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125 Years of Molineux: From 1889 to 1954

Wolverhampton | Sport | Published:

Molineux – an exotic name to stir the blood and sharpen the senses of many football fans.

Like the famous team proudly wearing gold and black, it's seen good times and bad in the last 125 years, writes Adam Thompson.

Much like the fortunes of the club, the ground has soared and crumbled, been left to decay only to rise again.

But when Wolves were formed as St Luke's in Blakenhall in 1877, no-one would have foreseen how the then Molineux Pleasure Grounds were to play such a tightly woven part of the club's story.

Moving from Dudley Road, where their old home still lives on in the street name Wanderers Avenue, they opted for Molineux, named after the family of successful local merchant Benjamin Molineux.

The Dudley Road ground was known for its poor facilities, muddy, sloping pitch and a single small stand that protected supporters from the elements.

"Average gates were less than 1,500 and with a lack of cover for fans, only a few hundred would turn out in wet weather.

In contrast the pleasure grounds was much more suited and had experience hosting sporting events with cycling and running races among those sports watched by the masses before a ball was ever kicked in anger at Molineux.

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But, in 1889, Wolves – founded by Jack Baynton and Jack Brodie 12 years previously – were to move to the place they would call home.

The first competitive game there was on September 7 against fellow Football League founder members Notts County, when around 4,000 saw Wolves win 2-0.

Two years later it was the focus of the nation as it staged its first full international with England thrashing Ireland 6-1 in a side including Wolves' Billy Rose and Jack Brodie.

Wolves' popularity grew with FA Cup wins in 1893, when they beat Everton 1-0, then in 1908, when as definite underdogs they overcame Newcastle 3-1.

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But, as gates rose, trouble brewed. While hooliganism wasn't a serious issue for the game until the 1970s, Molineux was shut down in 1919 due to crowd trouble.

Tony Matthews's book The Wolves Story revealed the details of the trouble: "Wolves were entertaining Bury.

"Five minutes before full-time with Bury leading 1-0, the referee award a penalty to the visitors. Not content merely voicing their disapproval hordes of spectators invaded the field and made for the referee.

The referee was surrounded, but he somehow evaded the mob and dashed off at top speed in the direction of the dressing-rooms, only to slip over near the halfway line."

Players tried to protect the referee and the police were called. He was eventually smuggled away. The ugly scenes meant Wolves had to play two 'home' fixtures at The Hawthorns, home of arch rivals West Bromwich Albion.

But nevertheless Molineux's attraction drew in the masses from beyond the town. One of those who fell in love with the atmosphere was classical musical composer Edward Elgar.

Sir Edward proved his dedication by regularly making an 80-mile round trip by bicycle from his Malvern home to watch his beloved Wolves.

The Molineux crowd has always been known for enjoying a song and Sir Elgar contributed his own by composing an anthem called He Banged the Leather for Goal.

Wolves historian Graham Hughes said: "He used to watch the crowd going down to the match. Then one Saturday he said he'd like to go down to the match, so he went and that's how it started."

The song, which became known as the first football chant, is said to be a celebration of former Wolves striker Billy Malpass, who was praised in newspaper headlines after a match against Stoke City.

Molineux remained relatively unchanged in its early years and it wasn't until 1925 that its appearance seriously changed with the construction of the Waterloo Road Stand.

In the same year the stand's old roof was moved to the Molineux Street side only to be destroyed when gale force winds sent it crashing into the street.

Five years later, the old Cowshed was pulled down and up went the North Bank, which was bigger in size and re-aligned to run parallel with the pitch.

Fans still affectionately called it the Cowshed but the top half of the terrace was wooden and the rest concrete.

In 1932, arguably Wolves' most iconic and striking stand was built – the Molineux Street Stand which was to distinguish the ground for the next 47 years.

Its highly distinctive, multi-span roof featuring seven gold-painted gables was deeper at the much larger South Bank end than the North Bank end, to join up with the two terraces.

The central gable housed a large clock which added even more character, and the timepiece has been preserved on the new South Bank.

Then came work on the Hotel End' the huge South Bank, which was extended into a vast terrace with a large roof to hold 30,000 people, making it one of the largest 'kops' in the country.

With bigger, much improved facilities, Molineux was ready to host a team befitting the best. And under Major Frank Buckley, the club was to enjoy its most successful period to date. League runners-up in 1938 and 1939,

Wolves broke their attendance record in the latter year on their way to the FA Cup Final. A huge crowd of 61,315 watched a fifth-round tie as the hosts thrashed Liverpool 4-1.

Buckley felt the support might be outgrowing Molineux and proposed a re-location to a new site on the outskirts of Wolverhampton that could hold 80,000 people.

But the Second World War broke out, and as football took a back seat, Molineux played its part as the South Bank became an ammunitions dump. By 1945 and the end of the war, the relocation plans were shelved.

Molineux was seen as a focal point of the town and after its facilities were used during the war it was to be centre stage for other events – including a speech from Winston Churchill in 1949.

It was soaring was to new heights, as was the team, and one of the biggest changes to not only the club but English football was to take place at Molineux in 1953.

The club, now managed by the great Stan Cullis and captained by the legendary Billy Wright, who died 20 years ago this week, was one of the first to install floodlights.

Costing £10,000 the innovative move enabled Wolves to play evening fixtures, with the first on September 30 when they beat South Africa 3-1.

It was the first of a series of prestigious floodlit friendlies that captured the imagination of the nation and were shown on television.

Back then, only the FA Cup final and international games were televised, and suddenly Molineux, Wolverhampton, was being beamed into homes all over Britain.

One of those watching was a young George Best. Describing watching those games on his neighbour's television, the boyhood Wolves fan said: "The football was fantastic and there were 55,000 fans locked in Molineux for every one of them.

"But it was the floodlights which made them magical for me, made football into a theatre."

Wolves played crack sides from around the globe, including a Honved side in 1954 boasting the legendary Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskás.

In what is recognised as the most famous game in the club's history, the newly crowned League champions came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 with goals from Johnny Hancocks and Roy Swinbourne.

After the game, one national headline declared Wolves 'champions of the world.''

The televised floodlit games became famous, and the likes of Wright, Ron Flowers and Peter Broadbent became household names. Their superstardom was born under the lights of the famous Molineux.

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