Wolves last welcomed Southampton to Molineux for an FA Cup tie in the January of 1914.
Quite tricky to find anyone who can remember that one. Even Steve Daley argues that he wasn’t involved.
They have met in the competition since, a 2-0 win for the Saints at St Mary’s at the quarter final stage in 2003, a couple of months before Wolves sealed promotion to the Premier League at the Millennium Stadium.
There has however been one major cup tie between the two in recent times which created one of those magical Molineux evenings which promised and delivered so much, but was ultimately tinged with both pride and disappointment.
The last time Wolves Academy reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup was in 2004/05, and in the last four stage they came up against a Southampton team which had gone unbeaten all season and was roundly acclaimed as one of the best in the country.
A goal from Leon Best, set up by David McGoldrick, gave the Saints a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St Mary’s, setting up a fantastic second under the Molineux lights in front of an enthusiastic and expectant crowd of just under 9,000.
When McGoldrick struck first in the ninth minute it seemed a long way back for Wolves, but they dug in and responded with two excellent second half goals courtesy of substitutes Tom Stewart on 64 minutes, and Jordan Fitzpatrick on 84.
Even though Stephen Gleeson was sent off five minutes into the second period of extra time, Mark Davies fired Wolves in front for the first time in the tie shortly afterwards, only for Best to seize on a mistake barely two minutes from full time to bring on the unbearable tension of a penalty shootout.
It fell to McGoldrick to convert the decisive spot kick to end Wolves’ dreams of a first FA Youth Cup success since 1958.
Bare facts alone however cannot do justice to the incredible run that the Wolves cubs enjoyed that season, not to mention the number of players from that semi-final, and other opposition during the competition, who have since gone on to enjoy impressive careers in the game.
It is worth rewinding back to the very start, and, having beaten a very good Reading side 1-0 in front of a crowd of 325, Barnsley were next to visit Molineux.
Glenn Hoddle was Wolves manager at the time, and he took a keen interest in the young team’s progress, as recalled by then long-serving Academy director, Chris Evans.
“I asked Glenn if he would come to watch us play against Barnsley, as we had a really good team of young players, including one lad playing a year above who I thought was going to be a bit special,” says Evans.
“We won the game 2-1, and Mark Davies, the lad I had mentioned, scored two outstanding goals.
“I sat next to Glenn and he said something to me that I will never forget: ‘This player travels quicker with the ball than anyone I have ever seen at his age.’
“To come from Glenn, the best player of his generation, that was some praise for Mark at that time.”
Davies would become one of the many stars of Wolves’ exhilarating run, and, less than a year later, would score his first senior goal in a 2-1 win against Luton after Hoddle gave him his opportunity.
Sadly his outstanding career would then develop away from Molineux, largely with Bolton in the Premier League which at different stages saw him attract strong interest from both Chelsea and Liverpool.
Success over Barnsley propelled Wolves into a fifth round tie at home to Manchester City, then Northern powerhouses of Academy football whom, like Southampton, were among the favourites for the competition.
A quick scan of the City line-up explains why.
In goal, Kasper Schmeichel, a defence including Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha, midfield featuring Kelvin Etuhu and Michael Johnson, strike-force of Daniel Sturridge and Ishmael Miller.
It was also something of a tale of two keepers.
Wayne Hennessey, like Evans, hails from Anglesey, and had first been brought to Wolves as a 12-year-old.
However, geographical restrictions around Academy recruitment meant Wolves were unable to take him on, and the Hennessey family actually relocated to Connah’s Quay which brought him into the boundaries of Manchester, and a place on the books at Manchester City.
But when City brought in Danish legend Peter Schmeichel, circumstances led to his son Kasper – now a title-winner with Leicester – arriving as well, and that pushed Hennessey down the pecking order.
“We came from the same area, and I had stayed in touch with Wayne’s parents and so when there was an opportunity to bring him back to Wolves, we didn’t hesitate,” says Evans.
