The 1980s had started well for the Wolves. They won the League Cup at Wembley in March 1980, with a record £1.49million signed by Andy Gray scoring the winner against Nottingham Forest, and finished sixth in the First Division that season. The future looked promising under manager John Barnwell. however, the foundations for a decade of decline had already been laid.
The club had spent up to £3m on the New John Ireland Stand at Molineux (more than double the British transfer record when it opened in 1979) and the debts began to mount when they were relegated in 1982. A consortium led For club legend Derek Dougan stepped in to save the day. enter the bhatti brothers, mahmud and mohammad bhatti, who were the “financial muscle” behind the acquisition deal. the mere mention of the brothers probably makes wolf fans break out in a cold sweat. the Saudi Arab brothers did little in their reign of terror to help the ailing club. in 1986, the wolves were struggling to stay in business.
Reading: Chorley football club vs. wolves
promotion to the top flight in 1983 was a rare bright spot, a false dawn before darkness descended. they relegated in 1984 with only six wins in 42 games and the hits just kept coming. eight league wins in the 1984-85 campaign saw the famous old club drop to the third tier. Unable to stem the momentum, the Wolves fell to the fourth tier at the end of the 1985-86 season. having defeated the reigning European champions in the league cup final in 1980, they were now in the cellar of English football.
At this point, the very existence of the club was in jeopardy. attendance dropped when the wolves were forced to close two stalls due to security orders. with the catchers called up during the summer of 1986, the club’s future was in doubt. Fortunately, the tide began to turn. Wolverhampton City Council bought Molineux and Asda paid off the club’s debts on the grounds that they could build a large store next to the ground. the club was saved, but it would take a lot of work to change the team’s fortunes on the pitch.
graham turner got into this mess in october 1986, a month after being fired by aston villa. He quickly discovered the size of the job on his hands when Wolves drew the multi-part Northern Premier League club Chorley in the first round of the FA Cup. part-timers had never been beyond the first round in their 103-year history, but that was about to change.
chorley’s big game almost didn’t happen. The draw had originally paired them with Halifax, but it turned out that Darlington had been accidentally placed in the southern section of the draw. signal red faces and a hasty retreat from the fa bigwigs. eventually the chorleys were drawn to the wolves in their home.
this caused more headaches. Chorley’s field, Victory Park, was being redeveloped so the tie was moved to Burnden Park in Bolton. on Saturday, November 15, a crowd of 4,887 fans watched as the teams played out a 1-1 tie. Andy Mutch gave Wolves the lead in the 47th minute, but Paul Moss headed in the equalizer just 90 seconds later to force a replay.
It seemed the non-league team had blown their chance, and the Wolves were expected to win the replay, but Chorley’s manager, Ken Wright, who is now the club’s president, had other ideas. “We have nothing to fear from going to Molineux,” he said. “we can win it.”
ian senior, who played in goal for chorley throughout the tie, backs up his manager’s words. “I didn’t have much to do in the first game,” he says, looking back on the game some 35 years later. “It opened our eyes to the possibilities of obtaining a result.”
The repetition in Molineux was a personal triumph for the firefighter in Chorley’s goal. “It was a howling night,” he says. “I ended up wearing two different jerseys as I had to change at half time because the first one was soaking wet. Constant wolf attacks ensured that Senior was much warmer than the 4,790 shivering fans in attendance.
Matt Forman directed the Wolves to the lead, but Painter and Decorator Moss once again leveled things up, overcoming the offside trap before bringing down Vince Bartram. From then on, it was a “back to the wall night,” says Senior. He made stops from Mutch, Steve Stoutt and Keith Lockhart while Chorley held on for a second replay a week later. “We managed to scrape the tie,” he admits.
so we went back to burnden park on monday november 25th for the final part of the trilogy. A crowd of 5,421 witnessed the giant being brought down on an unforgettable night for Chorley, their 3-0 win ending the 300-minute marathon. “It was a very comfortable win,” says senior. Vendor Charlie Cooper scored twice, on either side of an Edwards strike. “My players had more heart and determination,” Wright said of the night. “We have never been afraid of them during the three games and there was no doubt that we played better football tonight.”
The wolves’ new trainer could only agree. “It was like men against boys,” Turner said. “chorley were fitter, stronger and more skilled. I am getting the brunt of the criticism, but this is just the culmination of four or five years during which the club has been poorly organised.” he even found time for a joke about his new job, saying, “the highlight of my year was three weeks off work and mowing the lawn at home. So I didn’t worry.”
obituaries were being written for wolves in the press. “hunger drove wolves to the slaughter,” said the keeper, and stephen bierley concluded that the club “today is nothing but sheep in wolf’s clothing.” The club’s former captain, Billy Wright, was distraught, saying: “Graham Turner has a big job on his hands and this must be the lowest point in club history.”
In the next round, Chorley earned a creditable draw against Preston at Ewood Park in front of 15,133 fans before losing the replay 5-0 at Preston’s Plastic Court three days later. Despite the tough defeat, Senior fondly remembers the Copa corrida, especially the Wolves trilogy. “It is without a doubt the highlight of my football career. such fabulous memories. my scrapbook is something to be seen. there should be 12-15 pages of that game.”
Memories aren’t so golden for wolf fans, but hope was just around the corner. A few days before Chorley’s first match, Turner had signed Andy Thompson and an unknown striker named Steve Bull from local rivals West Brom. they were ineligible for cup ties but would soon make their mark. Turner turned the ship around, with Bull and Mutch forming a beautiful relationship, and Molineux becoming a beautiful stadium. John Ireland’s stand, once he ran out of finances, was renamed after Steve Bull in 2003. The loss to Chorley was the dark before dawn.