Andy Gillard has a nostalgic look at his first quarter century as a part of the pack
Talking to a friend before Wolves opening encounter against Everton, he tells me that he is taking his lad for his first game. Being the sentimental old fools we are, thoughts turned to our first matches. The first match I can really remember was a day in 1993, the history books may not talk of great achievements that season, but a new ground, new kit, meeting and talking to a legend of your club and winning in style – will go down in my history as the perfect first match.
When I case my mind back my footballing memories are sporadic to start with. I know I saw the Molineux before it was the Golden Palace and more the Grey Place, I witnessed Mickey Stowell in our goal (in our goal) getting knocked out in a Black Country derby and Tom Bennett playing a blinder in an unfortunate losing effort, I remember a fan running on the pitch to give the ref a carrot, I remember Bully banging one into the roof of the net and rebounding out (cannot remember against whom) and the officials missing an obvious goal, and I remember tears in Turin – that was pretty much my footballing knowledge until 1993.
August 14th 1993 to be exact. The redevelopment of the ground nearly complete, only the South Bank left to finish, my Mom wanted to share her love of Wolves with her son. I remember it being a stunning summers day, I don’t remember how we got there, but I remember being shepherded into the club shop which was in the base of the old North Bank at that time and being told I could have the new strip. Obviously, once it was on, it wasn’t coming off, I asked to wear it out of the shop. Beautiful old gold, the coat of arms of Wolverhampton covering and seeping into my heart.
I remember being in awe of this huge new, shiny, glistening football ground. A far cry from that stadium I last saw in 1990ish. This looked big time now. The first game of my new era was sat in Billy Wright, in line with the 18-yard box of the goal at the North Bank end. To get to our seats we had to pass the players entrance, and who was waiting around there? Almost like he knew it was my first match and wanted to welcome me to the pack? Stephen George Bull. Bloody Bully, there in living colour, I don’t remember what he said, I might’ve asked him to score a goal – or maybe I just dreamed that up, but I do know he signed my brand new shirt.
Obviously, Bully heeded my (maybe imaginary) advice and bagged a brace that day. The original man from Moustache Mountain, Derek Mountfield with the other in a 3-1 victory over Bristol City. I didn’t need to look that up, in all honesty, I struggle to remember birthdays of loved ones I’ve known for 30-odd years, but 14th August ’93 may as well have been yesterday.
Actually, that whole season has been seared into my brain; that first day season, sitting in the South Bank when it opened in a friendly against Kispest Honved, Cyril Regis scoring a header (what else?) from about 20-yards against Peterborough on New Years Day, beating eventual Division 1 champions Crystal Palace twice in a week (1-0 in the cup, 2-0 in the league), watching Bully grab a hattrick on the telly against Derby, the 2-2 return match also on the TV and the fans singing songs about Greavesy and his alcoholism, a snowy night and 3-0 win against Birmingham City (which was the first time I remember hearing a particularly rude swear word), I recall leaving the Molineux crying my eyes out against Sunderland because our play-off dream died that night, I even remember West Brom surviving by 8 measly goals – although, Birmingham getting relegated by 8-goals will always be funny, so every cloud…
Before August 14th 1993, when asked I would say I supported Wolves, but since August 14th 1993 I would answer “I love Wolves”. Since that day 25 years ago, I‘ve bore witness to the ‘missing piece of the jigsaw’ failing to score, F***ing John McGinley (as he will always be known as to Wolves fans), double-relegations, and had to listen Dean Saunders talking the most inane, ill-informed nonsense ever heard by human ears, but on the flipside I’ve seen a play-off victory, 3 league titles, memorable victories against the biggest clubs in the land, a record-breaking striker, Ruben Neves, and an inspiration, a true hero-without-a-cape in Carl Ikeme.
My friends’ child was beyond excited about his arrival at the stadium, and 25 years later I can still say I get that same buzz of excitement. Any children coming to the Molineux for their first match now will be starting on the same road I did all that time ago, lets hope in another 25 years time we are reading some young fella or lass’ memories of their glorious first full season, and thanks to Jeff, Laurie and the everyone on and off the field the next quarter century is shaping up pretty nicely, and will hopefully yield many more phenomenal memories.