“I am so pleased that we did, as Wayne went on to make over 150 appearances for Wolves, has played in the Premier League for a long time now, and has 94 caps for Wales and is likely to go on and break their appearance record in the near future.”
A crowd of 561 were inside Molineux for the fifth round tie where the opposing keepers comprised just two of a string of players who would progress all the way through to the Premier League.
There were also memories among the Wolves side of having been soundly beaten away at City in the league earlier that season, when Schmeichel senior was watching on from the front seat of his car!
“Thinking back, I think that City cup game was one of our best performances of the season,” recalls striker Chris Cornes.
“We knew they had a lot of players who were being tipped for big things, and we had already lost to them earlier in the season, and maybe there was a feeling that we had nothing to lose.
“I was up front on my own against Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha, but I did o-k, and I remember Stuart Pearce, who was a coach at City and later became manager, pulling me afterwards to tell me I’d had a good game.
“It was a big night for us and we were really well organised, we set our stall out, and got a great result.”
A Schmeichel error led to an own goal to nudge Wolves in front and then Cornes had a hand in the second when his stinging shot was parried by the keeper and Gareth Musson followed up to score.
Defender Mark Little, another lynchpin of the youth cup run despite, like Davies, being a year younger than most, approached the City game slightly differently.
“We knew they had some players who were causing a bit of a stir but at the time we didn’t know they were going to go on and have the superb Premier League careers that some of them had,” he suggests.
“We knew they were a solid local team, not necessarily a group of wonderkids from overseas, and we were probably more worried about the name Manchester City as they were renowned as having such a great Academy.
“We prepared properly, as we always did under coach John Perkins, were really well organised, and got the win to take us into the quarter finals.”
The 2-0 win caused ripples across the tournament given City’s status as favourites – they were FA Youth Cup runners-up the following season – and earned Wolves a trip to Pride Park to tackle Derby County in the quarter finals.
And it was on a cold and murky Friday night up the A38 that the powerful Cornes really came of age.
Lionel Ainsworth put Derby in front, but not long before full time, a poor headed clearance fell to Cornes just inside the Derby half.
The rest is history.
“The keeper came out and headed it clear and I chested it down and heard a call of ‘shoot’, so I did,” says Cornes with plenty of understatement given the ball flew like an Exocet missile into the empty net!
“The strange thing was, when I turned to see who it was that had told me to shoot, it was the referee!”
The leveller took the game into extra time, and Cornes again popped up, delivering a late winner courtesy of a fine left foot shot after being played in by Gleeson.
Hoddle was again watching alongside Evans and Wolves CEO Jez Moxey, and, as a reward for his performance, asked Cornes to report with the first team squad for experience for the next day’s fixture against Stoke at Molineux.
“I had been training with the first team a bit by then, and maybe people were looking at me and getting to know me a bit more and there were a fair few Wolves fans at Derby,” says Cornes.
“That was a night where I really hit a bit of form, everything came together and it almost felt like I had turned from a boy to a young man.
“It was one of my standout performances as a young player, and it felt like I had turned a corner.”
By this stage, both excited anticipation and lengthy discussion was growing around this group of young Wolves players as to just how far they could go.
Southampton in the semi-finals were a different proposition. Another big step up in quality.
At the time they had perhaps moved the goalposts in terms of recruitment, buying in young players from other clubs which was absolutely within the rules but something of a new departure in Academy football.
Martin Cranie, Best, McGoldrick, Adam Lallana, Nathan Dyer – just some of the names from that team who went on to enjoy impressive careers.
Not to mention a certain Gareth Bale, who was in the youth squad but not the team at that time, and Theo Walcott, who would make his first team debut, ironically against Wolves, just a few months later before being named in England’s World Cup squad in 2006.
In the first leg at St Mary’s, Wolves produced a creditable performance to limit the Saints to that one goal from Best, setting the scene perfectly for the Molineux return.
