Select Page

Joe Mason strode calmly onto the pass from Jack Price, sharply turned inside the defender, and fired the ball like an arrow into the back of the net.

And the crowd went wild.

There is something wonderfully feral about being a Wolves fan in the away end at Birmingham City.

It’s a rivalry which grew in passion and intensity as the teams occupied the same division for so many years whilst more traditional local feuds with West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa were put on hold.

The fixture at St Andrew’s five years ago took place during the short-lived Walter Zenga era and was perhaps the perfect chaotic snapshot of the charismatic Italian’s 87-day reign.

Mixed results – Wolves struggled in the first half and were a goal down before coming back to win 3-1; a sense of not quite knowing what was going to happen next – remember losing 4-0 to Barnsley and winning at Newcastle five days later?; but sheer, unbridled passion and enthusiasm as Zenga sunk to his knees in front of the delirious away following who had savoured that second half supershow at full time.

It was certainly a memorable highlight of the short-lived Zenga cameo, and not just for the vociferous travelling support.

For Mason, that goal, and another against the Second City when scoring the winner during an equally-white hot atmosphere against Aston Villa later in the season, were as good as it got during his time at Molineux.

“That was certainly the best goal I scored for Wolves, and sadly I didn’t get too many,” the striker recalls of his finish at St Andrew’s.

“Fans love winning away in a local derby don’t they? And to score a goal like that and celebrate in front of them was perfect.

“The atmosphere was just as electric against Villa at home – that was the best I experienced at Molineux – and to score the winner in that game, with my family looking on, was another great moment.

“It is hard to explain just how good it feels to score in a game like that.”

Mason loves playing in those sorts of atmospheres, and he loves scoring goals.

Even now, in the Canadian Premier League where he signed for Cavalry FC earlier in the summer, there is still nothing like the feeling of getting on the scoresheet.

But the 30-year-old is also, by his own admission, not perhaps your typical footballer.

Moving out to Canada is not just about the football but also the experience, the environment, seeing the world.

On days off Mason can often be found walking, cycling, canoeing, often heading off to the Banff National Park an hour out of Calgary for an outdoor pursuit or two.  Mason Mount, if you like!

It’s a love of adventure and the outdoors which stems partly from Mason’s upbringing in Plymouth, right on the edge of Cornwall, a part of the world he will forever enjoy when back home on South Western soil.

And it was with Plymouth, his home-town club, that Mason first set out in football after being taken on at the age of 10, progressing with the Pilgrims all the way through the ranks to a first team debut at the age of 18 against Sheffield United in the Championship.

Plymouth’s boss at the time was former England striker Paul Mariner, who sadly passed away recently, but was a key influence as he took Mason under his wing during his formative footballing years and passed on advice and guidance.

An impressive two seasons in senior football proved the prelude for a switch to Cardiff for £250,000 and, when you talk about goals, their importance and their place in history, how about one in a League Cup Final against Liverpool in front of just under 90,000 at Wembley?

It was another despatched with a confidence belying Mason’s then 20 years which opened the scoring – the assist from Kenny Miller no less – in what eventually proved a dramatic 2-2 draw after extra time, Liverpool prevailing on penalties.

“That’s one of those games which seems to keep getting played on TV quite a bit, and whenever it does I get a flood of messages coming through,” Mason explains.

“And I will never tire of them!

“It’s a great memory for me individually but I was gutted we ended up losing on penalties.

“Over the course of the game although we had to withstand a lot of pressure we had chances to win as well.

“I was a Plymouth fan growing up but if I was to pick a Premier League team it would have been Liverpool, so it was particularly nice to score against them, especially at Wembley.

“It was one of those chances where I didn’t really have time to think – usually the best type for a striker – and I just got my foot through it and in it went!

“The feeling afterwards was pure euphoria, almost like an out-of-body experience.

“The goal came in front of the Liverpool fans and after initial silence I started getting pelters off them but at the other end of the stadium the roar from the Cardiff fans was insane.

“Without doubt it is the highlight of my career so far, as you might expect!”

It was an excellent first season at Cardiff for Mason, winning a place in the team sometimes at the expense of the more experienced Miller or Robert Earnshaw, helping them reach the play-off semi-finals where they were beaten by West Ham, and being crowned Young Player of the Year.

The second season saw Mason win a Championship medal featuring in three quarters of the fixtures as Cardiff won the title, but he didn’t figure in the Premier League the following campaign and moved on loan to Bolton.

Three separate temporary moves went reasonably well before Mason returned to a Bluebirds side then back in the second tier and ultimately hit top form to the extent that Wolves started circling.

