For Wolves fans, The Hawthorns has not been a particularly happy hunting ground over the last three-and-a-half decades.  With two notable exceptions.  Paul Berry looks back on recent Black Country rivalries.


I didn’t even see the ball hit the back of the net.

I’m not even sure I saw Steve Bull shoot.

The last thing I remember, before being engulfed in a euphoria-sodden swathe of delirious followers of Wolverhampton Wanderers, was Bully chesting the ball down from Andy Mutch’s cross.

Scenes from the Smethwick End.  October 15th, 1989.  

A moment that for me, like all those other Wolves fans on that rip-roaring terrace that Sunday lunchtime, that will never ever be forgotten.  And may never be surpassed.

Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino could have sat around a table to compare notes and still not come up with the script that unfolded at The Hawthorns that early Autumn afternoon.

Bull, deemed surplus to requirements by West Bromwich Albion boss Ron Saunders for ‘not having a first touch’ less than three years earlier, on his first visit back, showing a very nice first touch, and a powerfully clinical second, to seal a 2-1 victory just a minute from time.

There had been a huge build-up to the first derby meeting of the two old foes at The Hawthorns in six years, the first since a Danny Crainie brace helped Wolves to a 3-1 win at a time when the club were on the cusp of a rapid decline to English football’s basement and almost out of business.

It was from those depths that Bull, and a squad including several other Baggies alumni such as Andy Thompson, Robbie Dennison and Ally Robertson, had mounted a comeback under the astute stewardship of Graham Turner.

From fourth to second division in successive seasons, and the return of the Black Country derby.

Even before Bull’s incredible last gasp salvo, it had been a lively reunion.

Albion led through their player-manager and former Arsenal midfielder Brian Talbot – with an assist from future Wolf Don Goodman – before Dennison levelled from a controversially-awarded free kick from inside the penalty area.

Mutch then had a goal disallowed for offside before, ten minutes from time, Albion were awarded a penalty following a challenge by Thompson on Tony Ford.

The late great Mark Kendall, who had been on top form all afternoon, dived to his left to save Bernard McNally’s spot kick, and that set the scene from which Bull delivered a moment for the ages. 

“It was the first time I’d been back as a player and they gave me so much stick,” Bull recalls.

“To go there and get the winner was unbelievable and I can re-live it even now like it was yesterday.

“Mutchy went down the right and sent the ball over and I had to decide whether to try a header or chest it down – fortunately I made the right choice.

“Then it turned into pandemonium as I celebrated in front of the Wolves fans who were trying to get over the fence.

“I’d had a quiet game and I remember one of their lads, I think it was Brian Talbot, pretending to put his hand in his pocket and saying he’d got Bully in his pocket.

“But it only takes a split second to score a goal, and that’s what I managed to do.”

Thank you very much for Stevie Bull.  

To devote so many words of a feature looking back at derby days of the last 35 years to just one game, is a sign that, for those of a Wolves persuasion, that has pretty much been as good as it has got on the road, King Iwan Roberts notwithstanding.

Let’s face it, there has been precious little else to shout about from the short trip down the A41 since Bully stormed the Old Enemy. Far more pain than pleasure.

Yes, there have been moments.  Rob Hindmarch’s last gasp leveller.  Mike Stowell and Wayne Hennessey’s penalty saves.  Jamie O’Hara’s first-time stunner.

But there have also been disasters. Keith Curle, an imperious leader throughout almost his entire Wolves career, scoring a game-deciding own goal and later missing a penalty at home. Jamie Smith and Ryan Green seeing red. A spectacular Darren Bradley goal and Kevin Donovan headed winner in a five-goal thriller.  Carlos Vela’s late, late show to cancel out O’Hara’s thunderbolt.

Before continuing to wallow in collective Wolves awayday self-pity, let’s take a trip back to 1996.  The most recent outpouring of unadulterated joy and delight. Eleven Hawthorns visits ago.

And the lad Roberts.

I was there again.  Thankfully.  Given what has transpired since.  

A mate of mine, in, how shall we put it, an ‘advanced state of refreshment’, had actually put a bet on Wolves to win 10-0 after we got inside the stadium.  He had to persuade the bookie to give him the odds.  A thousand to one.

After 28 minutes, with Wolves 3-0 to the good thanks to a brace of Roberts headers from corners and a low finish from that man Bull again, he was waving the betting slip in our faces.  It was on.

Well, it wasn’t. Of course, it wasn’t.  It wouldn’t be Wolves without a little bit of concern.  Ian Hamilton pulled a goal back before Roberts completed his hat trick courtesy of a hat trick of Steve Froggatt assists.

Bob Taylor then reduced the arrears to two, and also wrongly had a goal disallowed for offside seven minutes from time which would have put the cat among the throstles, but 4-2 was how it finished.

And that has been that.  It’s been over 27 years.  By Sunday, to be precise, 9,996 days.  Which, to matchwinner Roberts, is incredible.

“It’s mad to think that the last time Wolves won at Albion was when we went there and stuck four past them,” Roberts recalled this week.

