack’s holy grail, of the Premier League.
But now, all of a sudden, the purse strings had been seriously loosened.
England midfielder Geoff Thomas had arrived from Crystal Palace, Republic of Ireland striker David Kelly from Newcastle, Kevin Keen from West Ham, and footballing royalty in the experience of the legendary Cyrille Regis answering the call for his fourth assignment in the West Midlands.
Wolves had been splashing the cash – those four deals comprised almost £3million in transfer fees alone – and experienced defender Peter Shirtliff also checked in a few days later.
David Instone was the Wolves reporter with the Express & Star at the time, and remembers the sense of excitement that those high quality arrivals promised.
“If you look back now those figures for the transfer fees don’t look anything special, but at the time – for a club in the equivalent of the Championship – they were pretty spectacular,” Instone recalls.
“They were signing top players in terms of bringing in Geoff Thomas, who amongst others had been linked with Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday, David Kelly from Newcastle and Kevin Keen from West Ham.
“It was a big step up in relation to the sort of signings they had been making for the previous two or three years.
“I think the completion or near completion of the stadium redevelopment helped with the spending on players.
“Prior to that, the redevelopment had been a priority which I think was the right decision, to help get the club stabilised and much more respectable again after years of the ground being an embarrassment.
“The work took a lot of time, energy and money but, with it being nearly finished, I think they could see the end in sight and it was all systems go for the team.
“What was also important was that the signings, and Geoff, David, Kevin in particular had come in quite early, with Cyrille then a week or so before the first game and Peter not long after.”
Those arrivals had certainly heightened the excitement and expectation levels, and the players themselves shared that sense of anticipation at joining a squad already featuring the likes of Mike Stowell, Derek Mountfield, Paul Cook, Paul Birch and Steve Bull.
There was certainly no doubting for Thomas, who had been sold from the moment he visited Molineux and first met with Wright.
“Billy was an icon of football, not just Wolves, to meet him the day I signed was amazing,” he recalls.
“To have people of his stature walking around the club gave it a real sense of history, and then there was the legend that was Graham (Hughes), making us tea – the whole club was like a family.
“It felt as if Wolves was a club that was going places, the year before Blackburn had come in for me for £3million and we can all remember what they went on to do.