This article is dedicated to my friend Adam Weaver
I’ve only stepped out of the car for a few minutes and I can feel the cold getting in me. It’s that cold that creeps up your back and you feel it’s tendrils oozing around your neck a bit. It gets in the old wounds and makes them ache a little. It’s a dark night in Wolverhampton. But it’s a Euro night. It’s a night where we play a Spanish side at Molineux. I let this thought prickle it’s way through me simple head like the cold does.
All around us as we walk to the ground…these Spanish football fans. Espanyol. They are a weird bunch for sure. None of them are very tall for some reason and I can see over most of their heads as we mill and press trying to avoid the Death Race 2000 style bollocks trying to get over the ring road by the art block. I mean the David Carradine version of course not the Jason Statham one (which was rubbish)…hiring a video of it, it was always in the ‘pound a night’ section, remember? These Spanish fans are singing now. The song sounds very loud and impressive although I regret to say I didn’t understand a word of it, but I try to sing along for a giggle and take the piss. The Spanish have a little squint to see who this tuneless ape is. It’s me. I laugh and say something to somebody and a lad next to me laughs. He thought I was one of them Espanyols. No mate, just me. I give them a chorus of ‘My old man’ with the ‘chains and hammers’ part echoing around the art block. I should stop doing this, one day I’ll get punched, again. But enough about the crap before the match.
What is this Euro football all about? This is the last but most arduous leg of the whole experience for sure. Because now people are saving money and throwing crap on Ebay to raise money to travel to away games we haven’t even qualified for yet. That is the amount of belief here in Molineux and in the faces of the people moving to and fro to cram themselves through the gates to get in. This is what it is all about. Excitement, hope and dreams. Last night I went to talk about Barnsley and Crawley and stopped myself. The time for that memory lane trip has gone. There has been an evolution now. Fosun and Nuno have built the dream home and now we have to try and live in it.
So the team have got Adama and Joao in from the start today. At Leicester they were given 45 minutes or so off. Adama has evolved for sure. Not so much physically but mentally for sure. In the warm up he is resplendent in his new mentality and it shows. He communicates, laughs and works as the team go through their warm up drills. Between the whole team there are words, laughter, a touch here and there, a slap on the shoulder or a smile. This is the Nunomachine, the thing that Nuno has created for our pleasure but I still keep thinking how big can this thing get? Have we got the mental capacity to understand what this team means to us? What it may possibly do in the future?
At kick off the Machine sets it’s stall out early and we start to press and attack from the off. Jota is moving and weaving his own complex tapestry of delights on the left. Adama on the right is an unexploded bomb just ticking away slowly one minute and the next he explodes into movement and I swear you can feel the hot air of that explosion dry your eyeballs and blow your hair back a little as he moves forwards. Joao Moutinho is a Wizard he weaves his own shapes in midfield and it all looks so effortless and refined, so easy, you can practically forget he is even there sometimes as he moves into spaces and collects a ball, goes for a loose ball, moves players around him like a Chess Master waiting for the momnent every piece is in place and then firmly places his ball into exactly the area his team mate needs it. I say ‘needs it’ because what Jota or Adama ‘want’ is sometimes not the ball they ‘need’. Henceforth it takes a second or a half second for Moutihos team mate to actually understand the complexity of the pass they just recieved. Often that realisation comes as they look up after collection or move into a vast space Moutinho has forseen to open up giving the team a movement into the final third, a chance of attack, a shot, and we repeat, probing, searching, looking for the moment.
There is something in the air here tonight of course. You can feel it, some metaphysical process going on that weaves between the stands and the pitch. It is gratifying on many levels of course. The football we are generating is electric and it of course materialises in a background hum of pure intent. Espanyol themselves have their own footballing agenda but it lacks belief and perfectly symbolises their slide towards the nether regions of La Liga, but don’t let this doldrumic narrative of their play fool you into thinking that they are a push over tonight. They are not. But they don’t believe their own dreams anymore and you can tell. But Neves and Moutinho are in full belief mode and the distances between themselves and the goal in a few early long distance pokes towards the Espanyol goal are belief ridden of course. Ruben and Joao know something we don’t. Yet.
Adama explodes, he springs around the Espanyol players like Tigger of Winnie the Pooh fame. A corner and a chance. Espanyol defence already finding out early doors what this particular night holds for them. You can’t play football against this team. Play football and you will dry up, bleed out on the lush 5G grass of Molineux and finally cook in the heat from Adama and Co to be picked up by the wind and blown over Dunstall hill. So the Great Wizard Moutinho plonks into the mix a swinging and swirling peach of a corner, Raul Jimenez has a subtle and gentle touch on it as the ball flies over, Jota is there, ready and waiting to volley it into the net. I don’t know whether there is a deflection or not off an Espanyol player but who cares? We have scored first (which is a shock) and I can’t quite get a grip on that groove at all. But I’m jumping around a bit. 1-0 mate. Have that.
But tonight with beauty we also have comedy. Some shot or pass is there for Rui Patricio to deal with and with that lets take a second to imagine a rolling piano tune, a Buster Keaton choreographic nightmare and Rui has a nightmare dealing with it. As dysfunctional as I am, I can sympathise with Rui. I don’t know what is going on mate and I am up in the Southbank with a pretty good view of the proceedings. I think most of the Southbank are dysfunctional too and we have a bit of a laugh about the incident as we wipe a bit of sweat away.
