Express & Star

Meet the Dudley man behind THAT Glastonbury Wolves flag

He’s left the lead singer of Reef star-stuck, been heckled by Billy Bragg and spotted in a festival crowd by Robert Plant. But who exactly is Glastowolf?

The famous Wolves flag spotted at Glastonbury Festival 2017 during Jamie Cullum's set. Photo by: Rob Golledge

For 33 years Glastowolf has been waving the flag of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club high above the crowd at the legendary Glastonbury Festival.

Glastowolf is John Holding, aged 50, from Gornal in Dudley. The former Redwood Avenue resident attended Sycamore Green primary school in his youth, before studying at Mons Hill Secondary School that closed in 1990.

John moved to Bath with his wife and two sons aged 13 and 17, and works for the Ministry of Defence as a project manager.

Every summer however, he leaves his home life behind and makes the pilgrimage to Worthy Farm for five days with his closest friends at Glastonbury Festival. And with him goes his distinctive Wolves flag.

John Holding with the flag

He said: “The first Glastonbury I attended was in 1984, and I have gone to every one since.

“I go with my friends, it’s what makes it fun. But the last few years I have been taking my eldest son who now brings a load of his friends. The group we go with is just getting larger and larger.”

John missed out on a ticket one year, but he simply wrote to Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis with a picture of the flag, and his team let him have a pass instantly.

It was a spark of genius in 1993 that launched the phenomenon that is the Wolves flag at Glastonbury, involving some unlikely household items.

“It all began back when we first started to go to Glastonbury. There was a big group of us from around Dudley, Sedgley and Wolverhampton who were predominantly Wolves fans.

“One thing about Glastonbury is that the crowds are massive, and then maybe you’ve had a beer and nip to the loo or you go to see a band at another stage, then you all get separated. Back then we didn’t have mobile phones, so it was a problem trying to find everyone again.

“One year after we had pitched the tents we had a tent pole left over for some reason. So I tied my Wolves towel I had brought with me to it, and we’d wave it around in the crowd so that our group could find each other again.

See John in action at Glastonbury

“After a few years people got sick of holding the pole so we got an even longer stick and a better flag, so it just evolved from there.

“Honestly it’s not an attention seeking thing like many may think so that you’ll get on TV – it really is a practical thing.”

From a simple idea to keep friends together, John has become somewhat of an icon at Glastonbury, with people flocking to wherever his flag flies every year to have a talk and find out more about the man behind the flag pole.

The flag slowly improved from 1993 until 1997, which is the flag that Glastonbury fans see flapping in the wind now.

The flag has become so iconic, that one year a painter approached Holding to inform him that the flag had been included in a painting of the Pyramid Stage crowd commissioned by Michael Eavis, that now hangs on his living room wall.

“I get recognised all the time,” he laughs “This weekend it has happened quite a lot, because I have been going for so many years now people have an interest.

“In the early days people used to meet up and drink with us under the flag, even when the crowds were smaller, just because it was an easy landmark and they didn’t have their own flags. We’ve become friends over the years.

“Now that it’s been spotted on TV it has just snowballed and I get so many people coming up to me to post for photos, it makes me feel like a celebrity. It has snowballed for no reason other than a man holding a flag.”

It isn’t just the crowd that wants to seek out the famous Wolves flag at Glastonbury. Various stars that have hit the stages across the years have tried to seek the man with the Wolves flag.

“I had a good chat with Reef the one year, that was really surreal. Their vocalist Gary Stringer is a Wolves supporter and he spotted me walking by the Cider Bus Bar with the flag all rolled up.

“Just from a tiny bit of gold visible he recognised who I was, came over, got me a beer and we had a chat because it turns out. He’d always wanted to meet the guy who holds the Wolves flag.

“I’ve received a lot of stage banter from bands over the years. In the early days Billy Bragg used to always see me when our group always came to the front of the stage and he’d shout ‘oh, I see the Cub Scouts have arrived again!’.

“I got close to meeting Robert Plant once as well. In 2000 we saw him playing with his band Priory of Brion, and during the set he was wearing his Wolves scarf. He spotted us when we arrive with our flag and gave us a little wave and a thumbs up.”

John says he gets plenty of football banter from rival fans at the festival, adding: “You would think it would attract trouble but it really doesn’t, people just come over for a chat. Sometimes there is light teasing but it is all good fun.

“One of our group who has been coming to Glastonbury with us for the last twenty years, my friend Paul from Wombourne, is a West Bromwich Albion supporter – and even he takes his turn holding the flag!

“One year he was left on his own with the flag as all of our group had disappeared for one reason or another, and a big group of Albion fans came over to take the mickey. It was really funny - he was left there trying to make them leave him alone, and explain that he was a Baggies fan, while holding a massive Wolves flag.”

John is a lifelong Wolves fan. Introduced to the club by his father, he has in-turn brought the club into his sons' lives, taking them to matches whenever they are available.

“I attended my first Wolves match in 1976. Wolves played against Norwich and we won one - nil!

“I’ve been a Wolves fan my entire life and a season ticket holder most of my life. I still make sure I go to as many matches as I can, and with my sons. They’re teenagers now so they do their own thing, but they love watching the Wolves play.

“Now we live in Bath, my eldest tends to see Bath City play but he still loves that atmosphere at the Molineux.

“When we go, my boys especially love sitting in the South Bank to cheer Wolves on!”

John Holding with his Wolves flag when he met Michael Eavis, Glastonbury Festival foudner

He has certainly found a unique way to combine his twin passions of football and music – and this year was no different, with him attending Glastonbury Festival to enjoy the likes of Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Ed Sheeran, Biffy Clyro and Katy Perry.

He said: “The best act I saw this year was definitely Foo Fighters. They were spectacular - they did a two hour set and Dave Grohl had real banter with the crowd.”

Over the years, John has seen some of the biggest names in the music industry - so many that he is beginning to lose track, but one act stands out more than the rest.

He said: “The best act I have ever seen at Glastonbury was David Bowie in 2000. He played the Pyramid Stage in front of 100,000 people and it was so special.

“I’ve seen the likes of Dolly Parton, James Brown, Joe Strummer from The Clash, Oasis, Pulp, Blur and so many more.

“I saw The Smiths in 1984 which was very special to me, at the time they were one of my favourite bands.

“If I was to pick my dream Glastonbury line up - even though I’ve probably seen most of them there already - I would definitely say The Clash, Oasis, and The Stone Roses. I was meant to see The Stone Roses there before but they missed their set! I saw them in London last week so I hope they’re still on the list to play Glastonbury.

“As well as them, I have a real soft spot for Queen so I’d love to see them play too.”

The Wolves flag visible at Glastonbury Festival 2016 during Coldplay's set

John has attended Glastonbury since 1984 and has made a real mark on the festival’s culture. He says he intends to keep going year after year.

“Me and my friends go for five days and it’s basically a week off work, chilling with your mates, drinking beer, watching great bands and eating fantastic food.

“Once you have gone to Glastonbury once you will always go, and I’m sure we always will.”