Over the last two-and-a-half years, since Wolves returned to the Premier League under Nuno Espirito Santo, they have looked very much at home back at the top table of English football.
Successive seventh-placed finishes, victories – and regular ones at that – against the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea – have earned Wolves a lofty reputation as one of the more upwardly mobile clubs in recent seasons.
Wolves have shown they can mix it with the very best the country has to offer.
However, that hasn’t always been the case.
In previous top flight forays spanning the last four decades Wolves have found life in the top tier far more troublesome.
Mick McCarthy’s Championship-winning class of 2008/09 generally batted above their average and produced some tremendous results to survive for two seasons.
Prior to that Dave Jones saw the cheque book pulled from under him after masterminding the play-off triumph of 2003 and the team endured an immediate return to the Championship.
Struggling in the top flight? Seemingly well out of their depth amid the cream of what English football has to offer? Well, hold my beer, responds the calamitous campaign of 1983/84.
What would prove to be Wolves’ last season in the highest division for 19 years, as famously depicted by the Toaster banner at the Millennium Stadium on the day that miserable sequence came to such a glorious end, was fairly memorable for all the wrong reasons.
And yet, it all started so well.
On the back of an exciting promotion season under Graham Hawkins, Wolves welcomed reigning champions Liverpool to Molineux, and took the lead through a second minute penalty from Geoff Palmer.
Ian Rush equalised, but Wolves emerged with a 1-1 draw and a very creditable point.
It wasn’t, sadly, a positive sign of what was to come.
It took 15 attempts to win a game in the league, as memorable as it was away at West Bromwich Albion, Wolves would also somehow win against Liverpool in Anfield as one of three wins in four in January, but ultimately the team would only triumph in six games all season.
Losing striker Andy Gray to Everton in November, and with boss Graham Hawkins then sacked in the April, Wolves were relegated with five games to spare, the start of the spiral which took the team all the way to the Fourth Division.
All this having almost gone out of business in 1982, and then again later, in 1986.
Tony Towner was a fleet-footed 28-year-old winger when he checked in at Molineux in the summer of 1983 for £80,000.
He had already enjoyed an impressive career, chalking up almost 400 appearances and scoring almost 50 goals elsewhere, but this was undoubtedly his big chance.
A chance to try his luck, heading towards the twilight years of his career, in the top flight at a newly promoted club with a rich history of its own.
And he was delighted.
“I joined Wolves from Rotherham, and it was a different world,” Towner, now 65, tells the Express & Star.
“I had been there a week and then we were flying off to Sweden for pre-season.
“One minute I am at Rotherham and the next we are flying out to Europe – it was all very new to me.
“Then you have Liverpool and Arsenal in the first two games and it was very much a case of welcome to the big league.
“But that is what I wanted, 100 per cent.
“Any player wants to test himself against the very best, and Liverpool were very much the best at that time – they had so many star players.
“We managed to get a draw, and then lost to Arsenal, but I was very much ready for the challenge.”
Towner replaced Dale Rudge in the 69th minute to make his First Division debut in that opening day draw with Liverpool, and he had very much earned it after so many exciting years outside of the top division.
Joining home town club Brighton straight from school at the age of 15, he made his debut at just 17 in a 2-0 win against Luton, and very quickly established himself as a firm fans’ favourite.
He would go on to become a regular in the Seagulls side for the best part of six years, working under some illustrious managers including Brian Clough, Peter Taylor and Alan Mullery.
Towner’s Brighton career veered between the equivalent of the Championship and League One, and agonisingly he had moved on to Millwall at the start of the season when they finally made it to the top division.
“I loved it at Brighton, my home town club, and played with some great players and for some great managers,” Towner recalls.
“But I loved my couple of years at Millwall as well, a fantastic club.”
In 1980, Towner moved north, for the first time in his career, to join Rotherham.
It was to prove an astute decision.
Towner found a centre forward in Ronnie Moore who was perfectly placed to get on the end of his steady stream of pinpoint crosses, and in his first season, the Millers clinched the old Division Three title – League One in current money – a campaign which will forever be remembered in South Yorkshire.
“It really took off for me at Rotherham,” Towner explains.
“It was incredible, and as well as winning promotion we were beating Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley and that was unheard of at that time.
“They really were great days for me.”
