Much-cherished former Wolves historian, the late Graham Hughes, used to love it when two fellow founding members of the Football League locked horns.
So when Burnley visited Molineux, there was always that little bit of extra care and conversation from the great man as he delicately placed their team plaque in its slot in the opposition dugout.
“Proper fixture this,” he would say, before embarking on a potted history of previous clashes between the two, or celebrated players, to anyone in the vicinity who would listen.
Hughes, who sadly passed away in February, had been delighted to see this particular fixture become a more regular addition to the Premier League calendar after a number of years in more recent times played out in Championship and lower leagues.
Having said that, one of those meetings when both clubs were technically still in the Fourth Division back in 1988 – just after the league had celebrated its century – provided one of the most precious afternoons in recent memory for Wolves fans of a certain age.
That was when Wolves and Burnley went toe-to-toe in the final of the Sherpa Van Trophy Final at Wembley on a glorious Sunday in late May.
A competition for Third and Fourth Division clubs? Yes. Slightly ridiculed by the upper echelons of the football fraternity? Absolutely. Did Wolves actually pick up a genuine Sherpa van thanks to their 2-0 victory? Of course they did. An actual Sherpa van. Nice little runner and no previous owners, apparently.
But 80,541 at the home of football to enjoy this meeting of two oldest of foes battled out in a cracking atmosphere in front of two passionate fanbases and won by Wolves thanks to an Andy Mutch header and trademark Robbie Dennison free kick?
We’ll have a bit of that thank you very much.
That game, and the enduring Wolves/ Burnley crossover now spanning 133 years ahead of its latest instalment this coming Sunday, also brings into focus the curious case of Mick Holmes.
During his footballing career, meetings between the two sides and overlapping events have certainly provided some bitter sweet memories for the lively and likeable Yorkshireman.
SWEET: Burnley were amongst the teams Holmes netted against during his record-breaking run of scoring in seven successive league games for Wolves.
SWEET: Holmes was among the Wolves starters for that memorable Wembley afternoon of the Sherpa Van Trophy Final – it was the only game his late mother ever saw him play in the flesh.
BITTER: Holmes sadly crawled off the pitch just before half time in that Wembley final with an ankle injury, despite desperately trying to carry on.
BITTER: Within 48 hours of then hobbling out of Wembley on crutches, Holmes discovered that an expected new deal was not forthcoming and his time at Wolves was over. That 45 minutes against Burnley under the Twin Towers were his last in a Wolves shirt.
More on that later.
But as it actually transpires, Holmes could actually have been clad in claret and blue rather than gold and black on that memorable day at Wembley, having nearly moved to Turf Moor just before joining Wolves.
He had actually started out with home town club Bradford, making several appearances as a young player, and had been watching on from the stand on the horrendous day of the fire at Valley Parade which tragically killed 56 spectators in May 1981.
“I was in the players’ bar just before half time when it all started, which was no bigger than a garage, and had to jump out of the window,” Holmes quietly recalls.
“We all walked up and sheltered in the local pub – some of the lads still in their match kits – and, because it was the days before the internet and social media, it was only the next day when we realised how bad it actually was.
“It was just awful, so many people who had just gone along to a football match.”
Holmes’ voice tails off. It was clearly an horrific day that remains difficult to leave behind.
Having learnt his trade at Bradford alongside the likes of Stuart McCall, former Wolves striker Don Goodman and John Hendrie, but his own career was destined to develop elsewhere.
As it became clear he needed to find a new club, Bradford retained his registration, but there was interest from Leeds United, the team he supported.
Around this time Holmes headed out on loan to Sweden, with an eye firmly fixed back on Elland Road, only for disappointment to strike.
“Eddie Gray was sacked,” Holmes recalls.
“I was gutted, as Leeds were my club and I really thought it was going to happen.”
Whilst out in Sweden, opportunity next knocked in the form of the offer of a similar trial back at Burnley when Tommy Cavanagh, who had worked as a coach under Tommy Docherty at Manchester United, showed his interest and Holmes headed to Lancashire to try and secure a move.
“I was training at Burnley for a couple of weeks, and Geoff Palmer was there as he was on loan from Wolves,” Holmes explains.
“But then Sammy Chapman, manager at Wolves at the time, got in touch and told me he wanted me to join the club and that I would be playing on the Saturday with Andy King.
“All I was thinking at that time was that it was first team football, but somehow I had to get out of the situation I was in at Burnley.
