Tuesday, 8 September 2015

#10 Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolverhampton Wanders 2 Charlton Athletic 1
Sat 29th August 2015, Sky Bet Championship.

It was the final Saturday of the first month of a new season, the sun was shining and I was on my way to Stafford. My wife Becky and her friend Lisa were off to the wedding of their mutual workmate in Stoke that day, the third wedding in as many weeks for Becky. I was getting off the hook this time though and linking up with my old uni pal Holly to accompany her to Wolverhampton, following Charlton (her favourite team).

Holly is a Greenwich exile in Stafford making this one of the few games she can easily get to and knowing well the pain of really wanting to go to an away game but having no one to go with, I stepped up. Also having never been to a match higher than league two before I thought this would be a good chance to check out how the other half lived.

Partizan Stafford

Exterior of dreams.
The bank holiday of course meant the commencement of mass rail replacement services up and down the country, so we were bundled into a coach headed for the world's fifth worst city*.

Wolves have had a roller-coaster of a five years that has seen them in the premier league, championship and league one. Knowing so many Wolves fans from my time in Stoke was the source of much enjoyment to me and watching them bounce around from defiant pride to gloomy resignation to false hope and finally unyielding depression helped take my mind off the steady downfall of my beloved Bristol Rovers on many occasions. Also their logo makes them look like a hockey team.

One thing I never knew about the Wanderers was just how much support they pulled from the town of Stafford. I spotted dozens of merry orange-clad residents foregoing the glamour of the now premier league mainstays Stoke City or the convenience of the mighty Stafford Rangers. The attendance for a club at the level Wolves are at (championship but capable of the odd flurry into the top tier) was a massive culture shock to little old me. It was amazing to see the roads and pubs surrounding the stadium thick with home supporters from a mile out, with merchandise stands on every corner. This I suppose would be the advantage of a town only having the one professional team. Though Wolverhampton is much smaller than Bristol, Rovers and City don't even beat today's attendance with their average attendances from last season, two of the most successful in recent years, combined (12,247 + 6,793 = 19,040 vs. 19,853). Add to that the Charlton following couldn't have been more than 500 and you can colour me fairly impressed. 

Token match shot.
Keep furries out of football.
Modern stadiums mean modern facilities which would ultimately bring culture shock #2 for old Tom. First up was the fact that I received a full pat down from a security guard on my way to the turnstile but the actual act of ticketing me was handled by an angry looking red laser in a box. As someone who is used to a cheerful old person sat in a portaloo ripping my ticket manually (and in all honesty occasionally says thank you to supermarket self check-out machines) this was all a bit too much. 

I must reiterate that the only ground bigger than the Memorial Stadium I'd been to previously at this point was Wembley Stadium. I'm aware that the Mem is, if not in capacity then in facilities, probably on a par with the more salubrious conference grounds so I was expecting something in-between massive concourses like the ones at Wembley and the ramshackle north terrace bar. Whilst it definitely swayed more towards the former, with efficient and plentiful food and beer serving windows, the seating was pretty limited. Unlike at the Mem where you can sit down with twelve of your mates at a massive plastering table on chairs that look like they've been nicked from a church hall and enjoy your pint as you watch Jeff Stelling. Also I couldn't find any pasties. Shit ground really.

'Sexy pies'. You know when you're in the Midlands. 
After we'd had a pint and unsuccessfully chased Holly's secondary school history teacher around the ground, we made our way to our seats ready for kick-off. 

The Charlton massive were seated in the Steve Bull stand along the north side of the pitch in the bottom of two tiers of seating underneath a top tier full of home supporters. Must have been fun in the 70s. Whilst I was looking around I noticed that there was a massive gap between the front row of seats and the pitch. Holly explained that during redevelopment the entire pitch and three of the stands were moved slightly but the club ran out of money to move the final one so they just filled in the gap with astroturf and hoped no one would notice. Brilliant. It's nice to know that clubs at every level suffer howlers like this. 

A stand of loud people.
Nevertheless I liked the Molineux. The atmosphere was decent in patches and the view from where we were was fantastic. I could grow to grudgingly accept an all seater stadium. 

During the first half Charlton were retaining the ball well and had little to defend but couldn't get anything past the much taller and more powerful Wolves defence. I thought Ethan Ebanks-Landell in particular had a great game chasing every Charlton chance down and snuffing it out elegantly. I opined at the time that Charlton would either have to out-pass them or pounce on a mistake and at half-time I was seriously considering putting a bet on a goalless draw.

Back out on the concourse Holly got a steak and ale pie which looked amazing and I got a cheeseburger which tasted like roadkill. The Charlton supporters finally piped up while queuing for their chips with some mean songs about Millwall. Must be nice being Millwall's rivals, you'd get a lot of goodwill. The sudden willingness to sing without an audience enraged a man who had been acting as capo throughout the half and was now purple in the face screaming "DO IT OUT THERE WHERE IT FUCKING MATTERS" over the jubilant chorus. 

Mr Angry gets told off.
Hello ladies.
As I suspected, it was a deft piece of passing that allowed Berg Gudmundsson to score the opener for Charlton in the 55rd minute. It was party central on the Steve Bull stand and I was treated to a round of Charlton's charming club song Valley Floyd Road.

I call this portrait: Study of young woman with pie.
Perhaps going unbeaten in the first four games had lulled Charlton into a false sense of security but they really took their foot off the gas after the goal. The competent defence melted away before our eyes and a spectacular lack of organization in the final third allowed Edwards an easy equaliser ten minutes later. (40 seconds in.) We could all sense the way the tide was turning after that as Wolves savaged the Charlton end with attempts. Eventually an unmarked Benik Afobe found Adam le Fondre in the middle of the box and he poked in the cross like a plastic fork through yesterday's Evening Standard in a South London chippy and that, as they say, was that.

As dejected as Holly was it was difficult to argue that Charlton deserved anything from the game. They weren't the same team that had the edge on Wolves during the first half after their goal. A real shame as they had to work very hard to grind the home team down. The town being thick with Wolves fans, my companion took me to an out of the way pub called the Gifford Arms to drown her sorrows. This was one of those places where they play Motörhead full blast at all hours of the day and everyone owns a denim jacket.

We met some Wolves fans who were very friendly and great sports even if I couldn't really understand what they were saying. Also I got to enjoy the spectacle of a 50 year old drunk man trying to chat up Holly by comparing her to a girl he'd met at a The Damned concert 20 years ago. Everything you want from an away day really.

*You alright there Mikey? ;)

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