Life for Wolves when facing Manchester City at the Etihad has often been lively.
Conceding a last minute equaliser in a 3-3 draw which pretty much cemented relegation back in 2004, Geoffrey Mujangi Bia almost grabbing a dramatic leveller in a 4-3 defeat a decade ago, Bright Enobakhare agonisingly almost stealing the show in the EFL Cup more recently.
And, of course, Adama Traore’s deadly late brace as Wolves landed a remarkable league double over the City Slickers in 2019/20.
Recent history at Maine Road prior to the switch to their current home was none too quiet either.
Not least in the three successive wins Wolves recorded by a solitary goal between 1996 and 1999.
Maine Road actually played host to a piece of Midlands footballing history on one memorable afternoon back in the Autumn of ’96.
Just over a quarter of a century ago, Steve Bull got the goal – his 280th for Wolves – which took him past Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown to become the West Midlands’ record goalscorer.
A record which will take some shifting.
It was significant enough for Wolves historian Graham Hughes to get himself on the train in the following days to travel up and collect the matchball to return to Molineux for safe keeping to recognise Bull’s incredible achievement.
And the assist that day? At a time when assists weren’t really talked about and an ‘expected goals’ prediction for Wolves would have been pretty much based around whether Bull was starting the game?
Well that came from the left boot of Dennis Pearce in one of the 11 senior appearances, nine as a starter, he made in a Wolves shirt.
“I still remember it well,” says Pearce, now 47.
“I was in the left back position, not far from the halfway line, and got on the ball after someone had made a tackle.
“I looked up and saw Bully was in a lot of space and played the ball in behind.
“The defender – Kit Symons I think – couldn’t get there and Bully took a touch before he buried it in the bottom corner.
“You always knew Bully could get on the end of balls in behind like that and it was nice to get an assist.
“I do get reminded of it from time to time!”
As a fully-fledged Wulfrunian, Dennis Pearce is one of a select group to have registered a notable achievement.
To have been born in Wolverhampton – New Cross Hospital no less – and to go on and play for Wolves.
Pearce’s path to Molineux, however, was not that straightforward.
Brought up in Coseley, athletics was an early passion, and he was an excellent sprinter representing Tipton Harriers.
But from starting to play football at the age of 11, it became clear Pearce was a natural, soon turning out for Brierley Hill & Dudley district, then West Midlands county, before being spotted by Wolves’ Midlands neighbours Aston Villa.
“I signed for Villa when I was 14,” Pearce recalls.
“At the time I think Wolves were in the lower divisions and Villa would have been the biggest club in the Midlands, in the Premier League.
“There was interest from a few clubs, but Villa wasn’t far from home, and it was a great opportunity for me.”
It was indeed, with Villa managed by Ron Atkinson and boasting a strong squad including the likes of Paul McGrath and Dwight Yorke and several who would also later move to Molineux such as Paul Birch, Tony Daley, Steve Froggatt, Gordon Cowans, Cyrille Regis and, as Wolves manager, Dean Saunders.
It was at Villa that Pearce, previously primarily a left midfielder/winger and sometimes a forward, was converted to the role of left back, initially under duress before acknowledging it was ultimately to be his best position.
“I actually think it worked well that I had played in different positions because you get a feel and understanding of where people are on the pitch,” he explains.
“Then when you are in possession at left back, you know where is best for your team-mates to receive the ball.
“I was about 16 when I was moved back and I was gutted at first because I didn’t want to defend, I wanted to attack.
“But after playing a game at left back the coaches said I did really well because no one could get past me for pace and I was quite physical and strong in the tackle.
“I had to work on my positional sense and it was a learning curve but a good one and in the end it was definitely the right decision.”
That strong squad at Villa however meant it was always going to be difficult for Pearce to break through.
He knew that, he understood it, but remained focused on learning his trade, leaning on the guidance of the experienced pros, and picking up valuable nuggets from the established left backs Steve Staunton, Bryan Small and Alan Wright.
“We’d get tickets for the Villa games and were always told to watch those players in our positions to look at their positional sense, when they get forward, how they communicate,” says Pearce.