“Sammy told me to go in and see Tommy and ask for a two year contract as there was no way they would give it me and I would be free to leave.
“So in I go – and remember I was very young at this time and ******* it to be honest, asked for the contract, and he said yes!
“I rang Sammy and asked him what I should do now? He told me to go back in and ask for three years.
“So back I go, told Tommy I needed to move my family and so I wanted the security of a three year contract.
“By this time he probably knew I had got an offer from somewhere else, but it had the desired effect, as Tommy basically said if I didn’t want to stay then I could clear off and go and sign for whoever it was that was interested.
“I had nothing against Burnley, one of my best mates in football is Roger Eli who went on and had a great career there, but it was just the prospect of first team football that I knew I was going to get at Wolves.
“As it turned out, I was training with Burnley on the Tuesday, by Thursday I was at Wolves after signing, and on the Saturday I made my debut.
“Geoff Palmer had gone back to Wolves by now and when he saw me turn up he asked me what on earth I was doing there!”
That debut for Holmes came on November 30th, 1985. Wolves drew 1-1 at Cardiff, with King on target, in front of a crowd of 2, 453.
There were only a few hundred more present at Molineux for his home debut a fortnight later when he and Derek Ryan both notched in a 2-2 draw with Wigan Athletic.
Things weren’t great at Molineux at the time however, as Wolves were relegated from Third Division to Fourth that season, completing their great plummeting act which saw them tumble unceremoniously down all the divisions. From top to bottom in just three years.
“Money was irrelevant for me when I went to Wolves, but I didn’t really realise how bad a situation the club was in,” Holmes admits.
“I was so desperate for first team football, but a few games in I discovered that we really weren’t a very good team, and it was no surprise that we dropped to the Fourth Division.”
Holmes also worked with three different managers in quick succession, in Chapman, Brian Little as caretaker and Graham Turner.
On the pitch there was even worse still to come and the midfielder was one of those who started all three of the infamous FA Cup trilogy against Chorley.
And yet, as we all know now, the revival was imminent. Joyous redemption lurked gloriously just around the corner.
The arrival of Messrs Bull and Thompson provided the spark but there were many excellent additions to the squad at that time, and, as events turned out, Stephen George Bull wasn’t the only regular goalscorer in town!
There was a game against Stockport County in February of 1987 which remains particularly memorable.
And not just because the team came back from a goal down to win 3-1 thanks to late goals from Holmes, Bull and Thompson.
That victory would actually prove a genuine catalyst to an end-of-season resurgence which saw Wolves win 15 of their final 19 fixtures, losing just two, a run which took them into the play-offs only to agonisingly lose over two hugely disappointing legs to Aldershot.
There was plenty of creativity within that team, with Holmes joined by the likes of Jon Purdie and then Robbie Dennison in aiming to carve open defences and provide the ammunition for the likes of Bull and Andy Mutch.
But it was Holmes himself who was firing on all cylinders, with that goal against Stockport the second of seven successive games in which he found the net, all from centre midfield and without a penalty in sight.
And one of the opponents in that run were, yes, Burnley, Wolves sweeping to a 5-2 win at Turf Moor as they ever so spectacularly clicked into gear.
“It was an amazing run, but honestly, it wasn’t something I was thinking massively about – I just wanted to help us win games,” Holmes explains.
“It is probably even more significant because it was a time I was playing centre midfield and not wide right as I did later on, and there weren’t any penalties.
“I tried to model my game on Stuart McCall who had been at Bradford and started to get forward a little bit more and after that it was just confidence.
“Garry Pendrey, the assistant manager at the time, was amazing for me and worked with me to give me that confidence, which makes all the difference in football.
“When you feel confident you always want the ball, you’re not scared to try things and so often you just seem to find the right positions.
“Even without mentioning any record, I was absolutely buzzing at the time with how I was playing and to keep on scoring game after game.”
The magnificent seven came to an end in one of the two defeats during that blistering run as Wolves fell 3-1 to Leyton Orient.
Holmes remembers having one shot in the game – which didn’t come close – although his scoring touch hadn’t deserted him as he stuck one away the following weekend in a 4-0 victory against Swansea.
Eight goals in nine games is certainly a none-too-shabby record for a central midfielder, and his heroics delivered a post-war record – netting in seven consecutive league games for Wolves – that remains to this day.
Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini went mighty close to following in Holmes’ footsteps during the first half of the 2017/18 campaign, scoring in six league games in a row before drawing a blank during a 2-0 win at Reading.