Ian Porterfield masterminded that promotion success, but it wasn’t long before there was perhaps a hint of the gold and black element of Towner’s future when former Wolves captain Emlyn Hughes took over as player manager.
“I loved playing for Emlyn at Rotherham.” says Towner.
“He always picked himself though – first name on the teamsheet!”
Not only did Towner secure his place in Rotherham folklore as one of the much-loved players of that title-winning side, his own Millers Tale would later include a television appearance alongside Moore with The Chuckle Brothers.
That particular comedy duo met up with Rotherham’s potent pair for a ‘Football Heroes’ edition in their popular series which was screened in 1996.
“Yeh that was great fun,” recalls Towner, with a chuckle of his own!
The move to Wolves however was no laughing matter as Towner, who had also enjoyed a brief loan spell elsewhere in South Yorkshire with Sheffield United, finally landed his top flight opening.
The Tiger, as he was known, became a Wolf.
It was due in no small part to then Wolves Chairman and previously cult hero of a striker in Derek Dougan.
From his work on TV summarising duties for Yorkshire Television, the Doog had spotted this winger flying down the line for Rotherham, and had been impressed, and decided that he was a player that Hawkins could certainly use to make the most of Molineux’s green spaces.
So much so that it was reported that Hawkins was actually on holiday when the signing was completed!
Hawkins had departed for his break having left a summer shopping list that it was suggested featured names such as David Seaman, Mick McCarthy – yes him! – Paul Bracewell and Gary Lineker.
When he returned, he had Towner.
That is in no way a slight on the ambitious winger who was clearly experienced enough to appreciate the significance of the opportunity handed to him, and set out to make the best of it.
“I know that Derek Dougan had seen me play a lot at Rotherham, and obviously it was a great move for me to go to Wolves,” Towner recalls.
“Graham Hawkins was in charge, with Jim Barron as his assistant, and they had just won promotion from the Second Division.
“But they needed to add more players, they needed to strengthen, which is always the case for any team getting promoted to the top league.
“In the end I think they might have only got me! I was the only one who came in through the door.
“I did feel a bit of pressure because of that but I was just concentrating on doing everything I could to be a success.”
It had been a team mixed with experience and youthful exuberance which Hawkins had led to promotion as runners-up to Queen’s Park Rangers the previous season.
There were still some experienced players around, including Gray, prior to his mid-season departure, Palmer, Peter Daniel, Kenny Hibbitt and Mel Eves.
Not to mention goalkeeper John Burridge, at times Towner’s room-mate and, as with all of those who enjoyed that particular pleasure, one who demanded Towner throw oranges at him to test his reflexes the night before a game.
“There were some good young lads as well,” Towner muses, suddenly recalling those former team-mates from almost four decades ago.
“John Humphrey, what’s he doing now? The young lad John Pender at the back, Alan Dodd.
“I thought we had some good players in the squad, but we just never got going that year.
“Every day you could sense around the place that something just wasn’t right.
“We were getting beat game after game, and I mean game after game, and it got so demoralising in the end.
“We were up against it and just weren’t able to bring in the sort of players they needed to strengthen, the money just wasn’t there.
“A lot of it was trying to gamble on younger players, and even though it was my first season at that level, at 28 I was one of the more experienced.
“In the end, we had a shocking year.”
There were highlights however, as Wolves did manage to add some younger players to the mix.
Take for example the 3-1 derby day win at West Bromwich Albion inspired by Danny Crainie, and while Towner wasn’t involved in that one, he was on the opposite wing to the Scottish frontman for that extraordinary 1-0 success at Anfield 37 years ago this month.
“What a day that was,” he says.
“We scored early on through Steve Mardenborough, and people have said that we didn’t get out of our half after that – I’m not sure we even got out of our penalty area!
“They hit the post I don’t know how many times but somehow we held on and won the game.
“To play at Liverpool is special enough and you don’t get many chances to do that, but to win as well, that is something I will never forget even if I didn’t touch the ball that often!”
Towner was one of those exciting wingers, direct, able to employ a trick or two to get past defenders or relying on his genuine pace.
Wolves fans have always loved their wingers, those with the capabilities to beat opponents, get fans off their seats, and while it was a step-up for Towner at a time when Wolves were struggling, he still had chances to show what he could do.
