Legendary Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar chalked up 628 appearances during 13 years at Anfield.

He collected six league titles, three FA Cups, three League Cups and one European Cup.

Grobbelaar will forever be remembered for his wobbly-legged penalty heroics in Rome on the night of European glory, but what is perhaps a lesser known feature of his CV is that his Liverpool debut actually came at Molineux.

And do you know who scored Wolves’ only goal of the game after 62 minutes that afternoon to hand Grobbelaar a defeat on his first Reds appearance?

A 20-year-old midfielder by the name of Mick Matthews.

Incredibly, it is 40 years on Sunday since that fixture on the opening day of the 1981/82 season, played out in front of a crowd of 28,001. 

For Liverpool, the reigning European champions, this losing start would not deny them going on and finishing the season as League champions and League Cup winners.

For Wolves, such a positive start was sadly not a sign of things to come as they would end up second from bottom and relegated to spark a rollercoaster run in which they would switch divisions in seven of the following eight seasons.

For Matthews, it was dreamland, even though the achievement perhaps feels more significant all these decades on than it actually did at the time.

And that is even though it was only Matthews’ second senior appearance, having made his own debut against the blue half of Merseyside, at Goodison on the final day of the previous campaign.

Although still young and inexperienced, Matthews recalls an air of impatience in that previous 1980/81 campaign that it took so long to be handed his chance.

“I was getting a bit frustrated because I had been seeing my peers make their debuts and I thought I had been playing well enough – as we all do at that age! – to make mine,” he explains.

“The team had been struggling and needed to make sure they avoided relegation so when I look back with hindsight, they weren’t going to put a young player into a key position in midfield in those circumstances.

“I finally got my chance in the last game of the season away at Everton – it was a goalless draw but I remember it really well and it was certainly a memorable day.

“I then managed to retain my place in the team for the start of the following season against Liverpool.”

Matthews now works as an FA Youth Coach Educator involved in helping young coaches across the academy system from Under-8s up to Under-23s to develop their skills and complete the necessary qualifications to progress on their coaching journey.

Last season, when his name was mentioned in the media as the last Wolves player to score a winning goal to beat Liverpool in a league match at Molineux, it didn’t go unnoticed among his FA colleagues.

“They were all taking the mickey like ‘you what? That was never you!’” he laughs.

“It is funny though because at the time, as a young kid just raring to go, I wasn’t really in awe of the occasion or maybe not even aware of it.

“Of course I could appreciate Liverpool and the players like Dalglish, Hansen and Souness. I knew how big a club they were but Wolves was my club you know? I wanted to win for Wolves.

“Probably as you get older you look back and realise the consequences of things a bit more but at the time, and maybe there was a bit of naivety on my part, I felt more than ready to play in the game.

“I can still picture the goal – a looping header at the North Bank end where the fans really used to congregate in those days.

“I had my family there watching the game, as they had at Everton, and obviously we were all buzzing as for a first game of the season it couldn’t have gone any better.

“But I was probably more buzzing just for the team, the environment and the culture of the club than my goal.

“The more senior players like Hibby (Kenny Hibbitt) and Andy Gray, they gave me great support so getting a result like that was one for the collective.”

It was that sort of team spirit and atmosphere which had first attracted Matthews to join Wolves as an apprentice at the age of 16.

Having been on the books of his home-town club Hull, he attracted plenty of attention for a potential scholarship including then reigning champions Derby, Arsenal and Everton.

“I did a bit of a tour around and the atmosphere and environment just felt really positive at Wolves and I chose the club over better offers from others such as Derby,” Matthews recalls.

“Sometimes you obviously wonder if you made the right decision but I have never regretted it for a single minute.

“I signed for Wolves on no sort of promise, I knew I had to prove myself, and I really enjoyed my time at the club.

“I lived with local families, and being at Wolves from the age of 16 to 22, throughout I was integrating with the people and the Wolves fans.

“It was a lot easier to do that in those days and we had the social club on the car park where I would go as a young scholar and have lunch with the fans.

“Even when I was a bit older and playing in the first team, after the home games we would go and have a drink in the social club as well – there was no social media which probably helped!

“From a salary point of view, yes we were paid well but probably a bit closer to everyone else and to reality than maybe top flight players are now.

“But I wouldn’t change my career for anything, the richness of the whole experience I enjoyed at Wolves was fantastic.”

That goal against Liverpool was the first of seven Matthews contributed from midfield from 83 appearances.

His two full seasons as a regular formed part of that dramatic Molineux rollercoaster ride of the time with the relegation followed by an immediate top flight return thanks to promotion under Graham Hawkins in the 1982/83 campaign.

