Matt Murray was looking around a small clothes shop in search of Father’s Day presents for his Dad and Step-Dad in a quiet outpost of East Anglia.
He had taken partner Natalie away to celebrate an anniversary with a spa break and a nice meal.
All of a sudden he realised he had been identified.
“I recognise your voice from Soccer Saturday,” said the young fella behind the till.
“You’re that ex-Wolves goalkeeper aren’t you?”
“Yes, but I’m not Carl Ikeme,” Murray replied, jokingly mindful of the two regularly being mistaken for each other.
“No no, it’s Matt Murray isn’t it? You gave me one of the best days of my life!”
Guilty as charged. And not an uncommon occurrence for the former Wolves and England Under-21 goalkeeper to be spotted.
At 6ft 4in, he’s not easy to miss.
So then, what was this ‘best day’ to which the shop assistant was alluding?
Presumably he was an exiled Wolves fan and was referring to the play-off final of 2003? If not that, then maybe the day Murray excelled in a 1-0 win against West Bromwich Albion.
Or indeed, given it was East Anglia, was it perhaps when he produced one of the best displays by any Wolves goalkeeper in recent history in another 1-0 victory, this time for the nine men, against Norwich at Carrow Road?
“I’m a Southampton fan, and my first ever away game was the trip to Molineux, when we won 6-0,” came the joyful reply.
“I soon realised it doesn’t get much better than that!”
By this point Murray’s partner Natalie was in hysterics. So too, eventually, the man himself.
In the middle of nowhere almost 200 miles from home, doing a little spot of shopping, and being painfully reminded of one of the worst afternoons of his Wolves career.
Fair to say it was also one of the most bizarre afternoons as well.
It all transpired 15 years ago this March, in the first year of Mick McCarthy’s Molineux tenure, when a sunny Spring afternoon played host to the equivalent of footballing carnage.
Wolves 0, Southampton 6. Two teams split at the time by just three places – fifth to eighth – and just six points and in the race for the Championship play-offs.
But, on this day, separated by six goals.
Yet – and perhaps only the gold and black contingent who were in attendance among the near 25,000 at Molineux that afternoon would be able to believe this – Wolves were actually the better side.
Comfortably the better side – and still they lost 6-0. Oh when the Saints came marching in.
“Everything they hit went in, it was a freak of a game,” Murray recalls.
“A day when the football gods were against us,” adds Rob Edwards, who was playing at right back before being withdrawn just before the hour.
“A crazy day that went from bad to worse,” was the verdict from Michael Kightly, who was just a few months into a blistering start to his Wolves career after joining from Grays Athletic.
Time to set the scene.
This was that first season under McCarthy who had checked in the previous summer with barely a penny to rub together or even a team to put together but charged with the task of building a squad to compete in the Championship.
Build it and they will come, and a mix of young and previously untried hopefuls with a sprinkling of wily experience had seen Wolves reach the last day of March very much in the thick of the race for the top six.
A recent run of six successive victories had cemented the play-off push, and the previous home game had been that epic win against Albion in which Wolves kept a clean sheet and Murray proved unbeatable.
But it was away games featuring a defeat to Coventry and draw at Sheffield Wednesday courtesy of Andy Keogh’s last gasp equaliser that preceded the visit of the Saints.
It was a below-strength Southampton team, featuring only one of their regular back four and a goalkeeper in Bartosz Bialkowski making only his second appearance of the season.
They did however boast ‘Pele’ and ‘Best’. Pele Miguel Cardoso Monteiro and Leon Best, as well as an in-form striker in Marek Saganowski who had scored four goals in six games before lining up at Molineux.
Wolves, roared on by a vociferous crowd as so often in that first McCarthy season, were quickly out of the blocks.
Kightly and Michael McIndoe attacking with pace and purpose down the flanks, Keogh and Stephen Ward full of drive and running up front, Darren Potter and Seyi Olofinjana controlling the midfield.
“We were in good form and full of confidence,” Kightly confirms.
“We were fighting for the play-offs which was very unexpected that season as I think most expected us to be involved in a relegation scrap.
“I felt confident myself in my own game and how the team were performing, and remember clearly we were so on top at the start of that game.”
After 24 minutes however, Wolves hadn’t made their dominance count.
Chances had gone begging and Bialkowski was in imperious form as the Saints’ last line of defence.
And, as so often happens, what followed was the keeper’s Polish counterpart Saganowski breaking the deadlock at the other end with a close-range header which Murray could only palm into the net.
Maybe this was always going to happen. This is Wolves, remember, and Southampton were a proper bogey team of the time.
Wolves hadn’t won in 14 meetings with the Saints stretching back to 1980, and had only scored one in the previous seven, so yes, maybe this was a chain of events which was destined to unfold.
Three minutes after the opener it was two when Murray got a slight touch to a cross which then diverted in via Gary Breen for an own goal and Saganowski added a third on 36 minutes with a sublime lob.
“Imagine that – someone chipping Matt Murray,” laughs Kightly.
“I didn’t have the best time,” Murray admits.
“Infact I had an absolute shocker.”
There appeared, however, a potential lifeline just before the interval.