“It was such a special Sunday that one, certainly one of the very best days of my career.

“I think I scored more goals against West Brom than any other club, and I was only at Wolves for a season scoring 12 goals, and four of them were against Albion!

“Froggy was so good that day, the two corners which were carbon copies and then the third goal when I was able to celebrate in front of the Wolves fans, which was incredible.

“All those gold shirts behind the goal, I’ve never seen a sight like it, such a special moment.

“I was only at Wolves for 12 months but I really enjoyed it, and looking back it’s nice to think I made some sort of impact even in such a brief time.

“To score a hat trick in THE biggest game of the season, and one which fans hopefully remember positively, was something I have never forgotten, and I’ve still got the matchball at home!”

Talking of ‘home’, the drama of the Black Country derby has also been extended to plenty of fixtures at Molineux in recent history.

From the sublime – another late Bull winner, another goal for Roberts too, a thumping header from Dean Richards, match-winning braces from George Ndah and Steven Fletcher respectively.

To the ridiculous – Tom Bennett going in goal after injury to Mike Stowell, a fan encouraging Graham Roberts into healthy eating by presenting him with a carrot, Richard Stearman falling victim to a sniper after a typically majestic run from defence, Jordao somehow staying on the pitch to score the winner after seeing only yellow for a two-footed challenge on Alex Rae. 

I remember penning a strongly-worded letter of complaint to the FA after that one? Level of pettiness? Unsurpassed.  Where was VAR when we needed it? I never did get a reply.

Then there was the infamous ‘pie and a pint’ saga, the offer Wolves made to try and appease fans displaced from the South Bank to provide Albion with their correct allocation on strong Police advice of it being the best location to minimise the risk of disorder.

And then there was, of course, Mick McCarthy’s last stand as Wolves manager in the very last derby to be played in front of fans, as Albion delivered a crushing 5-1 victory at Molineux back in the February of 2012. 

On that Sunday evening, an unusually downbeat McCarthy was questioning his own position and wondering whether he was still the right man for the job.

That feeling didn’t last long. By the Monday morning he was swiftly back at Compton, watching the match video with a renewed determination to put things right.  Only to see that decision taken out of his hands.  It was such a sad way for it all to end.

“We had beaten QPR the previous week, and I’d be thinking about how to approach the Albion game, as I knew under Roy (Hodgson) they had several different ways to play, including three in midfield,” McCarthy explained.

“I didn’t want us to get slapped in midfield, but I didn’t want to go too negative at home to West Brom with a 4-3-3 that might turn into a 4-5-1 – I wanted us to build some momentum.

“Ultimately, I should have done that because they had the best of it and controlled much of the game, even though at 1-1 we hit the crossbar and could have gone in front.

“But after our decent spell they ran away with it and it went two, three, four and five, and, let’s be honest, that’s never going to end well, is it?

“The next day I lost my job, which obviously I didn’t want to happen, and I still thought that with 13 games left I could keep the team up.

“Let’s face it though, when you lose 5-1 at home to your nearest and not-so-dearest, and are struggling around the bottom three, it is difficult to complain too much when you get the tin tac.”

Up in the press box that afternoon, former Wolves goalkeeper and Academy graduate Matt Murray was co-commentating for the game with well-known broadcaster Tom Ross, alongside Albion legend Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown.

“I hated every minute of that, seeing what the lads were going through, and it being Mick’s last game after I had been part of his time at the beginning,” says Murray.

“And then to see Keith Andrews, a lad I had grown up in the schoolboys and youth team with, scoring the fifth goal.

“I still laugh with ‘Bomber’ now because I remember telling him if he didn’t stop smiling I was going to throw him off the top tier!  It was such a sour afternoon for everyone connected with Wolves.”

And when Murray talks about being there at the start with McCarthy, he is referring back to the 2006/07 season when, in a series which can’t be left out of any recent discussion of Wolves against Albion, there was a pentalogy of Black Country derbies.  And yes, I had to look that word up.

Five Black Country derbies in one season.  Not just unprecedented but unique.  Two league fixtures, one in the FA Cup, and two in the Championship play-offs.   And it was McCarthy’s young, hungry and inexperienced marauders against an Albion side managed by Tony Mowbray, just relegated from the Premier League and packed with top-flight quality and nous.

It was, to a large extent, a mismatch.  ‘Men against boys’ is how Murray recalls the first two clashes of the season, both 3-0 defeats, at The Hawthorns in the league and Molineux in the last FA Cup meeting, also at the fourth round stage, 17 years ago.

And yet, when Wolves beat Albion 1-0 at Molineux in the March of 2007 thanks to Jay Bothroyd’s clinical late finish, it took them fourth in the table, a place above the Baggies.

There followed an epic play-off semi-final where, with the exception of a spell either side of the half time in the first leg where Wolves hit back from going a goal down to take the lead, Albion always looked the more likely.

