Step back in time

Richard Nevin reflects on a Saturday afternoon out.

I like Wolverhampton. I do, genuinely. I might dish out a light ribbing on the H&V forum and the title of this piece would back it up but it’s always been okay by me. I have friends from there, spent many a good night out in the Centre, sat in Ozzy’s Chair in the Gifford, been witness to legends at the Civic and I’m old enough to remember the Cheeky Monkey club night.

But when it comes to football, suddenly I’m not welcome so when I secured tickets to my first away game for some time, pre-match refreshment had to be taken elsewhere. Where many places manage to accommodate visitors, this appears to be beyond the authorities in charge past Bilston. Sensible policing, along with sensible licensees, mean that all can usually be catered for elsewhere without issue, but not here and not today. Still, their loss.

We were in the midst of a National Celebration but you wouldn’t have thought so in the hours leading up to the game. The rain battered against the window, the smell of fried food filled the air, and the TVs played silently on the wall, all but ignored by the Wolves and Villa fans happily discussing the forthcoming foray in perfect harmony.

Being situated in the city centre, Molineux is well served by public transport but from our starting point an Uber was the only option. Mercifully there was little small talk and we found ourselves back out in the drizzle at the wrong end of the ground but as my visits here have been few and far between I was happy enough to take in the sights. My last visit for a football match was back in 1989 when more of the place was closed than was open and Nigel Spink gave Steve Bull an ‘accidental’ cogwinder as they battled for the ball. We progressed in the League Cup and they were in recovery from the point of oblivion. Since then my only visit was to see Rod Stewart on another rainy day by the ring road some four years ago.

The exterior is neat and tidy, the Billy Wright statue suitably respectful but I’ve always found the colour scheme a bit garish, putting me in mind of a liquorice allsort. Access was straightforward enough and I had already been warned of the cramped conditions in the Steve Bull Lower concourse. It was a proper push and shove, not helped by the young ones and their penchant for standing grouped in the middle for a sing song and beer throwing competition. I retreated to the sidelines where I stayed until kick off.

Inside the stadium looks good, spoilt somewhat by the ‘temporary’ stand populated by people in ponchos and looking incongruous in the moneyed world of the Premier League and I was still pondering how much they paid to sit in the rain when they, and their fellow fans, were on their feet to celebrate a goal. The recent rivalry between the sides is almost all one way and the locals were certainly excited about beating us. Which they did, but shouldn’t have which has been covered at length elsewhere.

The tram was the choice of transport home, strangely quiet as most home fans headed for a pint and Villa fans for the train. The walk back was rather tense, one verbal exchange ended in a fight but the police were almost walking in step with us to bring things to a very swift halt and a bit of nimble foot always enables you to avoid the skirmish in these situations. Once my companions alighted at Wednesbury I was exposed to the sort of football fan that insists on making conversation with you even when you show little interest, so I had to reluctantly summarise our performance to an insistent Wigan Athletic supporter.

Somewhat inevitably the West Midlands Railway connection I aimed for was cancelled so I had to give it a bit of Paul Simon at the almost deserted Hawthorns station. It got busier at Smerrick, where fans of both clubs got on board my second choice of train, their narrow victory giving one Wolves fan the gift of infinite wisdom about Aston Villa, something he imparted to his disinterested companions most of whom supported the vanquished.

I called into my local pub where, despite the festive bunting, talk was still of football, horses and house prices rather than hereditary privilege, the TV now a focus due to the match in progress and I looked back on a day, remarkable for being unremarkable in many respects. And I still like Wolverhampton.