“In that first season in the top division, even when we were struggling, I felt I was learning my trade,” says Matthews.

“Ian Greaves came in as manager and I think we actually played some decent football but we couldn’t turn it around.

“But we managed to keep a few of the senior players after relegation like Andy, Hibby, John Burridge, along with the younger ones like myself, John Humphrey, Wayne Clarke and Hughie Atkinson and it turned into a big year.

“We knew we had the capability, as individuals and a collective, to dominate games, and once we got the ball rolling it was very much in our hands.

“For me, I feel I really contributed to the season, and started 40 of the 42 league games, as it was all rounded off with a carnival atmosphere and a 2-2 draw against a Newcastle team which included (Kevin) Keegan and (Terry) McDermott.”

Matthews’ goal that day, which he realised only a few years ago was scored past Martin Thomas who went on to become goalkeeping coach at the FA, was one of many highlights which also included a brace in an epic 4-3 win away at Crystal Palace.

But sadly that gloriously acclaimed seasonal finale against the Toon was not a sign of better times ahead – far from it infact – as Matthews picked up an injury on the following pre-season tour of Sweden, and Wolves heralded their return to the First Division with a 14 game winless streak.

Wolves were heading for turmoil, and many players for the exit door, including Matthews, whom, looking back now, wishes he had “dug his heels in” a little bit more.

“Whether you call it asset stripping or whatever it was, it felt like decisions were coming from above and a lot of the lads were starting to move on,” Matthews recalls.

“I am disappointed I didn’t really have the experience to handle what was happening to me – there were no agents in those days – and I regret not seeking some better advice and digging my heels in a little bit when it became clear I was on the way out.

“I don’t know whether anything would have changed, it was a bit of a sliding doors moment, and the club went on to tumble down the divisions so who knows how it would have ended up.

“It left a sour taste after what had been such a positive time in my life, but even if I went on to do a bit of a journeyman thing in the leagues, I still thoroughly enjoyed and loved every minute of my career.”

That ‘journeyman’ progression included stints with Scunthorpe, Halifax, Scarborough, Stockport, Hull and North Ferriby United.

It wasn’t without its experiences however, including lining up alongside cricketing legend – and now trade envoy to Australia – Ian Botham during his own stay with Scunthorpe.

“I really wanted to go on loan to Scunthorpe because they had a game at Hull on Boxing Day and being a local lad I was desperate to play at Boothferry Park,” says Matthews.

“’Beefy’ (Botham) played in that game in the days when cricketers often trained in winter to keep fit which is very different to how it is with cricket now.

“He was o-k was Ian, nice and steady, and a good character.

“Despite his profile and his ability as a cricketer he had no heirs and graces and was a real team player.”

Stumps were eventually drawn for Matthews after 434 first team appearances in a varied career, and for many years life post-playing took on a similarly diverse path with different postings at home and abroad.

After hanging up his boots he went down the Sports Medicine route, completing a diploma in Sports Management and Injuries and then, for the best part of a decade, working for a company which involved serving as physiotherapist not only for Hull Football and Rugby League clubs but also the Great Britain ice hockey team.

At one stage he also landed an opportunity via a contact to work as part of the backroom staff for the St Vincent/Grenadines international team during their qualification campaign for the 2006 World Cup, which included being stranded in Miami during a hurricane and on the end of something similar from Mexico courtesy of a 7-0 defeat.

“I was lucky with a few international experiences and that was the same with the ice hockey as well,” Matthews explains.

“There were several trips out to Eastern European countries and I found the mentality of ice hockey players very similar to footballers.

“They were easy to interact with, a little bit daft, at times it was like dealing with 15 goalkeepers!

“I enjoyed a real mixed bag of different experiences but off the back of it all, it led me to where I am today.”

And ‘today’ is that role as an FA Youth Coach educator, which Matthews has been fulfilling since 2012.

He had actually combined his work in sports medicine with delivering coach education, initially with the local county FA which later led to further opportunities on a more global scale, delivering courses for the FA in Japan, Africa and India, amongst others.

Matthews was also involved in the pioneering of ‘futsal’ in its early days back in Hull – Maximilian Kilman played that don’t you know?

Now though it is all about the education of academy coaches across the five clubs which Matthews covers, all in the North, a job carried out in the Midlands by Wolverhampton-born former Kidderminster and Bristol Rovers defender Craig Hinton, nephew of legendary Wolves winger Alan.

Matthews, part of a team of 18 across the country, explains how his role works.

“We are basically servicing the mandatory qualifications that coaches need to acquire, from Under-8s level up to Under-23s,” he says.

“But what is particularly good now is that it is all based around a club’s particular philosophy and style.

