Express & Star

How Wolves plunged to the lower leagues and nearly ceased to exist - Part 27: Wolves start life in Division Four badly

In more detail than ever before, the Express & Star tells the full Bhatti brothers story – a troubled era that saw Wolves plunge to depths of the lower leagues and face financial oblivion. In Part 27, life in Division Four starts with a familiar feeling of defeat.

Protesters demand the hated Bhatti brothers quit Wolves

August 23, 1986 marked the dawn of a new era.

Yes, it would be Wolves fans' first taste of life in the Fourth Division, and their experiences with the Bhatti brothers had taught them not to get too excited about new owners. But their club had survived against all the odds, appeared to be on a secure footing, and had a vibrant young manager eager to make his mark. And, while playing in the lowest tier of the Football League might have seemed a comedown just six years after winning the League Cup, it also meant they would be the big fish in a small pond. If relegation to the Fourth Division meant they might actually win some matches, rather than being the perennial whipping boys, it couldn't be all bad news, could it?

A crowd of 6,000 turned out for the opening game of the season at home to Cambridge City. Wolves quickly learned that life in the Fourth Division wasn't going to be a walk in the park either.

Sparse crowd in 1986

"It took less than half an hour of life at the Football League basement to realise by no means all the Molineux troubles disappeared with the previous regime," wrote the Express & Star's David Instone.

Wolves started brightly enough, with Neil Edwards and Andy Mutch denied in the opening minutes, and with Wolves' Jon Purdie and Cambridge's Mark Cooper hitting the woodwork at each end.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there, wrote Instone. The rest of the first half was a tale of dreary deadlock and, when the tempo was stepped up after the interval, it was Wolves who were on the receiving end.

A hotly disputed corner allowed Cambridge centre-half Lindsay Smith to fire the visitors into a 56th-minute lead, but the goal was cancelled out eight minutes later when Peter Zelem fired home an equally controversial penalty.

Maybe a draw would have been tolerable. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. But, in Instone's words, "A sickening last-minute goal turned the Molineux survival celebrations into an extension of the seemingly endless wake."