Now there is a turning point in the whole show. Down the side one of the Espanyol players has a Bee in his bonnet about how Jota keeps flying past him. We know this feeling of course and it always ends the same way. The Espanyol player gives Jota a bit of a jink with his forehead in a testosterone fuelled bit of ‘You wait till Home time’ bollocks’. You know what? I didn’t want the Espanyol bloke sent off. I wanted all of them to be on the pitch for what I knew was about to happen. You see once you resort to plonking a headbutt on someone then it’s game over. You’ve run out of arguments and your dogmatic football has reached it’s conclusion. You only do that when you have run out of ideas. It was a symptom (if you like) of the end for Espanyol. They have come, they have seen, they have failed. At halftime I go over the joy of the football played and moments of magic I have just seen. It was beautiful at times with that undercurrent of madness we all know and love about football. Willy Boly makes me feel warm, his return has made me feel safe and protected. Romain Saiss is nearly at Conor Coady levels of love for me. I love him roaming around the box sniffing out attacks. I love the way he instills a hardness and an aggressive sub narrative to our defence. Don’t annoy him in any way because you will rapidly find yourself tumbling through the air like a bin bag in the wind. The Espanyol players know this story and are aware of Romain Saiss. Jonny Otto is troublesome for the Spanish side. His story is defend and attack and the bloke just ‘appears’ all of a sudden. One second ushering a Spaniard into the electric advertising hoardings then half a second later the man is bumping in a cross or three. Amazing work rate. I like Jonny too, I like all of our team.
So this second half. It’s all set up now isn’t it? We have softened them up lovely, rubbed a bit of Olive Oil in them, sprinkled some salt and pepper on them, maybe a sprinkle of Paprika and in the oven. Time to cook this team. Gas mark 18 for 93 minutes. Forget about the incredible hard on Espanyol came out with. There were threats and danger flying around. Wu Lei their Chinese Superstar threatened a few disjointed shapes that sailed a bit close for comfort. But who was worried? Who was biting their nails? Was it close? Ruben what do you think?
I’ll tell you what Ruben Neves thought. It wasn’t a Derby County moment. There was no spooky silence as the ball looped towards him, no stillness. This is where we see how Wolverhampton Wanderers have affected us over these past few years. Especially us in the Southbank, because as a ball was cleared out of the box by an Espanyol defender we automatically see who is going to collect it. Ruben is just sitting there waiting. This is Zen Ruben. So I started celebrating straight away. He hadn’t even touched the ball and I was going apeshit. Because that’s the way it is my friends. That is the Ruben Zeitgeist and I’m not going to apologise for the fatness and ripeness of my lyrics about this. I knew he was going to score because ‘Time’ slid forwards a few seconds. It did this for a lot of people in the Southbank. Because…most people encourage Ruben to shoot in those positions and are vocal in encouraging Ruben to do it. But there were many people in that stand that just shouted ‘YES’ and already had their arms aloft for the goal mosh pit that was about to happen. Time slid forwards and we saw into the future. Ruben takes the sting out of the ball with his chest and volleys it into the top corner of the net.
Who didn’t think about the local park? Who didn’t think about that time some kid delivered a rare almost perfect ball for you to chest and volley? Do you remember how the ball deformed under your foot as you hit it, the ping of the ball at connection with foot, the way the ball arced and dipped into the net? OK most of the goals didn’t have a net but you know…we wheel away and the poor Goalie has to jog fifty yards through the Council park dog eggs to get it back. For a minute you were Ruben Neves even if Ruben hadn’t been born yet. Ruben you beauty. That is a million views YouTube goal moment with the comments filled with angst and bitterness that you do not love their team. 2-0 mate. Things are cooking lovely and you can smell the Espanyol fat starting to crinkle. There is an aroma enticing us to let our shields down and be emotional about it. By eyes were streaming but that was the elbow I took in the nose during the goal mosh.
This was the end of the game. There was no coming back now for Espanyol. It wasn’t the score line of course, it was the whole experience. Here’s a sentence for you.
“Jota scores twice and gets his hat trick” 4-0
This is when you have just had the best sex of your life with a beautiful woman and as you lie there like a wet flannel hovering between wake and sleep, that Hypnagogic netherworld where you just seem to float…Jotas goals were the beautiful woman coming into the room with a pot of tea and a plate full of biscuits for you to munch on and get your energy back. Alright I’m laughing and there is now way you can extrapolate his goals with a plate full of HobNobs and a pot of tea. But…bloody hell. Let me explain…
In this Europa League tie we are in some sort of Hypnagogic netherworld. Nuno said that ‘dreams are free’ and he is right. But the journey to that dreamland isn’t. That journey involved tough work at the University of Compton by our players and Staff. It was paid for by investment and analysis from Fosun, it was paid for by Wolves fans being clubbed outside Bragas stadium while watching their belongings being tossed into the mud by Fascist arseholes in riot gear. That’s what makes me think we are going to win it. We have already paid for it. Now if you close your eyes and think about Gdansk, about how mad that night will be cast your mind back to when the BBC came to interview me in my front garden back in 2017 and I said ‘who says we can’t win a European Trophy in a couple of years?’ How everyone laughed…but I wasn’t laughing mate, I was dreaming.