Most people tend to follow only the top clubs, but you will still find sporadic but nonetheless reverential support of a lot of the lesser teams. I personally know people who have supported clubs like Burnley, Ipswich, Sheffield Utd and Preston through thick and thin – and for most of these clubs it’s been mostly thin.
I have always had a love affair of sorts with Wolves – or Wolverhampton Wanderers to give the club its proper name. I have no idea why exactly I support them but I have a pretty good idea when this malady germinated. It must have been in late 1969 or early 1970 when my family got its first black and white television set. Back in those days color TV was unknown in Malta - it remained so until the mid eighties. I seem to remember that the local national station started transmissions around 6pm and I used to switch on the TV a bit earlier waiting for the static test card (do TV stations have a test card these days, and if they do is that what they call it?) to turn into the animated thingy with bits and pieces of the eight-pointed Maltese Cross turning around to form the Malta Television logo. If you’re fifty or over you might actually remember this.
In those days when live transmissions were a rarity, the premier football program was Star Soccer. Aged nine I was actually a children’s’ TV junkie (today I cannot stand TV – especially the home grown variety) and I invariably watched this. Wolves were at that time in the old First Division so I guess they got their fair share of coverage. Slowly and for no apparent reason I started identifying with the team – at least I guess I must have done so. Why? I have no idea except that in those days they were probably a decent top-half-of-the-table team so supposedly worth backing. Add to that the catchy Wolves moniker together with the club’s badge give the club quite a unique identity so I was probably an early sucker for this form of branding.
I know for sure that when I played the ghastly game of Subbuteo in my pre-teens I consciously bought a Wolves team clad in the old gold and was very proud of the fact. I seem to remember that I was pretty good at this game though for the life of me I cannot see its attraction today. Having players with a plastic hemisphere attached to their feet by means of which one can flick them around with the purpose of hitting a ball -which in turn is as large as the player himself - is simply ridiculous and can in no way “recreate” anything like the real game. Still I understand that Subbuteo (or table football – an equally silly sounding name) still has its aficionados and there is even a Subbuteo World Cup. Ugh.
Over a long period of years my loose association with the club I supported dwindled down to simply seeing their results and position in the table in the Sunday papers. Then came the eighties with the club’s freefall all the way to Division Four and what is arguably seen as the lowest point in the club’s history - an inglorious FA Cup first round defeat to non-league Chorley where the once mighty Wanderers (three times First Division Champions in the late fifties and one of the original founders of the Football League) succumbed to a 3-0 ignominy. That was 1986 and by that time Wolves results most probably didn’t even feature in the local papers…
Fast forward to the mid-nineties and I discovered a work colleague who was still an avid Wolves supporter in spite of all the downs and downs – damn, he even subscribed to the Express and Star newspaper just to get the latest Wolves news. So finally there was someone, anyone, to talk Wolves with… however little I knew of them by then. By that time Wolves were a permanent feature of the Championship (the old second division that is) and seemed determined to stay there – a potentially big fish apparently content to keep swimming in a smaller, more familiar pond. My colleague was always into satellite TV and he used to lend me recordings of some memorable win against Birmingham or West Brom…usually with a foreign language commentary- Serbo-Croat or Arabic for example.
In 2001 I bought my first PC and now I could follow live commentary of Wolves games via the club’s (then) free web player service. I became addicted and I even recall the heartbreak (I think I cried actually) when Wolves failed in their promotion play-offs in season 2001-2. By then I was really longing for the club to find its rightful place in the top flight of English football. The kid in me had returned.
Wolves’ promotion to the hallowed land of the Premier League finally happened the year after in season 2002-3. Wolves made it to the play-off final and were due for the showdown against Sheffield United at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. (The Championship play-off final is quite a big game actually and is normally played at Wembley - I try to watch it every year. In 2003 and for some years it was shifted to Cardiff since Wembley was being rebuilt)
Wolves languished in the Championship for a few more years until promotion came again in season 2008-9. I watched a few games on pc in that year and more was to come with Premiership football. In fact these last three seasons I have watched the majority of games via streaming.
It’s been a mixed bag of emotions really with the team taking some memorable scalps - Man Utd , Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool last season – only to have to wait till the 87th minute of the last game to secure survival in the top tier. And then there are the games where I question why I bother to support the team – this year most notably a 0-3 whimper at home to QPR. Worse was to follow with a home game against Swansea which saw the team booed at 0-2 down and manager Mick McCarthy’s substitutions greeted with loud calls for his head. Luckily Mick got those subs right as Wolves salvaged a draw with seven minutes to go.
I simply love Mick McCarthy and his unique humour. In the post match interview after the Swansea game he said with a straight face that he was thinking of substituting Stephen Ward (No 11) but that if he put up a board with that number the whole team would probably go off the pitch. The interviewing journalists were in stitches.
Wolves currently sit 13th in the league but I guess that this season will be as nail bitingly difficult as the previous one. I will live in hope.
Just for the record – I am not a great footie fan and I watch little else apart from Wolves games. I have never been to Wolverhampton and I am still in some doubt whether I really want to watch them at Molineux. I “know” Wolverhampton well through Google Earth and I could probably get from the train or bus station to the Mol without asking directions. I occasionally buy official club merchandise hoping to contribute to a star signing!