Kightly tried to flick the ball over Chris Makin – the defender handled – and Wolves were awarded a penalty.
They had missed their previous two spot kicks, and so it was very much open to offers, with Kightly exuding the confidence to step up from 12 yards.
“To be honest it was a really bad one, and the keeper saved it comfortably,” he remembers.
“I really thought I was going to score, and get us back in the game, but it wasn’t my finest moment.
“It was the only penalty I ever took for Wolves, the first and last, and the next season we signed Sylvan (Ebanks-Blake) and he wasn’t going to let anyone else take one, that’s for sure!”
A potential reprieve spurned, and so, minutes into the second half, the agony continued.
Murray saved from Best, but the ball bounced back off the blameless Breen and the striker converted the follow-up, and at 4-0, just before the hour mark, Edwards and Jamie Clapham made way for Jody Craddock and Jay Bothroyd.
“You mean it was only four when I was substituted,” says Edwards. “Buzzing!”
The defender and now Head Coach of League Two table-toppers Forest Green Rovers was not long off the back of forging an excellent central defensive partnership with Neill Collins during which Wolves had won four on the spin and conceded just once.
Breen had come back in for that memorable win against Albion and Edwards was moved across to right back, which, by his own admission, was not his best position.
“Walking off I was just feeling numb, wondering what had happened,” he recalls.
“I certainly wouldn’t have been very good that day, although the team played so well going forward.
“Mick always used to say you could look back on any goal conceded and pick out three mistakes in the build-up, whether it was ten seconds before the goal or longer, maybe giving away a silly free kick or not marking from a throw-in.
“Yet that day it didn’t even feel like they had too many dangerous moments, they just kept on scoring!
“Matty was our Player of the Year that season and he conceded six which was obviously unheard of – it was such a freak game.”
He wasn’t to know it when trudging off disconsolately but that Saints shellacking was effectively the beginning of the end for Edwards at Wolves.
In training the following week he damaged his medial knee ligaments in a block tackle, ending his season, and with never really regaining full fitness at Molineux, he made just 12 appearances in the campaign after.
His departure that day didn’t stem the tide that’s for sure, future Wolves midfielder Andrew Surman slamming a shot home – which he reminded Murray of on his first day’s training at Compton – and Saganowski seizing on a Murray clearance to effortlessly complete his hat trick.
Wolves had carried on pressing forward – “we might as well lose 6-0 than 4-0,” was the manager’s post-match post mortem.
And yet, as the second half had continued and the brutal scale of the defeat became clearer and clearer, something incredible happened inside Molineux.
The Wolves fans actually got louder. Considerably louder.
Their support intensified, accompanied with never-ending and self-effacing humour.
At 5-0 down with ten minutes remaining it was ‘we’re gonna win 6-5’. At which point Saganowski promptly completed his hat trick and, without missing a beat, the lyrics changed to ‘we’re gonna win 7-6’.
There was even a Mexican Wave, with often much-maligned CEO Jez Moxey answering a call to get one started, and a general carnival atmosphere throughout the stadium.
Amid the fun element and the gallows humour there was however a serious message in such a wonderfully stoic response from the Molineux faithful.
As Kightly has mentioned, this was a team not expected to be challenging at the top end of the Championship table, a team developed by McCarthy from extremely small and humble beginnings, but containing a hastily-assembled group with hugely diverse footballing experiences that came together to give everything for the shirt.
The fans could see it. And they loved it.
“That is where the Wolves fans are so, so good, with the way they support young players,” says Murray.
“We had a lot of young lads just trying to make their way in the game and we were punching above our weight in the Championship that season.
“That crazy afternoon I think the fans’ reaction was them saying ‘don’t worry, we’re with you, we’ve got your back’.
“We were obviously all gutted at full time but I remember Mick telling us to get out into the centre circle and thank the fans because of how they had been so supportive.
“And that is Wolves fans for you in a nutshell – they know you are not going to be able to beat everyone but if you give your best, they will always give you that brilliant support.”
“Unique,” is Kightly’s take on the way the fans reacted.
“There are games that stand out in your career, for the right reasons, and that one where we beat Nottingham Forest 5-1 and I scored twice was one of my favourites.
“That Southampton one sticks in my head purely because of the fans, and how they stuck with us.
“I am not sure there are many fans in the country who would have reacted like that, and it is why it is a game I still talk about a lot even all these years on.
“I was a few months into my Wolves career and from that moment I think myself – all of us in that team – just fell in love with the fans that little bit more.
“To see them all clap us off, still singing away, and give us a standing ovation, is something I will never, ever forget.”
Edwards echoes those sentiments, and cites the fan response as having a major impact on squad morale.
“If it had gone the other way it would have made things far more difficult,” he insists.
“It’s funny because I have heard people suggest that with football fans in the West Midlands it is always a little bit ‘glass half full’ and a bit negative but that afternoon proved once and for all that is definitely the wrong impression.
“We lost 6-0, but the fans’ reaction was amazing and there was so much positive energy around the place which helped the boys carry on pushing to get into the play-offs.”