Murray had agonisingly broken his shoulder in his final training drill the day before that first leg, and was looking on from the stands as the Albion fans invaded The Hawthorns pitch to celebrate their victory, after which they went on to lose in the final to Derby.

“Having been at Wolves from the age of nine, I remember going to the derby games as a kid, and joining in the warm-up for the game when Kevin Kilbane curled one over the wall at The Hawthorns,” says Murray.

“I remember thinking ‘wow, this is big’, and I actually nearly came on at one point of that Jordao game when it all kicked off as Oakesey (Michael Oakes) had got a whack on his foot.

“My first appearance when we got beat 3-0 goes down as one of my most disappointing performances in a Wolves shirt – nerves got the better of me and I didn’t play well at all.

“Then there was the FA Cup where they came and took over the South Bank and none of us got going.

“I had always wanted to play in a Black Country derby, I knew what it meant to the fans, and so I was absolutely gutted after those first two games.

“It was a shocking performance at The Hawthorns, and then humiliating at Molineux with the chants about ‘pie and a pint’ and leaving all the carrier bags in the South Bank.

“By the time it got to the home game in the league, we were on a decent run and I think that was probably the most ‘in the zone’ I had ever been.

“All week I was thinking, ‘the same thing can’t happen again’, and I was so ‘on it’, I managed to make a couple of saves and even my kicking was alright that day!

“Then of course came the disappointment of missing the play-offs and that is probably the biggest thing I think the injury took from me.

“Wayno (Wayne Hennessey) came in and he’s a better goalkeeper than me who went on to have an amazing career but at that time I was probably ahead of him, and I just felt so ready.

“I’d been Man of the Match for that home game, had just been voted Player of the Season, in the Championship team of the season and winning the Golden Glove.

“I used to train as I played, and I paid for that, and to break my shoulder and miss out on those massive games just felt so unfair.

“I didn’t really get to play in the Premier League season, I had come back from injury and knew how good the play-offs can be, but to end up sitting in the Stands for both games to support the boys and not really feel a part of it – I just felt sick.”

Proud Wulfrunian Karl Henry, brought up in Ashmore Park, also featured in many of those derbies under McCarthy, and admits that Wolves were often battling against the tide.

“The build-up to Black Country Derby games was incredible,” recalls the former captain.

“As was the atmosphere in the stadiums, especially at Molineux. The players knew what was at stake and gave everything to try and win those matches for the fans. 

“Unfortunately, during my time at the club, Albion had our number. Fighting hard in games was a prerequisite when you played for Mick McCarthy, but there’s no getting away from the fact Albion had more quality, experience and strength in depth than we did, which at the time, was difficult to accept. 

“But what’s exciting about this derby, from a Wolves perspective, is that we are now the much stronger side – with more Premier League experience and more quality in our squad. 

“Gary O’Neil, like Mick, also demands high intensity and high energy from his players so there is no doubt this group will be up for the fight.”

That fight and team spirit could be crucial, as form and playing squad can sometimes count for little in the frenzy of derby-day.  Who could have predicted such a richly-assembled Wolves squad which had previously played with such swashbuckling confidence under Nuno failing to beat an Albion side enroute for relegation in two attempts back in 2020/21?

Those most recent fixtures were behind closed doors due to the pandemic and indeed, the hiatus of just shy of 12 years without a Black Country derby in front of supporters is actually the longest – excluding the First World War – since the teams first met in 1886.  

And now, 70 years on from when Wolves won their first ever top-flight title after pipping Albion to the post, and after cycles of fluctuating fortunes in recent times, they meet again.

Families, friends, work colleagues – those who share similar backgrounds, life experiences and self-deprecating sense of humour, are once again to be divided often by family history or just a few miles in distance of where they were born and brought up.  That’s what derbies are about.

It also brings to mind the late John ‘Fozzie’ Hendley, former Wolves historian, who was something of a contradiction when it came to the Black Country rivalry.

Whilst speaking of his dislike of Albion given the slightest opportunity – he also had the Baggies team picture adorning his wastepaper bin – many of his closest friends, and some family, were from that side of the tracks, football-wise!

He particularly loved his ground-hopping days out to football stadia up and down the country with Albion devotees John Homer and Dave Holloway. Indeed, Holloway has dedicated his regular ‘Baggies Travel’ page in the matchday programme to Hendley on Sunday.

Hendley once delivered an immortal response as a relationship came to a close, when his partner had threatened to throw his extensive collection of Wolves programmes in the bath along with a barbed, ‘you love the Wolves more than me’.

Quick as a flash: ‘I love the Albion more than you.’  

Such was Foz. Such is the rivalry.  Which is why so many thousands will have that angst-ridden mix of anticipation and trepidation come 11.45am on Sunday.

Henry is confident, adding: “I’m really hoping we go there and thrash them, but, in the words of Kevin Keegan, ‘I will love it if we beat them, love it!’”

As for the thoughts of the greatest centre forward, that the world has ever seen?

“Get down there, win that game and give our supporters the bragging rights to take home with them,” says Bull.

Just as he did back in 1989.

It’s been too long.