Wembley Wolves: Wanderers’ victory over Spurs just the latest in an impressive record at the stadium


Wembley Wolves: Wanderers’ victory over Spurs just the latest in an impressive record at the stadium

There was absolutely no shock in last Saturday’s 3-1 victory for Wolverhampton Wanderers away to Tottenham Hotspur. For sure, Wolves have not wandered well to see the Lilywhites, with only seven victories as compared to Spurs’ 28 and there have been eight draws.

However all bar one of those fixtures was at White Hart Lane. The difference was this time around was the game, of course, was at Wembley. The gold shirts don’t go under at Wembley.

Technically speaking that is an exaggeration. The truth is that Wolves have lost twice at the venerable stadium. However they have won six times. Does anybody else have quite that track record?

The first of those defeats came in Wolves’ debut down Wembley Way. On April 29th 1939, the FA Cup Final brought together Wolves, who would finish second in the top division, and Portsmouth, who came just six places from the bottom in the Football League season. The FA Cup has always been something of a leveler though.

The tale is told that an item was passed between the dressing rooms before the match for the participants to autograph. It went to the Molineux men first and when the Pompey players saw the shaky hand writing of their opponents they were convinced that the mighty Wanderers were nervous.  The south coast outfit duly ripped the favorites apart 4-1.

Ten years later Wolves were led to the final again by stern manager Stan Cullis, who had been skipper of the losing side in 1939. In a season where Portsmouth finished as champions, with Wolves in sixth place, opponents this time around were Leicester City, who escaped relegation form the old Second Division (nowadays the Championship) by just a solitary point. Wolverhampton were clearly the overwhelming favorites, and this time they did not disappoint with a 3-1 victory. It was the first trophy for Cullis, who would guide his side to many more glories in the fifties. That FA Cup winning side of 1949 featured the likes of Bert Williams, dynamic wingers Johnny Hancocks and Jimmy Mullen, and skippered by the legendary Billy Wright.

Eleven years on and Cullis earned his last major trophy at Molineux with a 3-0 FA Cup final win over Blackburn Rovers (who had finished 17th in Division One while Wolves were pipped by one point by Burnley for top slot, which would have been Wolves’ third championship on the trot).

Wolves celebrate lifting the FA Cup in 1960 (photo credit: Birmingham Mail).

That 1960 game has been christened the ‘Dustbin Final’. While it was not the finest of spectacles, but the name is on account of the Lancashire club’s supporters pelting the winning side with garbage after the final whistle. These were the end times for the great Cullis era, with so many notable players such as Ron Flowers and Peter Broadbent, skippered by the recently deceased Bill Slater, an England international and gentleman who played his entire career either as an amateur or, at most, a part-time professional, earning his living as a university teacher.

That was the team’s last FA Cup final to date. However they twice lifted the Football League Cup (nowadays known as the EFL Cup) at Wembley. On both occasions they were generally considered to be underdogs.

It is true that in 1973-1974 Wanderers finished two slots ahead of Manchester City in the top division, but that sky blue side had a forward line of Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Denis Law and Rodney Marsh. Wolves had their reserve keeper Gary Pierce in for the injured Phil Parkes for his League Cup debut. As Pierce said to me once “For 25 minutes after the interval it was like the Alamo.” But the keeper, born in Bury 23 years to the day earlier, gave the performance of his lifer and goals from Ken Hibbitt and John Richards fetched a 2-1 win.

In fairness that was one of Wolves’ greatest ever sides, magnificently led by Mike Bailey and with a front line led by Derek Dougan, who had famously asked Blackburn for a transfer on the eve of that 1960 game in which he admitted he should never have played, through injury.

The gold shirts were back at the national stadium for the League Cup final of 1979-1980. This time it was against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Once again, the clubs were very close in the top stratum (Forest fifth and Wolves sixth) but again it was the East Midlands side that were deemed the likelier winners, inclusive as they were of Peter Shilton, Kenny Burns, Trevor Francis and John Robertson. But Wolves had shown such guts and willpower to get to Wembley, every round except the third requiring at least two games before they could win through. Maybe the spirit and verve of skipper Emlyn Hughes, determined to win a competition denied him in his many years at Anfield, formed the heart of the venture, but the victory was achieved by a strike from the then most expensive player in the League, Andy Gray, after Needham and Shilton had got in one another’s way in trying to deal with an optimistic forward lob from Peter Daniel.

Wolves were now headed in a highly undesirable direction, duly plummeting so low that it was quipped that they would soon be off the pools coupon. Key to their salvation was the magnificent manager Graham Turner, who in 1987-1988 presided over a magnificent championship season in the old Division Four. And Wolves went to Wembley twice that term.

The first of these was for the Football League Centenary Celebration tournament. The competition was between the two clubs from each of the four divisions who had gained the most points in the league between November and the end of February. The games at Wembley were of 20 minutes and Wolves were to play Everton, who would finish fourth in Division One. The game finished 1-1, with ex-Wolves’ center forward Wayne Clarke scoring for the Toffees and silky winger Robbie Dennison screaming one past Neville Southall from 30 yards. Penalties saw the Goodison Park outfit go through 4-3.

Should a 20 minute game count? Regardless, there can be no debate that the other Wembley visit that season does. It was for the Sherpa Van Trophy, the knock out competition for clubs in the third and fourth divisions. More than 80,000 spectators showed up to see Wolves beat long-time rivals Burnley 2-0, with goals by Andy Mutch and Dennison. Bill Slater presented the trophy to winning skipper Ally Robertson, whose colleague included Steve Bull, unusually not on the strike list on this occasion.

And so to December 2018 and three magnificent strikes by Willy Boly, Raul Jimenez and Helder Costa. I confess that I did not expect it, having watched a rather good Spurs side (the clear favorites on the day) completely dominate the first half. Oh me of little faith! Had I forgotten? This was Wembley.


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