“I knew where I was in the pecking order and I also knew at that stage I was never going to make the Villa first team.
“As a player you know your ability and what you are capable of producing week-in, week-out.
“Villa were a good side, packed with internationals, and I knew breaking into that as a young player was going to be extremely difficult.
“But I was able to learn, and even though I felt my chance wasn’t going to come at Villa, it did make me feel I could make it somewhere else, without at that time knowing at which level.”
Pearce featured in one first team friendly for Villa, against local rivals Birmingham City, before, in the summer of 1995, amid interest from several clubs, he joined his hometown Wolves on a free transfer.
A good friend and former schoolmate Chris Westwood was also at the club – the two would travel in together – and Pearce also knew Jamie Smith and several others among that ex-Villa contingent.
And of course, talking of ex-Villa contingent, it was Graham Taylor as manager who signed Pearce and gave him his professional debut against Derby.
“Graham Taylor was a gentleman,” says Pearce.
“What I liked most about him was that he was so honest.
“He would call you to his office and tell you straight in terms of why you weren’t playing, what you were doing well and what you needed to improve on.
“He was so professional and his training sessions were so good – you could always understand why he was putting a particular session on and what he was trying to achieve.
“He was a great manager and I always had total respect for him.”
And it was Taylor who made Pearce’s day by handing him that coveted debut, news he discovered when the team was read out on the day of the game.
It was the perfect start as well, Wolves winning 3-0 thanks to goals from Daley, Don Goodman and John de Wolf.
“I can still picture now hearing my name in that team and feeling butterflies in my stomach,” says Pearce.
“I had been working really hard to push myself as much as I could and wanted to prove a point both to myself and the people around me.
“I was excited, thinking this was my big chance to show what I could do, but also nervous, of not wanting to let myself and other people down.
“It was a night game under the floodlights with a big crowd and I had that mixture of nerves and excitement but we won the game and I really enjoyed it.”
Pearce may only have made 11 appearances for Wolves but they included several highlights.
Not just the Derby debut and the assist at City but also the chance to return to Villa Park, in front of a crowd of almost 40,000 in the quarter finals of the League Cup in 1996.
It was a strong Villa side that night – McGrath, Ugo Ehiogu, Gareth Southgate at the back, Mark Draper and Andy Townsend in midfield, Tommy Johnson, Savo Milosevic and Yorke up front.
And yet Wolves put up a great fight, beaten 1-0 thanks to a goal from Johnson, as Villa continued their march to lifting the trophy by beating Leeds in the final at Wembley.
“It was a bit of a weird feeling that night, going back to Villa where I knew so many of the players, but one that I really enjoyed,” says Pearce.
“I remember listening to the Wolves fans who were amazing – so loud – and even though we lost there was such a great atmosphere that made it a special night.”
As time went on, Pearce was ultimately faced with the same predicament at Molineux as he had at Villa – namely a lack of playing time.
When he featured he acquitted himself well and certainly didn’t look out of place.
But with the likes of Andy Thompson and Jamie Smith in the full back positions, Froggatt available as wing back on the left, Mark Venus as left centre back or left back, competition was at a premium.
And eventually, after three years at Molineux, Pearce moved on, from West to East Midlands and a fresh challenge with Notts County.
“I generally played at Wolves when there were injuries and suspensions and wasn’t a regular,” Pearce acknowledges.
“It was nice to be in the frame, playing for the reserves and doing my best to try and get in and around the bench or the first team.
“I felt I did as well as I could at Wolves getting those appearances but it did reach a time where I needed to experience what it was like to play every week, to feel like I was competing for something.
“It was time for me to establish myself, hold a place down, and so it was that I dropped down a couple of leagues to go and play for Notts County.”
The manager at Meadow Lane? Sam Allardyce, Dudley-born, not far from where Pearce had grown up, and one who would go on to become the second England manager he worked under during his career.
There was already a link as Pearce had played in the same Sunday League team as Allardyce’s nephew, and he used to pop along to watch two or three times a season.
The move certainly worked out.
In his first season Notts County won the Division Three (which league) title having become the first ever league team to secure promotion before the end of March.