“I think if Manchester City were the best academy side in the North of England at that time, then Southampton, with the players they had, were the best in the South,” recalls Evans.
“They won their Academy division by 24 points, and hadn’t lost a game until they came to Molineux that night.
“With a 1-0 deficit from the first leg, we knew we weren’t out of it, and even now I can remember the great excitement in the city.
“It was 29 years since Wolves had gone so far in the FA Youth Cup, they hadn’t been at that level for so long, and the Wolves fans always loved to see young players coming through because of the club’s rich heritage.
“The queues that night for the Billy Wright Stand were so large that the kick off had to be delayed, and fans had to be walked through to occupy the Stan Cullis Stand as well.
“There was an unbelievable atmosphere inside Molineux, and the crowd were really behind the lads.”
They weren’t half.
The Molineux faithful were bang at it right from the off, even to the point of chants of ‘You’re going down with the Albion’, with reference to the travails of Southampton’s first team at the time, to those who had travelled up from the South Coast.
The support was definitely felt by the players.
“It was an unbelievable moment walking out that night,” Little recalls.
“To see and hear a full stand as we came out, the wall of noise, it was the first time in our careers we had experienced that.
“We were used to playing reserve games at Telford when we’d maybe get a few hundred turn up, but all of a sudden, we could feel the whole of the Black Country behind us.”
“It was an amazing atmosphere,” adds Cornes.
“One of those moments which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
“That support was so loud, it gave us an extra ten per cent and was fantastic to experience for us as 17 and 18-year-olds as we were at the time.”
And Wolves had a cunning plan, which had already been exacted to promising effect in the first leg.
Walcott was the standout player of his age group at that time, as his senior England call-up just over a year later would testify, so Wolves decided to make special allowances.
Evans and coach Perkins plotted a path to man mark him for both of the two legs, and gave that particular job to a young and determined defender who was still studying at Thomas Telford School.
Lee Collins even needed to ask for days to travelling to Derby and the Southampton first leg, although it was only in those semi-finals that he landed his first starts.
“That first leg was the first time I had enjoyed a taste of a proper away trip, spending the day in the hotel before the game, and it wasn’t until the pre-match meeting that John told me that I’d be playing,” he recalls.
“He told me I only had one job to do, and that was to man mark Theo Walcott.
“I was only 16 so I was properly ******* it if I’m honest!
“One thing I was though – and people reading this now might not believe this – was fast!
“I used to be in the county running time and both myself and Elliott Bennett, who also played in that run, were at the same school and were pretty quick.
“Then in the first couple of minutes they put one down the channel and Walcott absolutely smoked me – fortunately it went out for a goal kick!
“Obviously it was tough given how good he was, but I think I did alright, and he actually got subbed in both games.
“Even if he got past me, there was someone else waiting to step in and he’d have to go past them as well.
“I followed him everywhere, literally.
“At one stage in the second leg, and John would always laugh with me about this, he went over to his bench to get a drink, and I so I went over with him.
“He gave me some of his drink to be fair!
“I loved working with John, I stayed in touch with him after I left Wolves and when he phoned me he would always start off with ‘skippppperrr’, and we would chat about those games.
“To man mark a player as good as Walcott, and do o-k against him, is something I have always been really proud of.”
Unfortunately for Wolves, Walcott was one of many threats in that Southampton line-up, and the vast majority of the partisan 8,803 crowd were temporarily silenced just nine minutes in as McGoldrick struck first to hand the Saints a two-goal advantage.
And that is how it stayed for a long time.
Wolves though, never felt they were beaten.
Despite losing Cornes at half time to an injury – he would later follow the game’s closing moments via text message having been taken to hospital – his replacement Stewart brought the team level on the night with a clinical strike just after the hour.
Then came Wolves’ second substitution, with the introduction of a player who had been the unfortunate fall guy of the decision to include Collins to pay special attention to Walcott.
