All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
Monday. I’m at the top of the Cannock Road, at the lights, Molineux in front of me, you can just see the arse end of the Northbank. It was very serene, little traffic, these big showers snake through the day, fine mists of it. Then the Sun would burst through the clouds like Doherty on a mission again. But Shaky Jake and Crackhead Dave are in the back of my van, we are going to a little job. We are the Joeys, the bodies that lift heavy things. £20 though. While I’m waiting, and they are hacking I notice a massive rainbow stretching from Saint Peters arching right smack bang in the middle of the Molineux. I’m stunned. For a moment I forget where I am and I’m a bit fucking emotional. Against a black cloudy backdrop this beautiful arch of vibrant colour. I couldn’t take it in. Shaky Jake needs his daily fix but he’s singing ‘Once upon a time there was a Tavern…’ in that sad addicted, shattered voice, and Crackhead Dave wants to talk about conspiracy theories…I’m thinking about the Jota strike against Millwall and my glasses tumbling over and over in the air…
We are starting, I think to slowly come to terms with the horrors of the past few years. It’s Post Traumatic Wolves Syndrome. Watching those stripey bastards up the road play their funeral march like football against cool top teams. Watching our fractured former squads grind out the endless litany of (often) cack football. Roger Johnson. O’Hara. Afobe gone. Sakho. How we fucking suffered. But now these horrors are starting to be discussed in constructive ways instead of anger, I think we are starting to come to terms with the ‘back in the day’ shit. Starting to realise that ‘hope’ is a tangible concept.
‘Hi my name is Mikey and I’ve been a Wolves fan for 45 years’ and everybody murmurs hello back as they twist their fingers unsure, staring at the church hall floor.
It’s the calm after the storm, the flirtations with relegation, the actual relegations and dare I say it some of us still haven’t got over the Bhattis yet alone even started to process the madness of the Morgan & Moxey years. I can’t sensibly compare it to the horror of trench warfare but once upon a time three of us were run ragged around Leeds town center eventually finding a quiet pub where we just looked at each other, exhausted. It’s like that. Relief. Maybe. Tired, angry, violent, scared, wanting to talk about it. But that sunlight through the clouds is bright and a little uncomfortable through the windscreen. And when the old stands were demolished we would stand there, me, a few others watching the diggers ply their trade ripping down the asbestos roof, the iron and steel, nobody saying anything but just wondering quietly to ourselves as the dark corners of Molineux were exposed to sunlight. Out of Darkness cometh light, but that light can be too bright after the darkness. I’m tapping the van steering wheel, the light is still red. I remember Robert Plant asking ‘Does anybody remember laughter?’ and I wished I had a stereo in the van.
Bristol City. A weird place. Quite liberal and chilled out on the one side and on the other the Dock workers, the dudes who built boats. Council haircuts. I don’t even know who plays for them or who manages them. I have to be honest, I don’t care. I’m watching Jota warm up. He’s not even looking at the ball as he effortlessly moves it around as he’s talking to Neves and Vinagre. Ruddy is catching balls, but not catching them, he’s grabbing the thing like he’s ripping somebodies head off, stalking up and down his line like an animal. I like Ruddy, I like the way he saved that late Millwall shot. No way was he letting that fucker in. N’Diaye is a colossus, he’s standing with his legs spread shoulder width hands on hips and his chin is out. He looks like an old photo of Mussolini. The vibe is relaxed pre match then things are getting a bit noisy and the Motorhead Volume PA is blurting out loud shit about things that aren’t very interesting. Saiss is talking to Danny Batth. There are not many Bristolians made the trip here. This place scares them maybe. They haven’t won here in since Moses was crucified, or something. Their warming up looks structured and energetic but not dynamic, no not easy, not slick. I hate them already, they are typical and generic.
Kick off through the expectant haze of the evening. I shout out something, words of encouragement ‘fuck ’em off Wolves’ and shuffle my feet, I want a piss. N’Diaye Is ascendant in midfield, already harrowing the furrow of the pitch like a plough. Fighter jet football, twisting and turning. Dog fighting and here we are. The first errant tackle by Bristol. Again late. Thrown together Championship Mixed Football Arts. Although it’s not artistic there is grappling and chasing ghosts. Jota is nonplussed. The Bristol midfield might as well join their hands together and have a seance to find out what Neves and Cavaleiro are doing.
‘Neves? Are you there? Knock the table twice for yes and once for no’ they whisper to the vague forms of our players, here, there, every fucking where. Cavaleiro shifts his weight from foot to foot, twists and is gone, Jotas feet seem to glide across the pitch without touching it. N’Diaye is the Wolves paywall. You have to pay him to see what final third delights Wolves back three have to offer and Bristol although determined are dragging their feet holding tight to their wallets. Shakey Jake my friend. What horrors your addiction has given you. The endless phone calls to your dealers, the networking, the shivers, the cramps. Yet through all that as he shook in the back of the van, a few days before he was almost upbeat. His team were doing well, he wanted to talk about it, wanted to discuss things and in his madness of addiction his mood was positive and hopeful. I remembered Gary Mastic last week, sad, depressed, angry. But I had missed some play and a whistle was blown. But the juxtaposition of attitudes were glaring as the Ref pontificated about some order of rule and play while the players took a few seconds to regain composure and shape. Wolves animated and pointing out various parts of the pitch, Bristol content (for the most part) to look at the grass. The Southbank are angry at the incident I missed but I abuse the distant figure of the Ref just as much as them. Solidarity ay it.
