There are many things which combine to create a memorable awayday.
Perhaps the manager going into his first game in charge can mastermind one of the most stunning victories in recent history?
Maybe the team might score six goals?
The striker who hasn’t found the net in 15 appearances for the club could grab four of them.
And just maybe, a furry life-sized mascot could end up fighting with three little pigs who were promoting the wares of a double glazing company? As you do.
Who knows? There could even be all four of the above.
Bristol City 1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 6. Twenty-five years ago, on Tuesday of next week. And certainly, among one of the most dramatic away trips enjoyed by the Molineux faithful over the last quarter of a century.
A delightful cocktail of football, pugilism and pantomime. It was quite a day.
The backdrop to the entire proceedings began in the Wolves dugout, where Colin Lee, previously assistant manager, had been put in interim charge following the dismissal, 48 hours previously, of Mark McGhee.
The two knew each other well having initially been apprentices together at Bristol City and, as a manager and assistant, joined in a coaching trio by Mike Hickman, had dove-tailed perfectly to achieve success at Reading and Leicester.
Over a three-year period, Wolves produced several successful spells of consistency and others where they fell away, losing out in the play-offs to Crystal Palace in 1996/97 before an impressive run to the FA Cup semi-finals a year later.
During that time however, the sands had been shifting behind the scenes. Sir Jack Hayward’s famous ‘Golden Tit’ speech about the level of money spent led to a tightening of the purse strings and something of a family fallout.
And so, with McGhee unable to deliver the Holy Grail of promotion, he was sacked in November 1998, with Lee asked to take the helm, initially temporarily.
Their relationship, and indeed friendship, was strong, but was sadly ultimately unable to survive Lee eventually being handed the reins on a full-time basis.
“It had become more difficult than we expected because of the disruption behind the scenes where there was a lot going on,” Lee, now 67, recalls.
“Over those three years we had been trying to build a team, and whilst it might not be the best excuse, when the finances that were once there are no longer there it becomes a challenge.
“When it was announced that Mark was leaving it was difficult because we had worked together for so long.
“The club wanted me to stay and take the team – they weren’t asking me to leave – and I wasn’t in a financial position to be able to just up and go and be out of work.
“I clearly remember helping Mark to pack his things and then spending a few hours at his house, talking it through, where he said he had no problem with me taking over and understood my position.
“Following that however, our relationship became more difficult because Mark wouldn’t speak, and I think he had listened to stuff from a few members of staff who had got to him.
“For me it was a hard time but not a hard decision because there was no decision, I had a young family and a mortgage to pay and couldn’t just walk away.
“Honestly, I had a great time working with Mark McGhee, we had a fantastic period in football with nothing I would change, but I can’t have any guilt about what happened at the end.”
McGhee was dismissed on November 5th, but the real fireworks arrived less than 48 hours later, after a quick transition for Lee from being assistant to having his name above the door.
“I had always put together the training programme and implemented the plan regarding the opposition and the players were used to working with me in that respect,” says Lee.
“I think they knew how professional I was and there were never any grey areas when we were on the training field.
“I was the tough part of the act when it was Mark and myself – I expected 100 per cent professionalism from everyone around me and the players knew that.
“Even so, it is very difficult when a manager get the sack and you are the assistant taking over but I explained the situation and tried to get the players psychologically right.
“To be honest, we were never going to change much, and a lot of what I did working for Mark had always been discussed between us.
“The difference now was that it was me making the final decisions, and it was quite nervy going into that game at Bristol City.
“But in the main it was about setting the team out not to go and play on a negative basis but with a really positive attitude.”
Lee opted to play five at the back and encourage wing backs Kevin Muscat and Lee Naylor to bomb forward, and in Simon Osborn – the playmaker who had pulled the strings so productively at Reading – Steve Corica and Fernando Gomez, there was plenty of technical ability in his midfield three.
Up front? There was Guy Whittingham, back for a second loan spell after a hugely successful one four-and-a-half years earlier, and another loanee, 21-year-old David Connolly, who had joined from Feyenoord after an impressive start to his career with Watford.
