Ghosts of Molineux

1987 to 1988 was a weird time to be a Wolves fan. You see in the years from 1988 back to say 1983 you were hard pressed to see another Wolves fan unless you were one of the few who managed to scramble their way up to Molineux to watch us play Crewe or Scunthorpe. Great teams don’t get me wrong but only a few years before we were watching Wolves play Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United. And to be fair we were their equal in more ways than one. Even if the trials and tribulations of Thatcher madness had closed most of the factories and workshops that dotted the Town. It was bad. Watching the dust of the asbestos roof of the Southbank gently float through the sunbeams that burst through the holes in the roof. Looking forlorn at the closed North Bank. The idle monstrosity of the New Stand over in Heath Town it seemed, it was that far away. The ground was a state. The team was a state. Living in Whitmore Reans I was right on top of it. I watched the team and the ground slowly crumble into the ground.

Steven Bull. This isn’t the place for words about Steve and I still haven’t actually written about him. Words still can’t describe what an impact he had on our club. I will leave that for another time when my mind has absorbed those days. But I walked past and watched, observed, hoped. It wasn’t so long ago I had stood outside the Civic centre doorstepping Councillors, having a chat with Councillor and Mayor John Bird. A man forgotten by the majority of Wolves fans. The ones who tap Sir Jacks foot as they walk down to the ground. But without John Bird there would be no Wolves, no Steve Bull. But…

We used to walk past the back of the North bank, through the Car Park. I would walk up to The Feathers and sometimes pop in for a quick Banks’s Mild, a chat to Colin the Landlord and off up to Town. Then one day I walked past the North Bank Car Park and there was our team. Bull, Mutch, Dennison, Vince Bartram moaning, John Paskin…Big Shane Westley. Dressed in what seemed was a load of thrown away clothes, training clobber for sure that looked as if it had been rescued from a clothes skip. Rag tag isn’t the word. Flappy soles on training shoes, odd laces. I stopped and watched for a while. I couldn’t comprehend how a Coach would put a team out there. There was a manhole cover that stood six inches proud. There were the odd dirty syringes, litter, potholes a plenty. There were a few people too…at the start. People you recognised. Woodcross lads, a few from East Park, Low Hill, Penn. Loads of Moms with shopping, Dads, a few kids. Dads stopping by during work hours for a few minutes to watch.

The dust would get whipped up by the wind and we would slit our eyes for a moment trying to keep it out, it would stick to you that chalky crap. Tom Bennett is wrestling with Bully. Gary Pendrey shouts at Nigel Vaughn. Mutchy gets a knee in the back off Bennett and laughs. Bully looks uncomfortable. We are worried but all good. He laughs the next minute and Shane Westley walks past in the ‘W’ Anchor shirt all under performing players have to wear. It’s good and we hear the feet pounding and moving through the dust and gravel. Slide tackle. Covered in shit and dust. Mutchy is laughing. It’s all good mate. In the back ground the stadium. Mighty Molineux is sinking into the ground. Holes smashed into the sides of the stand to lead a cable through. In places it is green with Moss and algae. In others black from years of dirt.

The next week I took my new camera. I had bought it for a fiver from Collectors Antiques in Worcester street. It was broken and it was Russian. 1942 probably swapped by a soldier in WW2 and brought back to Wolvo. I repaired it, got it working. Put some film in and went up the Molineux and waited for the team….

Out of all the shots I love this one the most. Is Steve Bull an Icon? To us yes. Perhaps more. As the team went about the training session as I had watched them before I tried to sight the camera at the players in front of me. The focus ring was broken so it was all by eye. Was this the right aperture? The F stops had worn off the lens. I could tell by ear I was probably shooting at 1/250 of a second and the aperture was probably on f5.6 or something. Who knows, I shot away. I tried to concentrate on Bully. But people in the way, players in front of him. I tried to shoot him standing still. But those times were rare. But then Bully stops and his arms are limp. He is watching his team mates down the car park but his mind I suspect is elsewhere for a moment. But he is concentrating. His eyes are furrowed and watching, observing and there is an intent in his eyes that left me breathless. He was a Warrior having five or ten seconds to himself as the battle on the car park ebbed and flowed. Behind him a press of people who had come to see their Hero. Their Wolf. I pressed the shutter. I had him.