But here we go again. Bristol City have a few digs, a few late tackles, some elbows, some moaning. It’s Championship football time again folks. The Referee is a slow and dull lad, he’s scared, you can see it. He can’t rapidly process the information that he’s seeing, the football we are trying to play. The result? Elbows on Wolves players get dismissed, tackles from behind waved on, Danny Batth taken out by a flying headbutt to the back of his neck, decisions start to pile up against us. I’ve seen this episode before. Cardiff. The Referee has bolstered the confidence of Bristol who see in ineffectiveness of the Ref a glimmer of light. I lose my voice 20 minutes in as my anger is directed at the Official. My language is foul and violent and I’m fucking twitching again
Neves and Cavaleiro are a marvel to me and their forensic passes of love and runs across the pitch are a joy, it’s like they are stroking my hair with every kick and I feel loved with each one. Proud also, and I want to be with the Bristol City fans pointing at my team saying ‘Look! This is it, look at us! Watch this beauty! This is my team!’ and I’m proud yes, a word I may ponder later. But I also want to say ‘Look at your team, look at the bastard in the black, he’ll be your key player tonight’. And that’s the reason I don’t get invited into the inner sanctum of the great and good. If I bumped into the Ref I would nut him, right on the bridge of his nose as he walked past me.
At half time I roll my cigarette and hasten off to the end of the stand to shuffle and discuss the passing and the movement with whoever is there, the ex Para, the psychopath, the mate from years back, the mate I just met, the mate with the £600 coat, the mate that hasn’t got a coat. Is the football pornographic? May we use abstract descriptions like ‘filthy’ and ‘filth’? I don’t think we can, the football here deserves far more respect I think. So lets try ‘Unappreciated by officials and opposition teams’. My mouth is dry now and tastes of roll ups and I watch the half time fag smoke billow into the rain under the glow of the security lights.
But the cats cradle of passing movement is a joy. Doherty shifts again, slices of movement that are incisive and splitting. The rain is making things glisten and slip, the ball skips over the grass and our team have a low center of gravity, there are corrections to the play now, and they have everything in hand. Jota to Bonatini and back again, Bright with a subtle run into box. There are units ahead of him, keep an eye on the ball and a hairy eyeball on the 14 stone of occupied space bearing down, they grab and they grapple, twist and flap. Bright is gone and they grab empty Molineux air but don’t worry there’s a pull back and a stray late foot, Bright goes down, Ref waves play on.. It’s called traditionally the second half but really it’s a coda of sorts, a finale. Bristol had run out of ideas early and our positioning was unbudged, the tactical fluency of shape under Lambert replaced with the monad of rigidity of form and positions under Nuno. No matter how Bristol pried and tried to find purchase in the gaps between our players their fingers slipped and failed. The space allowed them was temporary and fleeting. The keyword was temporal. No time allowed to shake off the attentions of N’Diaye and Neves who arrived shortly after the ball was collected by a Bristol shirt. But and it’s a but I keep having to insert again and again. The late tackles, the shirt pulling, the grabbing, the pushing. We aren’t being allowed to play football. The difference between Bristol City and Wolves was glaring. We were beautiful again and they were ugly. We were the artists and Bristol the epitome of the English game. Snarky, pully, arsey all the negative adjectives I can think of. Was a draw a thing? We were robbed it’s simple and the result was unfair. One day we will get a Referee that understands football ‘in principle’ and can see the rules are there for a reason, and that reason is playing beautiful football not a Sunday Rugby match on a council pitch in Barry Island. Nuno gets spoken to by the Ref. Nuno is a Warrior artist not a ‘Coach’ and we are a few games into the season and he see’s his creations marred again and again by some cuckold dick brained fucking idiot of a Referee and his two fucking wine gum mates running the line.
It’s a harsh school Championship football, but one that this team are learning fast within. They are strangers to each other at the moment and yet the football we are playing is years ahead of last season and yet the team still galvanise, still execute and still make your stomach do a little flip. What’s going to happen as they coalesce as a real familiar unit? When we get a game where the Referee understands football?
At the traffic lights I’ve noticed they have turned green but there are no cars behind me so I just wait for a moment with my arms on the wheel. Supporting Wolves isn’t an addiction like Shaky Jakes and all the allegories and metaphors in the world wont make that so but we do share one thing and that’s the love of the thing we are addicted to. I asked him months ago why he continued to score and use and he said ‘because I love it, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing at night’ and I know his pain a little, a fraction. We love it because we fucking love it and we hate it because we love it. That’s why the small concrete area right by our seats is polished to a high sheen. We shake like Shaky Jake, shuffle and move, every kick of the ball marked by a twitch of the leg, a subtle jump to head a cleared ball, a corner marked by grabbing onto whoever is next to you. The great pantomime on the pitch is mirrored exactly by us, the audience. Sometimes it’s a shit ending, sometimes a cliffhanger, suspense and a twist of the storyline but always a story we are part of despite the glitzy screens and the overpriced beer. ‘All that is Gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost’ Tolkien said in Lord Of The Rings. Maybe in our stand there are those who don’t glitter, the ones with the crap shoes and the uncombed hair and missing teeth. But they aren’t lost, we aren’t lost, and we never have been. We carry our club like Shaky Jake carries the monkey on his back. Deep within us.
The lights have gone green again and my two muckers didn’t even notice I had sat through the green light lost in thought. As I pulled away the sun broke through again and illuminated the stands and they did shine like Gold and that rainbow did end right there on the pitch and maybe it’s only really full of Gold when we are inside and our songs are loud and our entertainment something else entirely and I’m laughing to myself. Why? Nobody would ever fucking believe in me staring at rainbows and golden stadiums but some would understand. Shaky Jake would and he would believe this too if he could read..
From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be the blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king.