Adding further significance to the fixture is that the 100-club at Ashton Gate had hosted the wedding reception for Lee and wife Lynda, some 23 years and one day previously. Was his graduation to the role of manager going to prove an equally successful marriage?
Not immediately. Bristol City actually scored first through Chris Hutchings on 12 minutes before Whittingham – the first goal of his return – and Connolly, his first goal for Wolves, struck in quick succession midway through the half to put Wolves ahead at the break.
Connolly had arrived on loan thanks in part to a strong recommendation from future Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, who had picked him for the Republic of Ireland.
He had scored on his debut for Feyenoord, before finding opportunities limited, and so made the move to Wolves, where he had made 15 appearances, many from the bench, before Ashton Gate.
“I was coming on as a substitute and trying to get up to speed but at the time Wolves had a really good squad with a lot of ability,” Connolly recalls.
“But we were finding it difficult to get wins and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked, or as well as Mark McGhee would have liked, and he ended up losing his job.
“Colin then took over, but I always felt that if I got chances, I would take them.
“I don’t recall getting lots of opportunities but against Bristol City they all came along at once.
“Guy Whittingham is someone who I am still in touch with and later worked as first team coach under him when he was at manager at Portsmouth, and we combined really well that day, especially with him getting the equaliser and then myself the second.”
So on to half time, with Wolves 2-1 to the good. And back, as mentioned earlier, to the surreal reality of life-size furry mascots going toe-to-toe on the Ashton Gate pitch.
Lifelong Wolves fan Steve Bird, now 58, was then in his early 30s, living the dream of many a Molineux devotee by donning the Wolfie costume and entertaining fans both at home games and travelling up and down the country.
He had initially put his services forward to the club’s commercial staff Gary Leaver and Karen Salt, because, whilst most of his mates at games headed off to the bar at half time, he wasn’t so much of a drinker and would stay in his seat.
Whilst enjoying watching Wolfie in action, with a Dad who worked in entertainment, Bird felt he could bring some added theatre to the role and so, when the chance came along, he took it. With both paws.
A regular on Coach One of the Official Travel Club, and identified as Wolfie by the big blue bag in which he used to carry the costume, he was having the time of his life as he headed to Ashton Gate.
“Being Wolfie was a real adventure and I loved it,” Bird confirms.
“All of this was at a time when Wolves weren’t brilliant on the pitch, so it was great to try and do something to cheer people up and take their minds off the football.
“It was about bringing a bit of fun and joy into people’s lives and giving people a laugh – we always had something planned.”
The list of escapades is endless.
A floating ball at Swindon, bringing out a violin for Sunderland’s orchestral pre-match music at the Stadium of Light, dancing with the Pom Pom girls at Bradford, antics at Manchester City probably not suitable for a family newspaper, and squirting water into the crowd at Crewe only to then be ejected by the local constabulary who, once their work was complete were keen to grab a few pictures!
Not to mention a fan complaining to the FA after some pre-match antics with Baggie Bird of West Bromwich Albion fame. ‘Harmless fun,’ was the response from Wolves communications chief Lorraine Hennessy who insisted that Wolfie was gaining an ‘unfair reputation’ due to his every action being scrutinised.
That was probably because of what transpired at Bristol City.
Mascot aficionados might have picked up on a similar incident the previous season away at Birmingham when the Sky Sports cameras had requested Wolfie be chased off the pitch by the Three Little Pigs, who were promoting Coldseal.
Wolfie backs down from no one, and so, instead, he stood his ground before delivering a knee high challenge to one of the pigs.
From a dress rehearsal at Birmingham to the real deal at Bristol, Bird explains exactly what occurred during the Battle of Ashton Gate.
“It had all been going really well, before the match the Bristol City Cat had been really welcoming and shown me around the stadium but then, at half time, along came these 7ft pigs who I hadn’t met before.
“I had a decent left foot and had been doing a bit of juggling with the ball and got someone out of the crowd to take a couple of penalties, but he booted the ball clean out of the ground.
