Sometimes you don’t need to make hundreds of appearances or win a bagful of medals to build up an affinity with a football club.
Sometimes it is about the moments and the experiences, and the forging of friendships which stand the test of time. That is pull and the power and the ever-enduring legacy of the game of football.
Mick Hollifield made 25 appearances as a young left back for Wolves between 1980 and 1982.
The 1980/81 campaign, when made up the majority of that figure, would prove the last season in which Wolves maintained their top-flight status for almost three decades, until Mick McCarthy’s men in 2009/10.
By his own admission, as Wolves’ fortunes nose-dived during the Eighties, Hollifield, too, was unable to kick on in his own career in the way which he might have hoped.
And yet, 40 years on from his actual departure from Molineux when leaving Wolves for Hull, memories of his time in the Midlands continue to be readily shared with close pal and former team-mate Mick Matthews, even from a distance in excess of 10,000 miles.
Hollifield now lives in Australia but, for the first time in ten years, is on a visit back to England which will include one of the fixtures that brought him – and later Matthews – so much success.
As a 19-year-old, playing only his second home game for Wolves, Hollifield was part of the team which defeated all-conquering Liverpool 4-1 in November 1980. And Matthews, in the following August, scored the only goal of the game as Wolves again triumphed over the Reds, 1-0 on home soil.
The two will be reunited at Molineux on Saturday lunchtime, along with other former team-mates Hughie Atkinson and Bob Coy, and Hollifield can’t wait!
“It’s going to bring back a lot of memories for us, I am sure,” he reveals.
“I’m sure myself and Matty (Matthews) will be reminiscing about our parts in those games.
“I used to get back to England every three or four years but the last time I was actually over was for my Mam’s funeral ten years ago.
“When I was looking at dates and saw the Liverpool game, I thought it would be great to try and tie the trip in with another visit to Molineux.
“I will spend some time back in the North East catching up with old school mates and then meet Matty for the game and hopefully Hughie and Bob as well.
“As you get older, I think you realise life is all about the people you meet along the journey, and I have been fortunate to meet some really good lads around the traps through football – I’m really looking forward to catching up.”
Hollifield’s football journey began in his native Teesside, playing for the Kiora Youth Club, whilst, on reaching 16, he left school and went to work at Parkfield Foundries in Stockton.
Kiora were well-known and successful in bringing through plenty of promising young talent, and so Hollifield was invited to a week-long trial at Wolves, after which he was a regular visitor back over a number of months.
There had been the misconception that, because Hollifield was working, he was too old to be taken on as an apprentice, but when coach John Jarman discovered he was still only 16, chief scout Joe Gardiner was despatched to the family home to secure an apprenticeship which was signed and sealed just a week before his 17th birthday.
“It was also just before the end of the season, although I remember we had a couple of trips still to enjoy, to Bellinzona in Switzerland and another one to Holland,” Hollifield recalls.
“I did the 12 months apprenticeship, doing all the other stuff like cleaning the boots and cleaning the sheds, and was then fortunate to be taken on as a young professional.”
This was a time, as John Barnwell moved in as a manager to replace Sammy Chung, that Wolves were finishing in the top six of the top division, and winning the League Cup in 1980, still the most recent major trophy.
Hollifield had been one of an unprecedented five apprentices turning pro from his year group – Matthews, Atkinson, John Humphrey and Craig Moss completing the set – but he had already made his mark well before his first team debut.
That came in an appearance for the reserves, also against Liverpool, but this time at Anfield.
Playing at left midfield, Hollifield first set up Matthews to open the scoring, and then found the net himself with a long range screamer in front of the Kop End.
“I can’t remember specifically when the game was, but it must have been the Winter as I remember it was an orange ball,” he said.
“I also remember Richie Barker, who hadn’t long been in as John Barnwell’s assistant, coming into the dressing room at half time, pointing at me and telling me that would be the best goal I would ever score in my career.
“I was young at the time – but he was certainly proved right!”
It wasn’t too long after that before Hollifield was to land his first team bow.
And it was quite a baptism.
His first seven fixtures included away games at Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, all of which were drawn.
And also, that epic home game against Liverpool, where goals from Norman Bell, Mel Eves, Emlyn Hughes – against his former club – and John Richards, secured a memorable 4-1 victory.
“To give John Barnwell his due, he gave young players an opportunity here and there, and in those games, including Liverpool, there was myself, John and Hughie who were all 19,” says Hollifield.
“I remember playing away to Spurs on the Saturday and then United the following Tuesday, and Arsenal not long after.
“Looking back now, you would certainly settle for those results against those teams away from home every time.
“With that Liverpool game, I remember Emlyn’s goal being a mishit shot which almost trickled in, it was just one of those nights when everything went for us.
“I do remember that Sammy Lee was up against me on Liverpool’s right hand side, but he went off just before half time and Jimmy Case came on.
“Jimmy introduced himself to me pretty quickly – not by saying anything – but with a challenge that left me with a nice studmark on the inside of my left thigh.
“Jimmy Case was a tough nut as a player, and that’s how he introduced himself!”
As one of a group of teenagers making their name playing against the cream of the crop in the First Division, Hollifield had to settle quickly.
But that was something he felt more than capable of doing, particularly considering that calmness and composure on the ball were among his major strengths.
“Yes, I would get a few pre-match nerves especially before my debut, when I was heading to the ground on the coach rubbing my hands and sweating like anything!
“But once I got out there and the game kicked off, I was completely wrapped up in it and concentrating and it was alright.
“I do remember that early game at Old Trafford, when I went to the near post to defend a corner, just looked up at the crowd, and realised how packed it was!