“I think he got his sixth in a televised match against Fulham – I wasn’t watching but I got a call from someone because apparently my old mate Don Goodman was on co-commentary and he mentioned I had the record,” said Holmes.
“For that Reading game I was in London with my missus and for some reason couldn’t get hold of any details of the game on my phone.
“When I saw Wolves had won 2-0 I feared the worst, but then I found out Bonatini hadn’t scored and I was like, ‘yes – get in!’
“I am just really glad I have still got the record intact – it’s a little bit of history to cling to isn’t it?”
All was set up for the following season and Holmes was in the starting line-up for the notorious curtain-raiser at Scarborough only to break his arm in a League Cup tie against Notts County which required the insertion of a metal plate and the wearing of a cast when he returned.
He was back regularly in the team for the closing stages of the campaign, including scoring against Burnley once more as Wolves sealed the Fourth Division title and playing at Wembley in the Football League Centenary tournament against Everton.
Then came that Sherpa Van Trophy final, ecstasy followed by personal agony which, for Holmes at least, was to linger on beyond the game’s successful conclusion.
For the afternoon itself, the atmosphere among the thousands of Wolves fans reverberated every bit as much as it did in the FA Cup Semi Final against Watford two years ago.
Wolves also managed to work themselves into a 2-0 lead, thanks to Mutch and Dennison, and this time there was no devastating sucker punch at the finale.
Except that is for Holmes, who suffered a serious ankle injury during the first half which, despite manfully trying to shake it off, saw him literally crawl out of the action just before the interval.
Even so, he would return to the pitch post-match to be effectively carried around Wembley for the lap of honour by Jackie Gallagher – and the injury didn’t threaten to spoil his enjoyment of the day.
“I got the injury midway through the first half but it’s Wembley isn’t it? You don’t want to come off,” Holmes explains.
“I was going on adrenalin in trying to carry on, but I could only run in straight lines and couldn’t turn or anything.
“I was just hoping it wasn’t serious but eventually I had to give up and remember crawling off the pitch so that I wasn’t caught offside.
“Even with the injury, it was one of the best days of my life.
“Playing at Wembley, over 80,000 there including so many Wolves fans, and my family too.
“It was the only game my Mum ever came to, god rest her, she only passed away last year.
“She never came to games because she was scared that she would see me get injured, and she comes to Wembley and exactly that happens!
“Still though, I loved it, it was such a fantastic occasion, even though my wife Bernadette had to join me on the coach on the way home so they could drop us straight to the hospital.”
Despite his own painful misfortune, Holmes’ happiness that Sunday afternoon under the Twin Towers was perhaps partly fuelled by the fact he had no inkling at all that it would prove to be the last time he pulled on the famous gold shirt.
He had been under the impression following a conversation with boss Turner several months before the end of the season that he would be offered a new contract, he was loving life at Molineux and had bought a house in Codsall.
And yet, with a glimpse of perhaps how football used to operate back in those days, more brutal in communication than it is now, Holmes wasn’t even told personally that he was actually being released before the news broke.
Bank Holiday Monday witnessed a memorable parade through the city for the victorious winning Wolves squad, but the outlook for Holmes, still in hospital for surgery on his injured ankle, was far less positive.
He received a phone call from then Express & Star Wolves correspondent David Instone, informing him that he had been given a free transfer.
“I couldn’t believe it, the thought of that was the very furthest thing from my head,” says Holmes.
“I was devastated.
“I was living in Codsall, I loved Wolves, and if it had been down to me I would have stayed at the club for as long as Bully and Mutchy.
“I never really found out why Graham changed his mind, I have since seen him at various functions and asked him about it but he couldn’t really remember how it happened.
“I probably still resent it all if I am honest, but times do move on and you have to get over it.
“it is just football, and I still chat to Graham when we all meet up, but at the time it really hit me hard.
“Knowing I was being released I was just desperate for a team to come in for me, anyone, it could have been the Red Lion and I’d have snapped their hands off.
“I wasn’t too sure if I would get a club at all, it took me about three months after the injury to be able to run properly, and it was a really scary time.”
A club did come in for Holmes, and a good one at that in Huddersfield, and from there he would move on to also represent Cambridge, Rochdale, Torquay, Carlisle and Northampton.
At Torquay, he also returned to Wembley, in the Fourth Division play-off final in 1991, playing the full 120 minutes and scoring in the penalty shootout as the Gulls swooped to defeat Blackpool.
