There is often much talk about the team spirit and togetherness that underpinned the Wolves revival of the late 1980s which took the team from the depths of near extinction to a Wembley final and the cusp of the First Division.
Anyone who was in Molineux’s Hayward Suite for Wednesday night’s Sherpa Van Trophy anniversary dinner would have been left in doubt at all of one salient fact.
That team spirit is still there…and then some!
Thirty years on, the bond between the ‘Class of ‘88’ is just as strong and unbreakable as it was when those staff and players were marauding their way through the lower divisions and lifting that silverware in front of over 80,000 at the national stadium.
(And winning a brand new Sherpa Van into the bargain – wonder whatever happened to that?!)
Back to the night and, let’s face it, some of the bigger characters from that Sherpa Van Trophy final squad were in attendance in front of a sellout audience who were more than ready to be taken on an emotional trip down Memory Lane.
Steve Bull Events staged the event, sponsored by The Fox at Shipley and Stage Audio Services, to mark that Wembley success of three decades ago, and it was no surprise that Bully was his usual popular figure given his continuing status as the club’s record goalscorer and Vice-President.
But this was a night, as Bully himself pointed out, to celebrate the achievements of that team, that group of footballers who came together at a perfect time to produce a perfect response to the shambolic state which the club had found itself in.
It was perhaps telling that Graham Turner might just have received the warmest welcome from those present during the introductions from host and Sky Sports presenter Johnny Phillips at the start of the evening.
Yet Bully, Andy Mutch, Andy Thompson, Robbie Dennison, Ally Robertson, Jackie Gallagher, Micky Holmes…all of those present, with their different career histories and their different contributions, remain equally lauded by those of a gold and black persuasion for playing their part in bringing the pride and the glory back to a fanbase which had suffered way too much heartache in the years prior to the Wembley win.
“I remember arriving at Wolves,” Robertson began, “and wondering what on earth I had done.
“The club was in disarray and I couldn’t believe how bad the squad of players were.
“Graham Turner arrived not long after, and I went in and told him I wanted to leave.
“’Give me a month,’ he said. ‘And I will show you how this is going to work’.
“Sure enough it did, and when I went in a month later, things were already looking very different.”
Turner echoed that sentiment and, from the moment he arrived, he knew exactly what he needed to do.
“The dressing room wasn’t good, and there were probably 12 to 14 players who just weren’t good enough to be there,” he explained.
“And some of them, who had come down from the top division to the lower part of the bottom of the Fourth, were telling me how they thought we should be playing.”
Thankfully Turner didn’t listen, and quickly set about the task of completely rebuilding his Wolves squad at a time when the actual infrastructure of the club was creaking at the seams.
“There were rats in the dressing room, even the kit was awful,” he recalled.
“But do you know what, the team spirit and camaraderie made up for it.
“There was so much laughter between that squad – it was a bit of a defence mechanism to the state of everything else I suppose!”
Mutch was one of those present before Turner who managed to survive the cull.
“I was one of those already here and, for some reason, Graham kept me on,” he said.
“He did need to get a rid of a few players, but the outstanding thing about what happened next for me, was how well we all got on.
“Every day we had a laugh, every single day.
“People often ask – who was the comedian in the dressing room?
“I’m not even sure there was just one, more that every single person got on.
“Slowly but surely we brought the club’s identity back and I think the fans could see that and we certainly appreciated their support.”
It was of course Mutch who opened the scoring, followed by a Dennison free kick in the second half to seal the 2-0 win in the final against Burnley back in May, 1988.
Dennison infact brought everyone to order just as Phillips was preparing to start the evening’s formalities – as the free kick was just about to be seen on the TV screens showing a re-run of the game.
The final itself didn’t carry the best memories for Holmes, a broken ankle – and then not long afterwards a free transfer – saw to that.
But he certainly wasn’t bitter, as demonstrated by his regular and comedic interruptions when his team-mates were in full flow!
And Holmes continues to have his own piece of Molineux history to cling on to.
“Yep, I scored seven goals in seven games,” he says of his record-equalling sequence in early 1987.
A little over the 30 year anniversary theme Mick but you carry on!
“Graham Turner was great – he put me in the team, and I banged in the goals.
“To play for Wolves was amazing, I lived in Codsall and I just loved the place.”
Sometimes in football, you will hear it said about the most skilful players – the creative players – that you need one ball for them and another for their ten team-mates.
This was perhaps a night where there could have been one microphone for Jackie Gallagher, and another for the rest of the panel!
Eventually, the big fella, who brought the house down with some ‘measured’ delivery, got to his point!
“I was very very lucky and proud to play for Wolves,” he said to huge cheers.
That team spirit, that togetherness, which paved the way for the Wolves revival, included a fair bit of socialising together, illustrating that this team could play just as well together off the pitch as they could on it.
“Before the final we went to Spain for a week-long training camp,” Thompson explained.
“I’m not sure we ever saw a football!
“There were a few red eyes during the warm-up, and a few people falling over on the beach.
“Ally was in charge of the social arrangements, and it’s fair to say we enjoyed ourselves.
“But then we came back, trained hard and won the final in front of over 80,000 at Wembley.
“What an occasion that was, and I remember being so excited, not to mention having loads of people asking me for tickets!
“It was the best game of my life, and those fans made such a difference.
“There was a sea of gold and black, and the roar when we came out of the tunnel was something else.”
“The lads were so sharp when they came back from that trip,” Turner added.
“There was a drinking culture in football at the time, and this lot were Premier League standard when it came to that.
“It was part and parcel of the package, but we all had to work extremely hard as well because without that, we wouldn’t have had the success that we did.
“We had to be serious to put the work in to get the results, and that time when we were climbing the divisions, especially as a Wolves fan myself, was such a great time, the best of my career.”
Dennison was in complete agreement.
“They were such fantastic times,” said the Northern Ireland international.
“The gaffer set things up and set up how we were going to play and from there it was about performing on the pitch.
“The team spirit and the camaraderie was a massive part of that.
“Those three or four years were undoubtedly the best of my football career – we had such a good craic together but we also worked really hard and had plenty of success.”
On a night when there were also fond memories offered of the late Mark Kendall, the Sherpa Van Trophy final goalkeeper who sadly passed away ten years ago, there was also a great speech from the floor from one supporter who described the privilege of travelling across the country to watch such a together and ambitious group of players bringing the pride back to such a famous club.
The last word can perhaps be left to Bully, always so at home when back together with those former team-mates.
“When we crossed that white line, we were 100 per cent committed,” he said.
“The gaffer may have turned a blind eye to one or two things – maybe quite a few things – but he knew everything that was going on.
“And if we were going out there and winning every weekend for the gaffer, it was fine.
“The balance between working hard and having that team spirit was what was needed to get us a long way….and it did.” Picture: Express & Star