A school team called St Luke’s were formed in 1877 when headmaster Harry Barcroft rewarded his pupils with a football after an excellent year at school. Two other men by the names of John Baynton and Jack Brodie who presented the boys with the ball were to become the co founders of St Luke’s FC. Two years later, Blakenhall Wanderers cricket club expressed their interest in playing football so the two teams merged to be called The Wanderers.
When the Wanderers started out, they played near Lower Villiers Street in Blakenhall on two playing fields called Windmill Field and John Harper’s Field. Then, in 1881, the team made the move to Dudley Road where they played for eight years until they moved to a pitch which was surrounded by mud banks. The name of the pitch was Molineux.
Founding member of the Football League
The football league was founded in 1888 with Wolverhampton Wanderers being one of the original members. Wolves were joined by teams such as Midlands rivals Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City, but Preston North End were the first major side Wolves with which had to compete. That year, Wolves made it to the FA Cup final but unfortunately lost to Preston North End 3-0 at Kennington Oval.
It took five years for Wolves to put their previous FA Cup misery behind them. They reached the 1893 FA Cup final and found themselves against yet another team from the North West, Everton. This time, however, Wolves ran out 1-0 victors at Fallowfield and recorded the first piece of silverware in their history.
Wolves enjoyed the FA Cup and reached yet another final in 1896, but like their first final, the team from the Black Country lost to a team from the North. Unlike the Preston game, Wolves narrowly lost 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday.
1906 was a dreadful year in the club’s history, as they suffered relegation to the second division. Nevertheless, in 1908, just two years after suffering relegation, Wolves’ romance with the FA Cup continued when they reached their fourth final in twenty years. It was again contested against a team from the North, but this time they had the daunting task of overcoming the first division outfit Newcastle United. Against all odds, Wolves convincingly beat Newcastle 3-1 at Crystal Palace.
Wolves in the Wars
In the early days, success was always quickly followed by devastation and, when our country was approaching the First World War, Wolves approached a battle of their own. They remained among the promotion chasers to the first division either side of the War but were left in no man’s land. Fortunately, the FA Cup continued to offer a bright spot, and Wolves found themselves in another final in 1921 at Stamford Bridge against the London side Tottenham Hotspur. As you would have guessed, because Wolves won their last FA Cup final, they lost this one. Tottenham won by a single goal, but there was more misery to follow for Wolves.
In 1923, Wolves were remarkably relegated to division three (North). This was a huge shock to the system but they were able to return to division two just twelve months after becoming champions of division three. Incredibly though, it would be a further 8 years before Wolves finally returned to the top tier in 1932, winning the championship under the guidance of Major Frank Buckley. Buckley managed to finish runners up in the first division and he led Wolves to the 1939 FA Cup final against underdogs Portsmouth, but Wolves were beaten 4-1.
Wolves were famous for their mixed fortunes in domestic football. A former player was called into steady the ship and became the club’s most successful manager, a title he still holds today.
Stan Cullis – The Golden Years
Stan Cullis hung up his boots just after the war and was appointed Wolves manager in 1948. A great defender who captained the club at the tender age of 19 and joined up with England just three years later, he was already considered a natural leader. Little did the fans know that he would be an even better manager!
Immediate success followed his appointment, as Cullis began his reign by winning the FA Cup, beating Leicester City 3-1 in their first final at Wembley. The 50s proved to be a glorious one for the Wanderers, as Cullis managed to win the first division title in 1952/53, 1957/58 and 1958/59. To cap it all off, Wanderers won their second FA Cup under Cullis when they returned to Wembley in 1960 and triumphed over Blackburn Rovers. Unfortunately though, the 1959/60 season was somewhat disappointing in spite of the FA Cup, losing out on the league by a solitary point.
The Best Team in the World
In the Cullis era, Wolves were regarded as the best team in the world and were famous for their “kick and rush” style of football. Their innovation on the pitch was matched elsewhere, as Molineux was one of the first grounds to provide their team with flood lights. The club was also blossoming financially, thanks to high-profile friendlies with top sides like Real Madrid, who all came and suffered defeat at the hands of Cullis’ men. Despite such remarkable results, there was another victory that elevated Wolves above the rest.
Honved, a team from Budapest, had many players from the Hungarian national team at their disposal. In 1953 and 1954, Hungary beat England 6-3 and 7-1 respectively so the side was viewed as arguably the finest in the world and Wolves had been written off. However, Wolves staged one of the greatest fightbacks of all time by winning 3-2. Such was the quality of the football that many people believe that it contributed to the creation of the European Cup.
Post Stan Cullis
In 1964, Wolves decided to sack Cullis, ending a remarkable time at the club. The decision immediately came back to bite the club, as they were relegated to the second division for the second time in their history. Ronnie Allen got them back into the first division but was himself replaced in 1968 by Bill McGarry.
After Cullis’ domination of European teams, Wolves finally had the chance to collect European silverware. In 1972, Bill McGarry led Wolves to the final of the UEFA Cup against Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately, in this all-English final, Tottenham ran out winners but McGarry got his hands on some silverware two years later in 1974 when he lifted the League Cup, beating Manchester City in the final.
The up and down fortunes of the club nevertheless continued, as Wolves spent a year in the second division in 1976/77 but immediately bounced back the following season as first division champions.