All three are also unanimous in highlighting the role of McCarthy to being key in not allowing the result – with only six games of the season remaining – to derail that unlikely play-off pursuit.
Wolves lost the next game, away at Sunderland, but won three of the last five to clinch their top six berth.
“Mick didn’t catastrophise it, he knew what it was,” said Murray.
“He always said he would forgive us anything as long as we gave it everything.
“As long as we didn’t hide, back out of challenges, if any mistakes were honest mistakes, that was o-k.
“So he didn’t get us in the next day as punishment, send us running or make us watch it all back as a video nasty, he knew just how to get the best out of us and that was to pick ourselves up and move on.”
“In football you always get disappointments, and as a manager I have realised how important it is not to get too emotional and that sometimes you need to take the emotion out of it,” adds Edwards.
“Football can be so random, probably the most random sport there is, and sometimes things happen which are unexplainable.
“Mick probably realised what the lads had given him throughout that season, how we had fought for him, and how he, ‘Taff’ (assistant Ian Evans) and ‘TC’ (first team coach and later assistant Terry Connor) had organised us and got us into the position we were in.
“He knew that a different reaction might not have got the right response and obviously with all his experience he was constructive and kept us all together.
“I learned so much in my career which I have taken into coaching and the example for me with Forest Green this season was when we lost to St Albans in the FA Cup.
“It was a big disappointment, but the next day we had to draw a line under it, look at the rationale and the reasons why it happened and learn from it, but move on.
“It was about remembering that the lads at Forest Green have been brilliant so far this season and that game was maybe a bit of a reset before going again and that is similar to how Mick responded with us all those years ago.”
It might have been a freak of a result but in Edwards’ short but impressive management career with Forest Green he has already witnessed a 6-3 win and a 5-5 draw which he describes as ‘the craziest game he has ever experienced’.
Not as crazy perhaps as the fact that the 6-0 defeat that day left Wolves in sixth place, with six games left, on 66 points. Six-y!
Ultimately the play-offs, despite a hugely impressive spell in the first leg against a vastly more experienced Albion side, proved a bridge too far, but two years later the squad containing many of the same personnel stormed majestically to the Championship title. Young and hungry, and finally able to taste the delights on offer at the top table.
For a couple of close connections to Wolves however, that Southampton game proved the end of their own Molineux journeys – and what a way to go!
It was the last game at work for press officer and videographer Catherine Preece-Hickman after five years with the media team, and several years prior to that covering the club for The Wolf radio station.
Handing back the complimentary season tickets wasn’t quite so much of a chore for lifelong fan Preece after a result like that, although Catherine’s parents did eventually decide to buy them! Ultimately a shrewd decision. And she did return.
And for photographer Dave Bagnall, it was his final Wolves fixture shooting for the Express & Star, marking his retirement from the paper after 29 years of pictorial graft at Queen Street.
“It was always going to be a little bit of an emotional day but I always hoped and was optimistic I would return to cover matchdays at Molineux again and that has proved right,” he recalls.
“But it was my last game for the Express & Star and I remember coming away thinking how on earth did that happen.
“Photographers being photographers I took a lot of stick in the room with people blaming me for the result – there was a lot of ‘it’s Bagnall’s last game so it’s his fault’ going around!”
Bagnall did accept an offer from Moxey to enjoy the following home game from the Director’s Box to mark his retirement – and this time Wolves won 3-1 – and a mention of Molineux hospitality brings us neatly back to another tale of torment from the day Saints struck six of the best.
Via another Murray story, of course.
“So I had a German pen pal – guy named Torsten – who I had been over to see when I was at school when I was about 15,” he begins.
“He and his sister Maren had always wanted to come over to watch Wolves, and Southampton was the one!
“They flew over, I sent a driver to pick them up, and said I would meet them after the game.
“Matchday was always my cheat day when I might have a takeaway, fish and chips or something in the evening, and so I had booked a table to go and have a Chinese.
“Then all that carnage happened, and I even remember seeing them in their seats near the tunnel and thinking ‘I really don’t want to be taking you out for food after this!’
“I am not a good loser, and after the game I just wanted to bury my head, I felt sick and couldn’t talk.
“We still went out, and I felt so bad as I hadn’t seen them for years, but of all the games they decided to come and watch!
“I won the Golden Glove for the most clean sheets in the Championship that year, but the day they came over to see me I have an absolute horror show and concede six goals!”
Murray actually binned his ‘golden’ gloves at half time he was so incensed, and Kightly also never again wore the blue boots with which he missed the penalty.
But Wolves have gone on to lay the Southampton hoodoo to rest in the 15 years which have passed since suffering their worst home defeat since another 6-0 at home to Liverpool in 1968.
There was the early goal blitz in 2009 from Vokes, Craddock and Jones which took Wolves to the brink of sealing promotion, the second half comeback of two years ago turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win, the superb Pedro Neto goal last season, the emotional Raul Jimenez one this.
But while thankfully the after-effects didn’t linger on, either that season or in the years which followed, it is an afternoon of Mad March Fayre that will never be forgotten and will stand the test of time in any football phone-in or around the table pub discussion.
Have you heard the one about the team which lost 6-0 at home, and still received a standing ovation?