Interest was already there when Mason delivered an excellent performance in a 3-1 win for Cardiff at Molineux in the January of 2016, and, less than a fortnight later, the move was completed.

“If I’m being completely honest, which I will be, I didn’t actually want to leave Cardiff at that time and it came as a bit of a shock that they accepted a bid,” he admits.

“I had been there five years, I was settled, playing well and wasn’t looking for a move.

“My first reaction was wanting to stay, but then I started to think about it and obviously it becomes the case that Cardiff were willing to sell me and Wolves were ready to pay a lot of money to buy me which showed that they really wanted me.

“I think you would also have to say that Wolves are the bigger club, and when I came up to speak to Kenny (Jackett) and see the training ground, I could see how good the facilities were.

“Wolves showed a real willingness to get me and that turned my head to the extent that it didn’t take long to be excited by the prospect of joining such a huge club.”

Mason got off to the perfect start.

A debut against his former loan club Bolton saw him follow up a parried Bjorn Sigurdsson shot to score with his first touch in gold and black after just three minutes.

In his next appearance, off the bench, he also scored against Preston, but the remainder of that season was somewhat low-key for all concerned, coming as the prelude to Fosun’s takeover and the end of one Wolves era and launch of a new one.

Which initially involved the departure of the Head Coach who had brought Mason to the club six months earlier, and the arrival of Zenga.

“There was a lot of talk going on that summer about Kenny’s position and I think Julen Lopetegui was the club’s first choice as manager,” Mason recalls.

“Then all of a sudden he gets offered the Spain job and the choice of that and going into the Championship probably wasn’t the biggest decision he has ever had to make!

“Then Walter came in seemingly from out of the blue, but I liked him, both as a person and a manager and I thought his tactics were good.

“He was good for the fans as well, he showed that passion and they really responded to it as we saw in those scenes at Birmingham.

“I just think in the end there was maybe too much change going on, so many players coming in, it almost seemed like every day there was someone new in the dressing room.

“Walter probably had too many players where it becomes difficult to keep everyone happy, he was rotating the team and changing things around a lot, even after we won.

“With all the players coming in it felt like a bit of just chucking everything at it and seeing what happened, and yet in reality no one quite knew what was going to happen next – it was all a bit erratic.

“We had so much talent in the squad when you think back, but we never really managed to gel as a team.

“We were relying on the talented boys coming up with something special and I remember Helder (Costa) in particular having a great first season and we had to lean on him a lot.”

The evidence suggests that it didn’t quite work out for Mason at Wolves, and he readily acknowledges that himself, but even during the conversation there are happy memories brought back which makes him think perhaps it didn’t go quite as badly as he initially thought!

Not only those wins against Blues and Villa, but coming off the bench for that memorable FA Cup triumph against Liverpool at Anfield, and the fact that for three successive head coaches – Jackett, Zenga and Paul Lambert, he was very much a first team regular.

Add in too, even in an ever-changing dressing room, some of the characters he lined up alongside, and the friendships which have endured, and there remains many positives.

“There were some really good lads at Wolves in my time there, too many to mention,” he explains.

“Probably my best mate then, who I am still close to now, is Pricey (Jack Price).

“We had a natural connection and clicked straightaway and just seemed to stick together around the training ground.

“He is such a funny guy, but so serious about his football, and it was great to link up with him again at Colorado Rapids and even better to see him flying out there now and taking on the captaincy.

“And look at Coads (Conor Coady) now, what he has gone on to achieve with Wolves and playing for England is incredible.

“But he deserves every single bit of it because of the way he works every single day in training and the way he applies himself.”

It was Nuno’s arrival that signalled the beginning of the end for Mason at Molineux.

It was very much another changing of the guard within the Molineux dressing room, not least as Mason was played in the centre of midfield during pre-season, despite gently suggesting to the Head Coach that he was “more of a poacher”.

“So there I am, playing in central midfield, and Ruben Neves arrives, and then it was definitely time for me to leave!” he laughs.

As brutal as perhaps it was when Nuno delivered the news that he wasn’t going to get any minutes under him, the honesty was appreciated, giving Mason the opportunity to think seriously about his next move.

He went on loan to Burton, scoring within a minute of coming off the bench on his debut only to get injured a few games later, before an enjoyable six months with Colorado Rapids in the same team as Price.

“Before going to Colorado there had been the prospect of a loan in the Championship, but I was in hospital with appendicitis for a week which took it over the deadline and only left the option to move abroad,” says Mason.

“It was good to go over there and the standard of the football actually surprised me as it was definitely better than people give it credit for back home.

“Living in Denver as well, I couldn’t have asked for better, and the lifestyle was really enjoyable.”