The Demise of the Wanderers
The 80s started with a bang for the Wanderers, as they managed to once again win the League Cup final at Wembley at Nottingham Forest’s expense. However, in true Wolverhampton Wanderers fashion, the club were then relegated in 1982 only to fly straight back up the following season. What followed thereafter shocked the English game and almost spelled the end for this famous football club.
Wolves’ efforts in gaining promotion the year before became a distant memory, as the club suffered successive relegations from division one all the way down to division four. The club were left in turmoil and seemed close to extinction.
In 1986, Wolves were thrown a lifeline when the council, Asda supermarkets and Gallagher Estates made a deal to keep the club alive. The club were duly revivified by the injection of much-needed investment, managing to reach the second tier of the league by the 90s. Two successive promotions from 1988 and another victory at Wembley in the Sherpa Van Trophy saw the club escape turmoil.
Sir Jack Hayward
In 1990, Gallagher Estates sold the club to Sir Jack Hayward. Sir Jack bought the club and injected money into the first-team in the hope of completing the march back to top flight football. Not only were there problems on the pitch but Molineux was decaying and Sir Jack quickly acted. He forked out an estimated £20 million to revamp the stadium and made it one of the best stadiums in the country.
Wolves remained in the second tier of English football for 13 years under Sir Jack and came close several times to being promoted to the Premiership. Sir Jack’s dream for the club was finally made a reality in 2003, receiving a well-earned reward for his huge investment in time and money.
Wolves had failed three times in their bid to be promoted from the first division to the Premiership via the play offs. All three times they were dumped out in the semi-finals, firstly missing out to Bolton Wanderers in 1994/95. Later heartache came at the hands of Crystal Palace in 1996/97 and then their misery was completed in 2001/02, when Norwich City took the glory. Sir Jack’s team had no luck in the play-offs but were determined to put past misery behind them the next time they reached the play offs.
In 2003, Wolves finally got their reward by beating Sheffield United 3-0 in the play off final at the Millennium Stadium. Dave Jones’ men scored all three goals in the first half through Mark Kennedy, Nathan Blake and Kenny Miller. These three goals ended their 19 year exile from top flight football and Wolves were finally back amongst England’s elite.
The Premiership and beyond
As with most teams entering the Premiership, Wolves struggled and had to fight to remain in the league. Unfortunately they finished bottom with 33 points and were therefore relegated back down the first division. Dave Jones was sacked and Glenn Hoddle was brought in with the hope of Wanderers immediately returning to the Premiership. It wasn’t meant to be though and Hoddle was replaced in 2006 by Mick McCarthy who is the current manager of the club.
Today they still remain in the Coca-Cola Championship (formally known as the first division) and have the same goal of being where this famous club belongs, amongst England’s elite.
The stadium is located within a mile of the Wolverhampton city centre but is very visible because parts of the stadium are painted in gold. Today, the all-seater stadium has a capacity of approximately 28,500 and each stand is named after a Wolves legend. The stands which make up Molineux are the Steve Bull stand (formally the John Ireland stand), the Jack Harris stand, the Stan Cullis stand and the Billy Wright stand. Like the outside of the stadium, the inside is also famous for its gold seats.
Traditionally Wolverhampton Wanderers wear gold jerseys with black shorts and black socks. The away kits have alternated over the years but, more often than not, Wolves have opted to wear white on their travels.
The club’s badge is very simple and recognisable, being simply a hexagon filled in with gold and outlined in black. Inside of this is a silhouette of an animated wolf with white right-angled triangles as eyes.
- Most Points in a Season: 92, Division Three, 1988/1989
- Biggest Win: Wolves 14-0 Croswell’s Brewery, FA Cup 2nd Round, 13th November 1886
- Highest Loss: Newton Heath 10-1 Wolves, Division One, 15th October 1892
- Highest Attendance: 61,315 vs. Liverpool, FA Cup 4th Round, 11th February 1939
- Highest Attendance at rebuilt Molineux: 29,396 vs. Manchester United, Premier League, 17th January 2004
- Highest paid Transfer: Ade Akinbiyi, £3.5 million to Bristol City, September 1999
- Highest Transfer received: Robbie Keane: £6 million from Coventry City, August 1999
- Most Appearances: 609 – Derek Parkin, 1968/1982
- Most Consecutive Appearances: 171 – Phil Parkes, September 1970 to September 1973
- Most goals scored for club: 306 – Steve Bull
- First Division Champions: 1953/54, 1957/58, 1958/59
- Runners-Up: 1937/38, 1938/39, 1949/50, 1954/55, 1959/60
- Play Off Winners: 2002/03
- Second Division Champions: 1931/32, 1976/77
- Runners-Up: 1966/67, 1982/83
- Division Three Champions: 1923/24 (North), 1988/89
- Division Four Champions: 1987/88
- FA Cup Winners: 1893, 1908, 1949, 1960
- Runners-Up: 1889, 1896, 1921, 1939
- UEFA Cup Runners Up: 1971/72
- Football League Cup Winners: 1974, 1980
- Sherpa Van Trophy Winners: 1988
- Texaco Cup Winners: 1971
- European Cup: 1958/59, 1959/60
- European Cup Winners Cup: 1960/61
- UEFA Cup: 1971/72, 1973/74, 1974/75, 1980/81