2021 and we are trapped in a world we don’t understand. Things are insane. I have been looking at this photo for a long time since I found it out again. This cellulose is brittle and the silver nitrate is starting to come away. There are spots and scratches but Steve is there and there is some comfort in looking at it. Do you remember those days? Some will I suppose.

My friend has an old Lithographic printer and at last I have something I can use to print this photograph off. I ask if I can use it, get it going again, and it’s shades of sitting down with a hundred camera parts spread around me wondering how to put it back together. Me and Woody clean it up, weld it in parts, learn how to use it, how to expose the plate, spread the was, get the acid etch just right. Not too much and not too strong. We tried for days to get something workable, to find the right copper plate, the right technique. The ink took three hours to prepare and roll on the plate. Technique. Many disasters.

But what would be the right medium for this image? Perhaps something strange and different? Something with Molineux in it. I walked past the stadium every day when the Northbank and the South bank were being demolished. This was Sir Jack time. I skipped past the workers every time I went past Molineux. A plank of wood from the North bank, the stand where I first stood with Christine Warrilow the Mom of my best mates at the time. She grew up in Bright Street a few yards away from Molineux. Memories. Trying to pull them from the wreckage of demolition. Something new growing out of the ground but I wasn’t about to forget what was old and forgotten. Here was history in the things I pulled from the mounds of broken concrete and wood. I wanted a floodlight and wrestled with it as the famous floodlights lay tangled, smashed and broken. Trying to rip it from it’s mounting. Workers shouted at me to move and get off site, they can piss off. I grabbed the huge dish and pulled one last time and it came free. It was mine. It was theft I suppose but no one was stopping me from taking this little piece of history away. There were memories in every piece I took. Few lumps of concrete from the South Bank steps. Steel from the floodlights, wood and concrete from the North Bank, a door handle from the Waterloo road stand Players entrance, a piece of door with the tarnished paint just about hanging on. A light fitting, a sign, stuff I just picked up and took away.

The stuff sits in a box now, safe after numerous house moves. Shall I throw this old crap away? No! And I would hide it somewhere and when I came across it often in a dim attic I would hold every one of those pieces and close my eyes trying to remember what those days were like, remembering through inanimate pieces of construction materials. Remembrance, Psycho-Geography, what we were when we were young.

We made our own paper me and Woody. Silk screens and mushy pulp. We get hold of an old twin tub washing machine and weld a Mower blade to the agitator. It’s lethal. Don’t get your hands in there. I take a hammer to the bit of South Bank door and smash it to pulp. That goes in. So does the Express and Star Special edition after we won the Sherpa Van trophy. I get a lump of South Bank step and smash it to dust, then pound it in a pestle and Mortar until it’s a fine powder. You couldn’t smell the piss that must have soaked into it but if you listen closely you can hear the footsteps, stamping, shouting of the people that stood there in the years and years before. Honved. Champions of the World. Stan Cullis, Billy Wright, Slater, Flowers, Knowles, Dougan. I tipped the half a mug of South Bank dust in the mix. We left it and watched the pulp become softer more malleable. Tip it into the screen and agitate it until it’s all covered. Dump it out and press it under the old screw press. Leave it for a few weeks. Dry it out. Print Steves photo on it.

Is it art? I suppose it is. If art can provoke memory and feels. The paper is slightly brown and rough but also extremely delicate. Many sheets were lost until we found out a way to fix the sheet down. But Steve came out nice and here it was. Molineux in the hand, even if the place was falling apart we had a Talisman, a fighter like us, a rebirth from the ashes and dust of how we used to be. I have printed 25 of these very special images on the very special paper. It was a ball ache in these days of digital imaging and sexy printing techniques to do. Often we would be in Woodys unit until 1am trying new ways, new/old ways to get these images into a frame. If you like them and want to own one then please contact me. They are signed and numbered as per usual and the one in the photo above is number 9. Bully is having this one as a gift from me and to say ‘Steve, thank you’.

The price for these is £100 each framed and signed/numbered and a letter of provenance with each one. If you would like one then get at my Paypal and deposit the cash….and if you hear in the still of the night what sounds like ghostly singing and the whisper of a ball being kicked….well, don’t worry about it.