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It wasn’t whilst with Wolves, but memories of lining up against Nottingham Forest holds special significance for defender Mark Little.

Even though he ended up losing the clothes off his back, his jacket, wallet, wedding ring – the whole lot.

It was the final game of the 2017/18 season when the other Wanderers – Bolton – fresh from a 4-0 defeat against Wolves in their previous home game, needed a win at home to Forest to secure Championship survival.

Little was part of a team also including an additional former Wolves trio in Karl Henry, Adam Le Fondre and David Wheater which struck twice in the last three minutes of a frenzied finale to secure a priceless 3-2 victory.

“After we won the game there was a pitch invasion and by the time I got to the dressing room all I had left were the sloggies I was wearing,” he recalls.

“My shirt, shorts, socks, boots, shinpads – everything had gone.

“I got changed and showered and when we left the stadium there were still a huge number of fans singing and dancing and they were still asking for stuff!

“It was a sunny day so I thought I could get to the pub in my polo, so I took my jacket off and handed it to a fan.

“Off I went to the pub, ‘happy as Larry’, and ready to celebrate, and when I went to pay for the first round of drinks I realised I hadn’t got my wallet.

“Then I realised I hadn’t got my wedding ring either, and thought they must have been in my car until the penny dropped – they were all in the pocket of my jacket which was probably being worn by some lad running around in Bolton.

“Fair play to him though, before I had even had the chance to think about it or put an appeal out on twitter, the fan had called the club and we arranged to meet up.

“Every penny was still in the wallet, all the cards, and the wedding ring, and the fan even asked if he could still keep the jacket – ‘of course you can,’ was the answer.

“My wife didn’t even have chance to give me any stick about the wedding ring, she was with me at the time, but she just had to go and buy the first round!”

That has not been the only questionable end-of-season celebratory decision made by Little during his career – just ask Mick McCarthy – but offers a reminder that he has had plenty to cherish during a footballing life which is still going strong with Penybont in the Cymru Premier division in the League of Wales.

It all began for the Worcester-born defender with Wolves Academy, initially when his Mum Lorna contacted the club and spoke to renowned scout Les Green asking if he could have a trial.

It was towards the end of a season, and after a couple of sessions on the AstroTurf at Aldersley, Little impressed Green and head of recruitment Tony Lacey sufficiently to be invited back at the start of the following campaign, where he was then taken on before eventually earning a full-time scholarship.

He put pen to paper on his first professional contract on his 17th birthday, joining Mark Davies from that age group by signing professional terms, by which time he had already been one of the youngest members of the talent-packed FA Youth Cup side which was so narrowly edged out by Southampton in the semi-finals.

“I always felt at Wolves I was just hanging on a little bit, I didn’t have too much confidence in myself and thought that I wasn’t at the level of everyone else around me,” Little recalls.

“With an August birthday I was already one of the youngest in my year, and there was no way I expected to get called into that youth team squad playing a year above.

“But I played every minute of that cup run, which was an incredible experience.”

So too was the opportunity to train with the first team squad which very quickly became the norm for Little under Glenn Hoddle, as well as several appearances as an unused substitute.

“I remember going on a pre-season trip and in the room next door was Paul Ince and, on the other side, Joleon Lescott,” he explains.

“They were top, top players and it was absolutely out of this world for me to be in and around that at the age of 17.

“I remember thinking that even though it was going to be very tough to break into the team, that with that sort of upbringing and the pedigree of those other players surely I would improve enough to get an opportunity in the league somewhere else.

“At that age, it was just about not thinking too much and just getting my head down, doing my best and seeing where it took me.”

After Hoddle’s departure it was McCarthy who came in to deliver a major rebuilding operation, a threadbare squad improved by a cluster of free or low-cost signings – and the opportunity for the club’s youngsters to show their worth.

And, little by little, the pacey and athletic right back started to make his mark.

His first start came three days after his 18th birthday in a Carling Cup defeat on penalties at Chesterfield and his first league action arrived as a 44th minute substitute – at left back – at Leeds when Jay Bothroyd notched his late pile-driver. Before long, he had become a regular in his favoured right back spot.

At just 18, he was playing consistently in the Championship alongside experienced heads such as Gary Breen and Jody Craddock. Little was living the dream.

“Going in at left back was a bit different, I had never played there before and my left foot had always been just a swinger,” he laughs.

“I don’t even think John Perkins would have trusted me to play left back in the youth team!