“I had played in all of the rounds to the semi-final, but travelling on the coach to Southampton, John Perkins mentioned to me that because of the decision to man-mark Theo Walcott, I would be named on the bench,” says striker Fitzpatrick.
“He did say that it meant I would start the second leg, but then they decided to go with the same again, and so it was that I came off the bench at Molineux.
“The feeling we had was that our team had really clicked at that time, and that even if we went behind, we always had enough to come back.
“Having a player like Sparky (Davies), he could always produce something special, and we had so many other players who stepped up.
“There was a real sense that this was going to be our year.”
Fitzpatrick came off the bench on 78 minutes, and, six minutes later, with a superb curling effort into the top corner, levelled the aggregate score at 2-2 to take the game to extra time.
Step forward Davies, Wolves’ man of the moment whom, shortly after Gleeson had been sent off, put Wolves ahead with a fine close range strike.
By this stage Wolves were within nine minutes of the final, they could, as was once famously described, ‘reach out and touch it’.
But agonisingly, excruciatingly, a defensive lapse allowed Saints back in with just two minutes remaining, and Best grabbed the goal which would take the tie to penalties.
And that is where the story becomes even more painful, with Fitzpatrick the only player to miss and the Saints progressing 5-4 in the shootout to end Wolves’ courageous run after such a dramatic 120-minute rollercoaster ride.
Southampton were then denied in the final when, after a 2-2 draw in the first leg, Ipswich scored late on in the second at Portman Road to secure the trophy.
The goalscorer was Ed Upson, now occupying the same dressing room at Bristol Rovers as Little, who admits they often chat about the competition all those years ago.
“We had the desperate disappointment of losing in the semi-final, and Ed saw it over from the other side,” admits the Worcester-born former Wolves man.
“I feel sure we would have won had we made it to the final,” he adds, a view shared by Evans, who actually worked with Southampton’s then youth coach Steve Wigley when the two were together at Bolton.
“I recommended Steve to Bolton when I was assistant manager to Gary Megson there, he’s a great coach, and he told me that he felt Wolves cost Southampton the FA Youth Cup that season,” Evans explains.
“Steve felt that the toll of the two legs, and extra time, drained his players so much both mentally and physically that they struggled in the final.
“All credit to Ipswich, they won it in the end and did extremely well but had we managed to beat Southampton, having already put out Manchester City, I would have really backed us to have stayed on the front foot and gone on and won the final.
“But you can’t go with what might have been, it’s all about what happened.
“Instead I walked into a dressing room with players in tears after that semi-final after what was the biggest game of their careers at that stage, and for some the biggest game of their life.
“Honestly though, they couldn’t have given any more, and I was so proud of everyone involved.”
Since leaving Wolves, Evans has remained involved at a high level in football with a range of assistant manager and technical director roles both at home and abroad, including coaching in the Indian Super League with Robbie Keane.
Now back based in Wolverhampton representing the interests of several professional players, it is still clear that events of over a-decade-and-a-half ago still fill him with immense pride.
“We had such great support from people at the club including Sir Jack and club secretary Richard Skirrow, and saw a group of young players with the ability, togetherness and team spirit, and almost 9,000 Wolves fans behind them, become the first team to beat Southampton and get within a couple of minutes of reaching the final.
“The whole staff did such a great job, including of course the coach, John Perkins, sadly no longer with us.
“I brought John in because I had always really admired the job he had done at Nottingham Forest – he was a good coach and a good guy who loved his work and was so meticulous in his preparation.
“And when you think back to the players in that team, so many of them have gone on to enjoy good careers, both at Wolves and elsewhere.
“Even just going through that line-up against Southampton, there must be thousands of appearances across the leagues from that Wolves team, which is a fantastic return.”
As Evans mentions, it was a real team effort behind the scenes to produce that successful run, including from those involved in recruitment, scouting those young players to help bring them to the club.
One of those scouts, Les Green, plays down the pride he felt at the time, recalling advice from then Head of Academy recruitment Tony Lacey to ‘wear a mask’, and never overly display personal feelings, whether good, bad or indifferent.