Over four years Pearce made almost 150 appearances and was Player of the Season in his final year.
“We had a great team spirit at Notts County and everyone just gelled,” Pearce recalls.
“At most clubs when you go out and socialise it is maybe small groups of four or five but at County there would be 20 of us, most weekends, and it helped build that togetherness.
“We took that onto the pitch where we would work for each other and fight for each other and we broke so many records in that first season.”
Moving on to Peterborough, and another high-profile manager in Barry Fry, unfortunately didn’t work out quite so well.
That was no fault of Pearce but more to do with injuries – he sustained a hernia which needed surgery just before his first season – and only made 16 appearances in two-and-a-half seasons.
By now Pearce was 30, and the rest of his career would be played out with a host of non-league assignments, still at a good level with teams such as Northwich Victoria, Stafford Rangers, Worcester City and AFC Telford.
Having been keen to learn from those experienced heads during his days at Villa and Wolves, the tables had now turned, and it was Pearce who was a guiding light to those younger players looking to make their way up the footballing pyramid.
And when he did eventually hang up his boots, with the need to continue making a living in a new environment, that desire to help was also very much in evidence.
He spent a year learning about social work, but when case studies emerged of young babies being taken away from their mothers, and abuse within families, Pearce felt it might just be beyond him.
Instead he turned to teaching, completing a degree at the University of Wolverhampton to become a PE teacher, spending three enjoyable years at Wednesfield High School.
Having become a Dad for the second time, and finding himself returning from after school activities quite late when his daughter was in bed, Pearce decided to look for a more ‘9 to 5’ existence, becoming a hod carrier, or bricklayer’s labourer.
The arrival of the pandemic brought the closure of construction sites, prompting Pearce to land a role at an electrical utilities power station before, as relaxations were eased, he returned to the construction site.
“I love it,” says Pearce, “there is a physical element to it, it’s outdoors and there is a healthy competitiveness between the bricklayers.
“I am surrounded by lads and the banter flows and it feels a bit like being back in a football dressing room!”
Talking of football dressing rooms, Pearce remains very much in touch with several of those he played alongside at Wolves, back in the day.
Trips back to see his Mum generally include catching up with Westwood, who lives just around the corner, and a well-populated group chat also featuring Smith, Jermaine Wright and Gavin Mahon.
Prior to Covid there was also an annual night out somewhere in the country shared with other former players as well. It will return.
Away from the former football family he very much enjoys time with his real life family, at home in St Neots in Cambridgeshire, where he lives with his partner Kerri, daughter Freedom, aged four, and step-daughters Breeze, 23, Chi, 21, and Dream, 13.
Journeys back home also include visiting eldest daughter Ramaya, 23, who lives in Birmingham.
“It’s safe to say I’m a bit outnumbered in my house,” he laughs.
“They’re wonderful though, a really nice family and everyone gets on great.
“I don’t get to many football matches now, but still watch Wolves on the telly, although I have to book that in with all the girls in advance to make sure!”
There is certainly an air of humility to Pearce, a sense of pride and happiness in his achievements alongside the knowledge that he always recognised he would need a second career of hard graft after football.
Like so many of those young prospects who were together at Wolves, Pearce, who enjoys trips back to represent Wolves Allstars when he can, never got carried away.
“I have always made sure I stayed very down to earth, and I think the majority of players are like that,” he insists.
“It’s about surrounding yourself with like-minded people, and staying grounded, and even players that have gone on to achieve big things have been like that.
“I remember being on a night out and seeing Dwight Yorke in Manchester with Ugo Ehiogu, and Dwight was like, ‘come on Pearcey, come and have a drink’.
“At the end of the day I know football was a job, a great and privileged job, but as you get older you start to realise that there is also more to life, the really important things such as family and health.
“When I was in football it was my number one priority, it always came first, and you have to be selfish if you are going to make it.
“A lot of people are fanatical about football and love the sport and so do I, and while I will always enjoy looking back on the great times, life moves on and you have to look forward.”
Not however, without the odd look back, and memories of a key contribution to a ground-breaking Bully goal, and a magical Manchester afternoon.