“But I just think Mick wanted someone who had some athleticism and it probably helped me learn before I managed to start playing games on the right.

“The adrenalin probably kept me going and it feels weird but I started to feel more confident playing for Mick and the first team than in the reserves.

“My mentality was, again, just to get my head down and crack on and do as well as I could.

“And Mick was great, so straightforward when it came to his communication.

“He didn’t treat us young lads much differently to the senior players which is what you need – it’s what I needed anyway.

“Sometimes it would be, ‘Mark you were outstanding today mate, you will be playing next week,’ or other times it would be, ‘Mark you were **** this week, you need to buck your ideas up or you’ll be out the team’.

“For me that’s the reality of football, it’s the sort of honesty and directness you want from a manager, and it certainly worked for me.”

The 2006/07 season was an unexpected bonus for Wolves fans who went into it with very modest expectations.

The team which McCarthy built from very insecure foundations actually ended up reaching the Championship play-offs, putting up a decent fight before losing to a far more experienced West Bromwich Albion over two legs of the semi-finals.

The last of Little’s 31 Wolves appearances in that breakthrough season came as a second half substitute at the Hawthorns, and unfortunately, he would only make one more, defeat to Ipswich at the start of the following season, 15 years ago this month.

After that exhilarating season following upheaval, McCarthy had been able to strengthen the ranks and the arrival of Kevin Foley – “one of the best footballers in the club” according to Little – nailed down that right back berth for the foreseeable future.

Over the following three seasons Little enjoyed loan spells with Northampton, Chesterfield and Peterborough, moving on to join Posh on a permanent basis in 2010.

“That first season I was the player from the youth team, with a bit of freedom and lack of expectation, but once you get a bit more established then it gets more difficult,” he explains.

“The next year you have to try and kick on, and that is much harder, because it’s no longer about potential, it’s about producing results.

“Kevin Foley came in who everyone knows is a great player, and I ended up going out on loan.

“And when the time came to move on from Wolves, Mick was, once again, completely honest with me.

“He pulled me into the office and said he’d happily give me another year on the same contract but that was probably going to do me a disservice.

“Wolves were in the Premier League now, and he told me I wasn’t going to get many games, if any, and what can you say to that?

“He said he loved me around the place, my attitude and attributes, and wouldn’t be worried about putting me in if he had to but it wasn’t going to be as a regular.

“At the age I was, having already done a full season in the Championship, I knew I needed to be playing and not sat on the bench as a third or even fourth choice right back.

“That was when I ended up getting the move to Posh, where I absolutely loved it.

“Of course, there was a part of me that was disappointed because I had been at Wolves for so long and the managers and players had always been superb with me.

“I absolutely loved my time at the club, it was unbelievable, that season of seeing my name on the team-sheet alongside all those others.

“But if there’s a way to leave the club then that was it, and it was all done properly.

“The same thing has happened at other clubs and people lie to you and mislead you, but Mick spoke the truth and that was something I couldn’t argue with.”

Meanwhile, talking of McCarthy, Little is also fondly remembered at Molineux not just for his affable demeanour and refreshing impact after bursting onto the scene in that memorable season.

He has also gone down in folklore for the moment, caught on camera, when he sprayed the manager with champagne in the wake of Wolves clinching their 2008/09 promotion, to be met by the immortal words: “You’ll be off to Halifax next season.” 

“Even now, I couldn’t tell you what was going through my head at that point,” Little recalls with a chuckle.

“I wasn’t really involved at that time but there would always be a couple of younger lads named in the extended squad, but that day, against QPR, a lot of us were there because of the magnitude of the game.

“It was all about the learning experience, perhaps sitting in the corner and watching what it meant to the players, manager and staff – the whole club – to get to the Premier League.

“So yes, it was supposed to be a learning experience, but one in which I got a bit carried away.

“I found myself with a bottle of champagne, stood next to the manager, and while it would probably have been more sensible to have sprayed it over one of the younger lads, I just went for the manager of the football club. Wow!

“Mick took it well fortunately, but I still don’t know why I did it, and it seems to have been shown a lot since and every time I see it I just cringe.”

There have however been plenty more reasons to celebrate for Little since departing Wolves and a career which has taken in not just Peterborough but also Bristol City, Bolton, Bristol Rovers and Yeovil.