That was particularly difficult after such a cruel end to the semi-final.
“For me, players make scouts, not the other way around, but I think we would all have been proud of that team,” says Green.
“The two greatest disappointments in my football life was that youth cup semi-final, and Wolves’ two-legged defeat to Spurs in the UEFA Cup Final.
“I kept it to myself, but walking out of Molineux after that Southampton semi-final and hearing Saints’ parents admitting they had got out of jail was on a par with my feelings on the Tottenham High Road on the night that Wolves had lost the final after that second leg against Spurs.”
What then of the players, and particularly Fitzpatrick, who both enjoyed and endured such a ‘bitter sweet’ evening by scoring such a fantastic goal but then missing the decisive penalty?
He went on to make one senior league appearance for Hereford, before combining part-time football – most recently with Walsall Wood – with a new career as a plumber.
That Youth Cup goal is remembered as one of his career highlights, alongside the night he came on at half time for Wolves reserves against Liverpool at the same time as Steven Gerrard, and received a pat on the shoulder and words of encouragement from the midfield legend.
“For a long time I remembered that penalty miss way more than the goal, and to be honest it’s only a couple of years ago that I really properly moved on from it,” says Fitzpatrick.
“We had been practicing penalties all week and I hadn’t missed, but on the night I committed the cardinal sin and went to the other side of the goal – and I still have no idea why.
“I can still remember John Perkins telling me after the game not to worry and that it was only because of my goal that we actually got to penalties – I know he was trying to make me feel better.
“I have gone over it in my head so many times, and wondered if life might have turned out differently had I scored, but eventually I realised that there is more to life and you do have to move on.
“I suppose I am a bit different to the other lads in that I have something negative to remember that semi-final by, but I still think of it as such a great time and a great experience.”
The same goes for Cornes, whose performances earned him a place on the bench for Wolves’ final three games of that season under Hoddle, only for injuries necessitating other substitutions denying him a senior appearance which he would later enjoy at Port Vale.
“It was an amazing time,” says Cornes, who now combines being joint-manager of Worcester Raiders with running a driveways and landscaping business with his brother.
“It got me so close to making the first team at Wolves – I must be one of the unluckiest substitutes ever – but everything happens for a reason.”
And Little? Whose career has now surpassed 400 appearances and has included promotions, playing in the Championship, and scoring at Wembley?
“That was the start of it for me, because before that cup run I was nowhere near it,” he recalls.
“Without that cup run, I don’t think I get to make over 30 appearances for Wolves, and without those appearances for Wolves I don’t go on and have the career I have had.
“It felt like we went from being the tea boys to a group of players who the first team recognised and respected, these local lads from Wolverhampton going out and matching some of the best teams in the country.
“Ah it’s such a great memory, I’d love to meet up with everyone again and have a few beers, when we are allowed to!”
Collins, now captaining Yeovil Town in the National League, has also chalked up over 400 senior appearances featuring time in the Championship, as well as play-offs and promotion.
“I still think my days with that youth team are among the best of my career,” he reflects.
“That camaraderie you build with certain people, and how you develop together as players and people is something which is unmatchable.”
There were so many success stories from that team.
Hennessey and Davies as mentioned, Elliott Bennett, who has also gone on to play in the Premier League as well representing Jamaica, Gleeson – a full Republic of Ireland international.
Martin Riley also went on to play in the league with Cheltenham and Mansfield, and even those who didn’t make it in the English system, including Musson, Stewart, Jonny Taylor and Conor Rafferty, have played at a high level in other countries.
Of the players from both sides involved in that magical Molineux night some 16 years ago, there is only Theo Walcott who has a chance of featuring in Thursday’s FA Cup tie, although he has missed the last two games with injury.
If he does make it – if he does get on the pitch – keep a close eye out.
You might just spot Lee Collins following him out of the tunnel.