Another loan back home with Portsmouth ended with injury and, on ultimately leaving Wolves, Mason’s feelings – after ten goals from 39 appearances of which 18 came from the bench – are tinged with frustration.

“Nuno wasn’t having me at all to be honest but at least he was open with me and there was no messing me about.

“At that age I felt ready to really push on but it wasn’t to be and my time at Wolves was certainly stop-start.

“It wasn’t what I was hoping for, and Wolves spent a lot of money on me and never got me anywhere near my best.

“There were little glimpses now and again but not enough.

“I’m not making excuses but I had a few injuries and just never really got going.

“It felt like I’d get back from an injury and pick up another one, or come back and not find any form, and my goal ratio wasn’t good enough.

“And when you think back, I just didn’t do enough in terms of being someone to rely on to put in the team every week.

“That can happen in football, but it’s unfortunate it happened at a club like Wolves where I so wanted it to take off.

“When I was doing well I remember the crowd being behind me and when the fans get behind you at Wolves it is like nothing else I have ever experienced.

“But I still look back proud to have played for such a big club as Wolves, and nobody can ever take that away from me.”

Upon leaving Wolves,  MK Dons was the next destination and Mason, originally signed by Paul Tisdale before another injury delayed his introduction, very much enjoyed working with Russell Martin, now at Swansea, and his staff.

The affable frontman rediscovered his mojo, he was back among the goals, and it was a decent couple of years which took him up to May of this year.  

And then, what next?

Canada, and this new and exciting opportunity with Calvary FC.

“There were a few clubs in England interested but I just felt again that I wanted not only a new football experience but also a life experience,” says Mason.

“I was looking for something different.

“I had always enjoyed North America since my time at Colorado and a couple of holidays where I just found it such a nice place where everyone is very friendly.

“Football isn’t as popular over here and it is a very different way of life.

“Don’t get me wrong, football is still hugely important to me and I am still very much motivated and wanting to score goals.

“But there is also another part of me that has nothing to do with football.

“If you ask all the people who I have played alongside I think they would agree that I am not your typical footballer – and that’s in no way a criticism of typical footballers!

“I am not too bothered about the clothes I wear, and am more bothered about getting out and exploring and seeing the world.

“That was a big part of taking on this challenge and the great thing here is the mountains are not far away, flights are quite cheap, and I can head off to (Washington) DC or Vancouver to see the Orca whales in the wild – this is the sort of stuff I like to do.

“A lot of the other lads have come out of education and have degrees and are also up for doing different things and we are encouraged to get out and about on our days off.

“I was in Banff the other weekend and did a little trail around the mountains and jumped in a canoe – the scenery is incredible and I am really enjoying the lifestyle.”

With Canada hoping to relax its border restrictions which have been in place due to Covid, Mason’s girlfriend is planning to join him soon, and family will also be able to visit.

There is quite a sizeable ex-pat community out in Canada, while Calvary has another couple of British players in the squad and the manager, Tommy Wheeldon junior, was born in Liverpool.

Not to mention the fact that those Wolves fans – well, they get everywhere don’t they?

Picture courtesy Calvary FC Media/Tony Lewis

“There is a big Wolves flag at our games with my initials and number on it so there must be some Wolves fans here as well,” says Mason.

“That is something that was really nice to see at my first game.

“I haven’t managed to meet them just yet as we still have to be careful around Covid but I’m really appreciative of it and will hopefully be able to say hello soon.”

On the pitch, Calvary are currently in second position in the league table – recently beating leaders Pacific 2-1 with Mason grabbing both goals in what has been another promising start.

Even at the weekend, he notched a late equaliser against FC Edmonton in an inter-city rivalry dubbed the ‘Al Classico’ – he sure does enjoy scoring in a derby!

For a player with such undoubted technical ability, his hold up play and clever movement as well as his goalscoring, Mason clearly still has so much to offer.

“It’s still the same feeling when the ball hits the net and gives me the drive to go out and carry on getting as many goals as I can,” he adds.

“I am still hungry to succeed and do well, just in a very different environment.”

It may not be celebrating in front of thousands of passionate Wolves fans enroute to a famous local derby success but still the motivation burns brightly for goals, and for team success.

Winning the league would see Calvary qualifying for the Concacaf Champions League, offering the opportunity for ties in different countries and, for Mason, even more life experiences.

And potentially, even more goals.

The big question now remains for the team’s rivals in Canada, as famously related in the popular Christmas song performed by Jona Lewie: ‘Can you stop the Cavalry?’  

If you know that song, it will now be in your head for just as long as the memories lingered on from the day Mason and company produced a magical second half at St Andrew’s.