But it was at Wolves where Holmes spent most time, made most appearances, scored most goals, and – you sense – was easily at his most comfortable.
“I always have fond memories of Wolves, of the fans, of playing for what I would call a legend of a club,” he says.
“We had such great times with the camaraderie and the culture that all of the lads would stick together.
“There is always a lot of talk about the ‘Tuesday Club’, when we would go out drinking after training, and that was right, but we were all disciplined and only let our hair down when it was right to do so.
“We wouldn’t go out on a Thursday or a Friday for example – even in those days you couldn’t be a professional footballer and do that – but it was the team spirit we had at Wolves that helped create the success.
“And if we did have a drink on a Tuesday because we didn’t have a game on the night, make no mistake we would work our b******s off in training.
“We must have run 20 miles on a Tuesday, we would run for England, and then came the social element with a group of 10 to 15 lads getting out and socialising together.
“It helped on the pitch, it really did, because what would then happen is if one of the lads was in trouble in a game or someone went for them we would all be there.
“That was because of how close we were as a group, and played a big part along with all of Bully’s goals and the quality that was there throughout the squad.
“We don’t keep in regular touch now or live in each other’s pockets, although I am still in contact with a few of the lads from that time.
“But what will always happen is that when we do get together, for an event or Bully’s ‘do’ at Molineux a few years ago, it is just like we have never been apart, and we will still be chatting and having a drink at 4 o’clock in the morning.
“There is an affinity between us, we would have run through a brick wall for each other when we were playing, and that is why we all still get on so well when we are together again now.”
Memories of just how much Holmes enjoyed his time at Molineux probably exacerbates how he struggled to adapt after finding himself needing to retire from playing somewhat prematurely.
A car crash whilst travelling to training at Carlisle left him with back problems which lingered on and ultimately led to him hanging up his boots at the age of 29.
“It killed me to finish, I really struggled with it and while it sounds really selfish it also hit me that everyone I knew was still playing,” he acknowledges.
Calling time on football soon turned to calling time on punters as Holmes bought and ran a pub for six years, as well as later a sandwich shop, and also a lengthy spell working as a teacher and also in football coaching.
Now he is self-employed, selling stairlifts for the Kingswinford-based Handicare company, which continues to ensure he can get out and about.
“I love it,” he declares.
“It has kept me busy for around ten years now and I get to meet different people and, touch wood, it is still going really well.”
Family remains important for Holmes – he enjoys watching son Jordan play football for Barrow Town in Loughborough – while artistic talent must also run in the family, if his nephew Max Vento is anything to go by.
Max, now 11, has been one of the stars of BBC drama The A Word series, working with the likes of Christopher Eccleston and Julie Hesmondhalgh.
Although not autistic himself, Max played the role of autistic youngster Joe Hughes, for which he has received rave reviews.
“Max had never acted before in his life, but just went for this audition, and got the role,” says his proud Uncle.
“I think it is tough for anyone involved in acting at his age, especially in terms of how to deal with any knockbacks, and also during the pandemic, but we are all very proud of his achievements.
“I get on great with him, and just talk to him as I am talking to you now, like anyone, taking the mickey and helping him stay grounded – although of course I ask him if he has ever played in front of over 80,000 at Wembley!”
That day at Wembley for Holmes, the back-to-back promotions, the camaraderie of the team, the car park training, the Tuesday Club drinking sessions – they all combined to provide the perfect end to a decade in which Wolves had twice almost gone out of business along with that dramatic drop through the divisions.
It is why that squad have secured their name in the club’s folklore, and continue to be regarded with so much affection and esteem by the Molineux faithful three decades on.
Holmes’ stay may not have been as long as he would have wanted, and the end was definitely not one he remembers too fondly, but he should rightly remain proud of his contribution to the launch of the Wolves revival.
He still pulls on a gold shirt even now, at the age of 55, in supporting mate Jason Guy and former Wolves forward Mel Eves for Wolves Allstars, the team which, when regulations allow, take on all-comers to raise money for good causes.
“Jason is a good lad and It is important to try and give something back although I have to say, I don’t run very far,” Holmes laughs.
“I’m based around the middle of the park and don’t get forward very much.”
So much so that Holmes isn’t sure if he has actually managed to score for the Allstars as yet. Maybe one day!
All far cry from that golden and goal-laden spell back in early 1987, when finding the net in seven successive games, including Wolves against Burnley, was, for Holmes, elementary my dear.