I’ve said a few trimes this blog could do with other voices and other minds and ‘Notes From The Front Line’ is just that. Discovering Wolverhampton through words and through our team. If you have words you would like putting on here contact me and chat. Here for your pleasure are some words from Ben Smallman.
Running to standstill
Going for a jog – as Wolverhampton ran to a standstill – wasn’t meant to take me there, but something drew me in.
Music in my ears, Deep Heat in my hamstrings and water in my eyes at a landscape I called home.
Henwood Road came and went to a jaunty soundtrack which should have known better and then onto the Tettenhall Road in once stately pomp, looking like the morning after the night before. The smell of weed lingered but I kept on moving. One foot in front of the other. Plane trees swayed, daffodils played and for a split second you’d never know what was up.
‘Cheer up Chapel Ash’ I thought, ‘it might never happen.’ I then got lost in a daydream, for better or worse; a question in my mind for every bead of sweat on my brow.
How is Kate? What would I do without Dad? Was Steve Bull’s left foot goal against Bolton Wanderers in Division 3 his best? Does Jessica see me from afar? Does she know how much I love her? Will my legs stop telling my head to slow down? Will I ever learn to like myself again? The usual kind of stuff.
Iggy Pop interrupted my wandering mind with an ill-timed Lust for Life and there I was, making my way along the Waterloo Road to Molineux like I’d done a thousand times before.
One time in 1988, me and Dad were late for my third ever game when I was a fresh faced nine-year-old – a 3-3 draw with Port Vale. We missed Robbie Earle score for Vale after 37 seconds. We were running on adrenalin when Bully scored at the South Bank in injury time though. Dad, an impenetrable force of good who I’d spend a lifetime failing to emulate, bought me a pin badge for my scarf that day. A little lone wolf on a lustrous gold surround.
Another time, he rushed me home early with a migraine almost 30 years to the day, when Andy Mutch put Wolves ahead against an almighty Leeds United side in blazing sunshine that hurt my eyes. I lay stricken on the back seat on the way home curled up in the foetal position, shielding my pounding head from the sun’s piercing glare; my brain cowering from a sledgehammer’s metronomic thump.
The WM goal-horn sounded at 4.50pm as we entered Bewdley’s Catchems End. Dad breathed a profanity. ‘No, no, no’ he whispered. ‘Don’t. Go. To. Molineux.’
‘Late drama at Birmingham City!’, roared ‘Franksie’ in faux-hysteria. Danger averted, thank God.
“Nearly home Alan, nearly home,” Dad said. Hang on in there and I’ll carry you up into bed before you know it.”
Some days were just meant to be, weren’t they? Leeds United’s David Batty, a striking blonde enforcer who shimmered in the sunshine, made his one mistake of the afternoon – if not the entire season – when passing the ball straight to the feet of our centre-forward Andy Mutch. Mutchy must have thought Christmas had come early, coolly rounding goalkeeper Mervyn Day to slot into an empty net. Life was too easy at times back then, even if it took me three decades to realise. Did the daffodils know any different?
I became a dishevelled shell of that innocent child before I seemed to blink. I’d make the same journey along the same stretch of pavement with my own son Charlie in a circle of life years later, following the exact same path as I used to at his age. Not so much an eight-minute mile, but a suspended snapshot of a better place which had gone in the blink of an eye.
We’d get to the ring road island from the Billy Wright Stand after a game and neither Charlie or I would come up for air, giddily relaying each moment of a Premier League conquest with the veracity of ’88 – when I wore that pin badge for the first time back in Division 3. We’d laugh and cheer in unison and in that moment, my boy’s beaming smile would look so pure I wished I could have pressed pause.
On another day, me and dad would cover the same 800 footsteps without saying a word. It was hard to know what to say in 2002. Harder still when Dad was thinking of mum and I could only fumble a line about Colin Cameron scoring in 47 seconds – 10 more than Robbie Earle in 1988.
“Do you remember that one Dad?’”
I ran a lap of the Molineux without thinking, without seeing a soul. I got to the South Bank and amid the dead of night, I saw a smiling, statuesque Sir Jack Hayward taking guard; the man who built the place back up from rubble when we were scrambling in the remains ourselves. His bronzed thumbs were up high, smiling at a place I couldn’t quite reach.
I didn’t know where I was heading when I stepped foot outside for a jog around town. I never did anymore, truth be told.
But lockdown or no lockdown, it would all still be there when I’d find out.