As a young whippersnapper, I remember sitting on the wall of the Family Enclosure near the South Bank, gradually wrecking my nice white trainers in the pitchside RedGra, and loving watching Towner – bedecked in Tatung pin-striped shirt, shorts and those magnificent hooped socks – picking the ball up on the halfway line and then running at the opposing full back.
Using the attribute of raw pace has perhaps become less prevalent in the decades since, but Towner himself still loves watching wide players when taking in a game, including one particular exponent of the art currently doing his thing at Molineux.
“Adama Traore, he is something else isn’t he?” he says.
“Defenders just can’t get near him can they? I really enjoy watching him play.
“He’s fantastic, I would probably say that he plays the way I always tried to play, although I’m probably a much smaller version of him!
“I loved trying to go past players on the outside, and a lot of wingers in those days were very direct.
“I always think clubs are crying out for good wingers, but maybe the game has changed a lot since my day and there have been phases where teams have gone without wingers completely.
“I still watch a lot of football, Brighton’s ground is not too far away from me and I have also been back to Rotherham and to Wolves.
“And the first thing I do when I watch a match is to look out for who is the winger, that is the player I really want to watch.
“Get yourself a good winger and a good centre forward, and the chances are you will win more than you lose.”
That one season in which Wolves were relegated would prove Towner’s only one at Molineux, and his only one in the top flight.
As the club began its ultimately unstoppable descent via successive relegations, and almost – again – going out of business, Towner was one of a number of players moved on, and would see out his professional career with Charlton, Rochdale and Cambridge.
He did also drift into non-league, and there was still time to enjoy a final taste of the big time via an FA Cup run in the 1991/92 season with Crawley Town, then in the Southern Premier League.
Towner was among the assists in a 4-2 first round win against then Third Division Northampton, for whom former Wolves midfielder Phil Chard was on target, leading eventually to an emotional appearance as a substitute in a 5-0 defeat against Brighton in the third round of the competition.
Towner entered the pitch to a rousing reception from the 18, 031 crowd inside the Goldstone Ground.
Eventually though, after deciding to hang up his boots, Towner needed to find a new trade and a new way to earn a living.
Back in those days players’ salaries weren’t exactly a nest egg for life after football.
So now we have TJ Removals, a company based in Brighton, boasting many years’ experience of residential house and corporate office removals.
At 65, Towner is still very much at the heart of it and running the business which has given him plenty of opportunities to follow up on that Wolves pre-season trip to Sweden all those years ago with plenty of European travel.
“Yes I’ve got my own removals business now, which I have built up from the start,” he explains.
“In my day you always knew you would have to carry on working a long time after you finished, and I enjoy it, I really wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s taken me to quite a few places as well, I’ve moved people out to Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, different locations around the world!
“I always wanted something that would help me keep me fit after football and this has been the perfect job for me.
“I’m not so young now, but I still keep myself busy, so if any Wolves fans around the Brighton area need a help with moving anywhere, give us a shout!”
Towner made 35 appearances at Wolves during that 1983/84 season, featuring in 31 of the 42 league games and chipping in with two goals, including a long-range header past Chris Woods in the win against Norwich during that purple patch around Christmas.
And while Wolves ultimately finished 21 points adrift of the safety line which would have avoided relegation, there will never be any regrets.
“I loved being associated with Wolves, even though it was such a difficult season,” Towner declares.
“It was my only experience of the top division, and even though I was in and out of the side, it was a fantastic one and something I enjoyed.
“Life’s too short to worry too much and think about the ‘if only’s’ – of course we needed more wins and who knows if I could have stayed there longer but it just wasn’t to be.
“I still feel it was a real achievement for me to get there and to play for Wolves and I loved it.”
Wolves were heading to Chelsea this midweek, one of the Premier League’s big boys now, but ironically a team who won the Second Division title in the 83/84 season and were one of those replacing the Molineux Men as their tumble began.
With the Wolves class of 20/21 hopefully now comfortably well ensconced in the Premier League, it almost seems strange to remember that the club has only enjoyed seven top flight seasons of the 37 since Towner was strutting his stuff down the right wing.
History has, as always, provided Wolves fans with something of a rollercoaster, but as Towner himself concludes, it is all about perspective.
“Sometimes you have to go through the bad times to properly enjoy the good ones.”