Highlights have included not only that last day survival with Bolton but League One play-off success with Peterborough followed by a Football League Trophy win three years later, and then a League One title and another Football League Trophy triumph with Bristol City, including a goal at Wembley, in 2014/15.

“I don’t know if you can call it luck but I’ve had some incredible moments in my career,” reflects Little, who also made several appearances for England Under-19s.

“Promotions, league wins, cup wins, I have so much to look back on and way more than I could ever have dreamed of or expected – I am very grateful.

“I mean scoring at Wembley?  How on earth could you imagine Mark Little, a right back doing his football education as a kid at Compton, going on to score in a final at Wembley?  It’s out of this world.

“I imagine there are top strikers who have dreamed and visualised scoring at Wembley but never done it and, trust me, as a right back who usually chipped in with one or two goals a season, I’d never have been sat in my bedroom visualising that.”

Halcyon days.  And whilst still going strong and very much enjoying his football on a part-time basis with Penybont, 34-year-old Little has already started preparing for what might happen when he finally has to hang up his boots.

He has his UEFA ‘B’ coaching licence and over the last few years has been running the Phoenix Academy in Swansea providing young players with the chance to improve their skills, alongside work off the pitch investing in a property portfolio.

A keen interest in personal training is also likely to play a part in life after football and Little is currently undergoing an intensive training programme of his own with a view to a specific role within that sector.

Throughout his career, Little has leant on the advice of Chris Evans, Academy Manager when he joined Wolves and someone who has acted as both a mentor-figure and his representative through the years.

There was always a spot of Evans’ thinking which has stuck with Little, for which he remains, and always will be, ‘forever grateful’ to Wolves.

“Chris explained to me a while ago that when he goes in to speak to a manager about a player, very often the first thing they ask is where they got their football education.

“In my case, that was Wolves, now a Category A Academy, and I honestly don’t believe I could have got a better grounding in football anywhere else.

“I know there are other clubs and bigger clubs but would they have been able to give me the level of care and attention I received at Wolves at that time? I’m not sure they would.

“I know for certain I improved a significant amount from the day I first made it into the Wolves system and it stood me in really good stead for the rest of my career.

“Wolves will always be the club where I grew up and learnt my trade and I will be forever grateful for that.”

He remains in close touch with many from that ‘FA Youth Cup class of 2005’ and other Academy colleagues he grew up with including Elliott and Kyle Bennett, Daniel Jones, Davies, Chris Cornes and others.

“With every single one of them, even though it was so long ago that we were in that youth team together, if ever we meet we will always be having a beer and catching up,” he insists. “We will always be pals.”

That Band of Brothers spirit is why the loss of one of their number, Lee Collins, who took his life 18 months ago hit the group so hard, and partly why Little feels his time last season at Yeovil – Collins’s final club – didn’t go as well as he would have hoped.

“I remember going into Yeovil and chatting about Lee to those who knew him and remembering that I had been in the team with him all those years ago,” he explains.

“That was such dreadful news for all of us to hear, Lee was such a great fella who we all knew we could hang our hat on.

“We under-achieved at Yeovil last season and it wasn’t a great season for me personally and I just wonder if that played a small part in that.

“It certainly wasn’t how I wanted to finish my career, and this opportunity at Penybont, training twice a week and playing on a weekend, is perfect as it has less toll on my body.

“I have been converted to a centre back as well, so no more of those runs up and down the touchline that I used to do!

“It’s a good club and a good group of players and we’re actually aiming to try and get into the European places this season.

“If that happened then I’d be desperate to go for one more year – imagine getting the chance to play European football at the end of my career.

“Whatever happens now I look back on football as a dream come true not just for me but my family as well.

“I never thought I would have achieved what I have, all from a ‘let’s have a go’ attitude from the start and from there I have never stopped having a go.

“I’m really enjoying having a go now with Penybont, and I don’t know where that will take me, but just maybe into qualifying for Europe and hopefully getting to stay and play in that.

“The only way to find out is to keep getting my head down and keep getting to work!”

Little is one of the many Academy success stories from that Molineux era who has gone on to enjoy a hugely successful career in the game whilst also staying grounded and remembering with much gratitude and affection the impact Wolves had during his formative years.

Still looking out for the results – he played against Wolves on many occasions since leaving with very different fortunes – Little will undoubtedly be hoping, as he achieved with Bolton, for a vital home win against Nottingham Forest this Saturday afternoon.

Just don’t expect him to put his jacket on it!