“That left me with nothing to do, so all very innocently I thought I’d go and get involved with the pigs, who had a ball between them.
“It was three against one, and I’m not the quickest, and when I couldn’t get the ball off them, I realised I was going to have to do something – otherwise Wolfie was going to look like a loser.
“So yep, I did it again, a knee high tackle on the number 10, ran off with the ball and, everything else that happened from there was caught on camera.”
Precisely what was caught on camera included a couple of the pigs advancing on Wolfie, one to the front and one to the side, and as Coldseal’s ‘number 10’ tried his luck with a few jabs, Wolfie responding in kind by pushing him away.
Bird was as nimble as a heavyweight boxer in that costume.
“I worked on being Wolfie quite obsessively, and spent a lot of time in the suit, making sure I’d got good vision, and could move around with the shoes on,” he laughs.
“So, I was quite comfortable fending off the punches, and I knew the shoves I was giving back were getting into his mask and hurting him a little bit – or at least putting him off.
“By this time, I knew this wasn’t what it was supposed to be, it had all got out of hand, and eventually the Bristol City Cat had to come in and break it all up.”
A more good-natured penalty shootout followed, although, as the mascots were leaving the pitch, and the players came back out, the security in charge of the Coldseal pigs rather kindly offered to take Wolfie outside. Which was good of him.
And then the football started again. In some style from a Wolves point of view.
Connolly completed his four-goal salvo with goals, nicely symmetrically, on 57, 67 and 77 minutes before Carl Robinson added the sixth on 79.
It had been a sensational Wolves performance, with Corica seemingly lifting off the shackles which had held him back, and the team producing some fantastic football.
Lee, however, was at pains to point out that very little had changed and, even in his post-match interview, said that in all likelihood McGhee would have masterminded the same performance.
“It was all just a week too late,” he reflects 25 years on.
“I can’t say I changed much from what Mark and myself did and I am certainly not one of those who would ever blow my own trumpet and say I did this or that because it wasn’t true.
“I was in charge on the day and had to manage a situation which I didn’t find easy but all I would say is I think I managed it correctly.
“We always tried to play football and had Simon Osborn as a playmaker and it was just a case of offering encouragement.
“I certainly can’t take credit for David Connolly scoring four goals – we would have looked at how a player like David got goals and looked to play to his strengths but nothing more than that.”
“To get four was certainly something special, particularly at that time of my career,” adds Connolly.
“I then scored in the next game against Sheffield United but after that found goals hard to come by.
“It was probably only ever going to be a short term move for me, I just wasn’t robust enough at that time.
“I wasn’t quite there in terms of fitness and reliable enough in being able to produce seven or eight out of ten performances – that maybe come two or three years later when I was the player Wolves would have wanted me to be.
“So, for me Wolves was only a small part of my career but it was an honour nonetheless, and I have always enjoyed going back whether commentating or to see people such as Kenny Jackett and Kevin Thelwell in previous years.”
On the opposite side to Wolves that day, proudly making his debut for his home city club, was a 17-year-old by the name of Matt Hill.
Just over a decade before he would make his Wolves debut and become part of the 2008/09 squad which secured the Championship title, Hill came off the bench in the 71st minute with the Robins already 4-1 down.
Mixed emotions ensued!
“Coming on 4-1 down you could say there was no pressure but for me it was a huge moment coming on the pitch and getting my first touch,” Hill recalls.
“From a selfish point of view, it would be most Bristolian’s dream to get on and play for your club, even though we ended up getting heavily beaten.
“The result was awful, but personally I was buzzing, and so were my family – I was probably the only one in the Bristol City team that day having to hide the smile on my face coming off the pitch.”
Things did get better for Hill with the Robins, going on to make almost 250 appearances including captaining the club before later being part of that successful Wolves team, including playing all 90 minutes of the 2-2 draw at Ashton Gate in the promotion-winning season.
“It was obviously a really proud moment to play so many games for Bristol City, and then an honour to share that experience of promotion with Wolves and being part of such a talented and athletic group of people,” adds Hill.