“There are certain consistencies needed in terms of the qualifications but no longer do coaches have to second guess what the assessor wants to see in terms of a uniform approach.

“Now we will consider what the club’s philosophy is, what is their playing style, what are their beliefs.

“As long as the coaches can then justify their coaching and hit certain competencies around the qualifications it is a much better model and a far more effective tool for learning.”

And when it comes to learning, even at 60, Matthews insists it never stops.

There has been an influx of younger coaches, strength and conditioning experts and analysts into Academy systems in recent years, and Matthews believes that has led to a healthy blend of experience and youth.

“There are a lot of younger lads coming out of university and going into football, completing further academic qualifications such as a Masters, and for us, whatever experiences we have generated and whatever age we are, we need to be able to converse with them.

“It’s good to be able to transfer that theory into practice, and we can add in knowledge of the nuances of the game and what it takes to be out on the field which is what they might be missing.

“It is about seeing what gaps there might be in a coach’s education to complement the skills that they have and, from my point of view, it helps me get better and helps keep my mind stimulated.

“You have to be on your toes going into clubs now and that stretches me and keeps me mentally bright which is great – I love the job!

“It is a privilege to be involved and to be welcomed into these clubs where we have to remember we are always a guest.

“I really enjoy building those positive relationships and getting on well with people and hopefully having a bit of an impact on their development.

“People might ask when you get to a certain age whether it is time to retire but when you enjoy a job so much, why would you retire?

“It keeps me in and around the football fraternity and that banter and camaraderie is something that will never change, albeit you often find yourself at the brunt of it with your FA badge on!”

Matthews, understandably, also takes great pride in seeing coaches he has worked with make progress on their respective journeys and pick up opportunities to put their own learning into practice.

Paul Heckingbottom, who has managed Barnsley, Leeds and Sheffield United and is now Blades Under-23s boss, is one he remains in close contact to as well as Paul Harsley, who worked within the development set-up at Manchester City and is now First Team Development Coach with Birmingham City.

“It does make you feel valued as a bit of a mentor figure, especially as it is those lads choosing you as a mentor and not the other way around,” says Matthews.

And working within the FA system also sometimes leads to other cherished opportunities, as happened to Matthews several years ago.

At a time before the FA increased its staffing levels for the elite age groups, coaches would be drawn in to support the main coach at a particular level and, towards the end of 2014, Matthews assisted Neil Dewsnip for two double-headers of fixtures with Poland and Switzerland, of which England won all four.

That record is probably no surprise when the squad contained the likes of Marcus Rashford, Tammy Abrahams, Dominic Solanke, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kyle Walker-Peters.

“That was another real privilege and they were a really powerful group who you could see were going to go on and do really well,” Matthews recalls.

“Many of them were involved in England’s Under-20 side that won the World Cup a few years later, and It was a great experience for me to be involved in.”

Talking of names, Matthews is still in regular contact with former Wolves team-mate Mick Hollifield following a friendship which also included running a Sunday League team together – Tarmac Roadstone – whilst at Molineux.

Hollifield now lives in Sydney and, pre-pandemic, Matthews would often visit him as part of a trip to see his son Tom, who combines working as an electrician with playing for Melbourne-based Oakleigh Cannons in the division below the A-League.

Atkinson, Dale Rudge, Bob Coy and Gary Cutler are others Matthews is sometimes in touch with from the Molineux days and, even if contact is sometimes sporadic, conversation quickly picks up from where it left off.

Matthews was one of those who added to his quality with a voracious appetite for the game, and would give his all and leave everything on the pitch, proving extremely popular with supporters as a result.

“If anyone asks me now, as a player, I would say Wolves is my club,” he insists.

“And that was because of the influence it had on my formative years.

“I just had a real affinity with the club, from the families I lived with to the people I met at the social club and the fans in general.

“Running the Sunday League team was great, managing a team of plumbers, builders and other professions who certainly weren’t going to let me or Holly (Hollifield) get carried away.

“And that was great for me because I was exactly the same as those guys, just a bloke who could play football a little bit better but otherwise no different.

“They were great days, memories I will savour and never forget.”

Particularly that one 40 years ago which, for Grobbelaar, was the first of an incredible 317 consecutive appearances in the Liverpool nets.

And yet in all that time since, Matthews is still – until the first weekend in December at least – the most recent Wolves player to score a home league winner against Liverpool with Geoff Palmer, Kenny Miller and Raul Jimenez the only others to have even scored in the fixture in the eight corresponding fixtures since.

A memorable achievement which has stood the test of time.

Just maybe Mick Matthews is actually the Wolves-related MM that stands for Merlin the Magician!