“Then it was a case of switching straight back on, and, to be honest, I was a player who never really panicked and had confidence when I was on the ball.
“It’s not to sound cocky or anything, every player has strengths and weaknesses, and distribution was my strength which probably helped me go into that environment and feel comfortable.”
And that’s how it turned out. Initially in the team to replace the injured Derek Parkin, Hollifield kept his place for a consecutive 17 games in league and FA Cup, then returning for the final three of the season to help Wolves consolidate their top flight status.
A total of 20 appearances was an impressive return in a breakthrough campaign, but the fact that there would only be five more, spread across the following year, was a combination of circumstances which ultimately saw Hollifield’s Molineux career come to an end.
A foot injury, which would later turn out to be a broken bone, plagued him not just at Wolves but also after he had left, whilst he also suffered a slipped disc in his back around the same time as keeper Paul Bradshaw, which wiped out almost a year.
Changes in management, and indeed ownership, probably didn’t raise the prospect of stability, and during pre-season of 1983/84, with ‘the writing on the wall’, Hollifield joined Third Division Hull City, and was a regular as they missed out on successive promotions by just one goal.
Used more sparingly the following season, when the Tigers did become upwardly mobile again, Hollifield moved on, joining Tranmere on the same day as new player-manager Frank Worthington, only to not be given an opportunity, making just one solitary appearance in the 1985/86 season.
“That was a very difficult time,” Hollifield reflects.
“All the fight and passion was dying inside me, but I didn’t want to let the manager see it, so I did a load of extra training – I was training the house down!
“I didn’t want to show I was suffering inside but I remember talking to Matty and saying I’d had enough and didn’t want to do it anymore, I just wanted to go home.
“Matty told me to write to every club to tell them I was available, but it had all really ground me down.
“Two or three years earlier, I’d been going really well playing for Wolves against the top teams but now, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get into a team in the Fourth Division.”
Hollifield had fallen out of love with professional football. He returned home to the North East, and played for a couple of teams in the Northern League.
But then, the finger of footballing fate stepped in. One which would change his life forever.
John Fleming, who had played for Oxford and Lincoln in England, was coaching out in Australia for a team called Wollongong City, and he invited Hollifield over.
Thirty-five years later, he is still there!
“We went out there with nothing to lose really, we just got off the plane with our suitcases without knowing anybody,” he recalls.
“It was probably my last chance and if it hadn’t worked it would have time to pack up but if we weren’t happy after six months we could have come home.
“Everything happens for a reason, and once I got settled in, and worked hard, I found my level of fitness and it was all about making the most of the opportunity.”
Wollongong, who would later change its name, from City to Wolves, had been put down from the National League into the State League prior to Hollifield’s arrival, and they immediately won promotion back, following up with another good season which featured cameos from guest players such as Alan Brazil, Paul Mariner and Trevor Francis.
And later he would play alongside Danny Crainie, who had arrived at Wolves just as Hollifield was leaving, and also against Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou, who was with South Melbourne.
A few issues with his VISA when applying for permanent residency Down Under saw Hollifield back in Blighty for a few months but, once all was confirmed, he was back in Australia playing local football with the aim of hanging up his boots at the age 40.
But just over a year before that, he was hit by a car while walking home from a night out and, in truth, now feels fortunate to have survived.
“Both my legs were damaged pretty badly, and I was in a wheelchair for a while, and never played again,” he admits.
“To be honest, I’m grateful still to be here, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.
“I’ve still got a rod that goes from just below my knee to above my ankle and three or four screws in my other knee.
“I came off lucky, with a bit worse luck it really could have been lights out.”
After that rather dangerous setback, Hollifield has settled into life as a manager for a cleaning company looking after contracts and staff, a role he has now continued for almost 30 years.
His family have also been brought up and remained in Australia, son Neil after being born at New Cross Hospital, and daughter Tegan in Oz, while he has two grand-daughters and a grandson due imminently.
“I live in a great part of the world now and feel very lucky to have done that and had the opportunity to come out here,” says Hollifield.
Even so, this visit home is one he is very much looking forward to, not just with Saturday’s game, but catching up with old Wolves friends.
Particularly Matthews, whose son Tom lives in Australia working as an electrician and previously captaining Oakleigh Cannons in the National Premier League, and therefore offered the chance to catch up with Hollifield when making a trip over.
Hollifield not only played alongside Matthews for Wolves but helped him in his role managing the Sunday League team Tarmac Roadstone, which included now Wolves director John Bowater as skipper.
Wolves fan Phil Murphy has kept scrapbooks of not only Wolves matches but also his exploits as a player with Tarmac, including scoring the winning goal in a cup final as they turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory. There are also fond memories of sharing a few beers at the Castle pub in Wednesfield, where the two Wolves players would be very much a part of it.
“We could have been the new Clough and Taylor – for the Sunday League,” Hollifield laughs.
That was just another happy memory of a generally happy time for Hollifield, even though his breakthrough didn’t provide the sort of sustained career he would have loved at Molineux.
“John Humphrey was one who went on and did really well but myself and Hughie probably didn’t push on like we were hoping for,” he explains.
“I played at a lower level and ended up in Australia but when I think back to Wolves, and that win against Liverpool, at least I can look back on a really special occasion which no one can take away.
“I was proud to be a part of it and being back at Molineux for another game with Liverpool will bring back wonderful memories for myself and Matty.”
Wonderful memories indeed, and another wonderful result?
That would be just the (plane) ticket given the lengths, and distance, which Hollifield has travelled to be back at Waterloo Road.