“Going back to my debut though, I can’t believe I didn’t see any of the mascot fisticuffs at half time – I must have already come in after warming up on the pitch!”
The media certainly hadn’t missed it.
The fracas between Wolfie and the three little pigs was hogging – excuse the pun – the headlines almost as much as the result.
He didn’t go into hiding, infact the club, who would regularly stand in his corner amid raised eyebrows, made the most of the marketing opportunity and he and fellow mascot Wendy – who was actually his wife Karen – emerged from the tunnel to the ‘Rocky’ theme tune.
“All the fans were on their feet, we had bouncers around us as they thought someone might try and get my head off for a picture, and it was an incredible night,” Bird recalls.
He turned down all press attention and requests for interviews, until, several years later, when approached to be part of a Davina McCall show, and be reunited, as ‘real’ people, with the three pigs.
With his daughter Jemma – who would later appear as a contestant on The Apprentice – keen to learn more about broadcasting, Bird agreed to the interview and reunion, in return for a tour around the studios.
“I did sort of apologise to the pigs during the interview, although if you watch I choked a little bit as I said it,” he laughs.
“Anyone who knows me knows I am not aggressive at all, although I suppose doing a two-footed tackle would be considered aggressive.
“I can see why people may have got annoyed, but for me it was hilarious, slapstick, but in the end, it probably just tipped the balance a little bit too far.”
For Lee meanwhile, he watched the team follow up with another three points against Saturday’s opponents Sheffield United, and an overall run of three wins in four which saw him land the job on a permanent basis.
Helping the team reach seventh place that season, only missing out on the play-offs on the final day, his only full season at the helm produced the same result, defeat at Bolton in the penultimate fixture amid some controversial refereeing decisions effectively ending promotion hopes that time around.
With finances still not overly forthcoming – Robbie Keane was sold and his replacement Ade Akinbiyi later went the same way – knocking on the door of the play-offs was by no means a disgrace, but a poor run in the following campaign saw Lee depart, ahead of a change in direction under Dave Jones.
Phoning up BBC WM to query a comment from CEO Jez Moxey that he had agreed to the sale of Akinbiyi probably didn’t help, and it’s a move Lee now regrets, believing it would have been better to voice his grievances behind closed doors.
Equally, he always had a desire to be honest with fans about his work.
“I honestly believe that fans should know what is going on at the football club, and if, for example, there isn’t much money to spend, then we should say it,” he insists.
“I think in that situation it is probably good for the club and good for the manager that everyone knows where they stand.
“In the end, when we lost Akinbiyi, as an inexperienced manager I probably panicked and brought in a replacement who didn’t work.
“But overall, I really enjoyed my time at Wolves.
“The fans at Wolves remind me of the fans at Chelsea, where I played for a long time.
“It’s a great fanbase who support the club through thick and thin and I think that is what makes it a special club as well.
“I also feel I had a really good Managing Director for a time in John Richards, who is a great guy and who managed situations very calmly and effectively.
“It was a shame we didn’t quite make the play-offs and a shame we didn’t get promoted because that had most definitely been what we were looking for from the day Mark and myself arrived.
“I still remember that Bolton game, and getting into a bit of trouble afterwards for my comments about the referee, but some of his decisions that night certainly weren’t in our favour – let’s put it that way!
“I do wish it could have gone on for longer, but I feel I did the best job I could under the circumstances, and very much enjoyed being there and being part of the football club.”
There was also another enduring irony from that momentous day as John Ward, who had lost his job as Bristol City boss barely ten days before, ended up joining as Lee’s number two at Molineux, a role he would also later fulfil under Jones, as well as a caretaker stint in charge in between.
As for Wolfie, well, his legacy is that his battle with the Three Little Pigs is one which went down in folklore, and is one incident from many across his three years in the costume that has never been forgotten.
Even now, as a Season Ticket Holder with son Sonny and lifelong mate Giles, the memories are never far away.
Memories from the day Wolves, and indeed Big Bad Wolfie, with echoes of the iconic nursery rhyme, huffed and puffed, and well and truly blew Bristol City’s house down.