Shropshire Star

(Car) Park life made Gary Bellamy Wolves ready

Gary Bellamy is reminiscing about the infamous Wolves training sessions on the North Bank car park in the late 1980s.

The 1988 Sherpa Van Trophy Final at Wembley 29th May 1988 Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrate after beating Burnley 2-0.

“Imagine Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland having to do that,” he says with a laugh. “But that’s what it was all about for us, and it worked.

“Training was very similar most weeks. We’d do some work on a Monday, running on a Tuesday, day off Wednesday, ‘man-to-man’ on a Thursday and then car park on a Friday. Sometimes lifting the cars out of the way to clear the ‘pitch’, and more and more supporters coming to watch week after week. It was a different world.”

De Bruyne and Haaland will of course be gracing a far more salubrious environment than the nooks, crannies and potholes of the old North Bank car park as Manchester City take on Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley this weekend.

But, and no tittering in the corner, few cup finals at the national stadium could have been as eagerly acclaimed and hailed as a key turning point as that which rounded off the Sherpa Van Trophy, 36 years ago next week.

Wolves and Burnley, such historic footballing institutions, founder members of the Football League with a host of honours between them, had found themselves languishing in the Fourth Division.

In that 1987/88 season Wolves won the league, and Burnley finished 10th.

And in the cup competition open to the bottom two divisions of the league pyramid, the strength of both proud and loyal fanbases was in full effect as 80,841 flocked to the Twin Towers.

For Bellamy, at the end of his first full season at Molineux, it was soon clear what the match meant to both sets of supporters.

“Everyone was very relaxed as we got on the coach to make the journey to Wembley, and then I remember just thinking, ‘wow – look at all those fans’!” he recalls. “At the back of the coach we were standing up to get a better view of this sea of heads all the way to the stadium, with both sets of supporters mingling without any problems.

“Seeing the image of all of those fans was one of the first things I remember about the day and also one of the most memorable.”

For Wolves, and indeed Bellamy, it was a second visit to Wembley in successive months, having been part of the Centenary Classic tournament involving teams from different divisions, in which Wolves drew with reigning top-flight champions Everton thanks to a Robbie Dennison thunderbolt, before losing on penalties.

Bellamy missed his spot-kick during that shootout, albeit it was no disgrace to be thwarted by Neville Southall.

But a month later came redemption, with a typically-composed performance, not only in switching from right-back into the centre after injury to Ally Robertson, but also hammering a long-range free-kick from distance against the crossbar in the first half.

“I remember that free-kick but I don’t remember much of the match, apart from when watching it back on video,” says Bellamy. “But once you’re out there and in the zone and concentrating, it’s almost like you are playing a normal game and you try and shut everything else out.”

For Bellamy, that came quite naturally.

Gary Bellamy