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Golden moments from 50 years of supporting Wolves

Sport | Published:

Wolves correspondent Tim Spiers takes a train ride with a diehard group of fans celebrating a special anniversary.

One of their members has missed only one home game in 40 years, they used to run out of the players' tunnel at Molineux to supporters chanting their name, and they've travelled to matches with players, Sir Jack Hayward and a famous pop star.

Welcome to London Wolves.

The club's longest-running supporters' club – and one of the oldest of its kind in the country – is about to turn 50.

They've experienced dizzying highs and endured devastating lows over the past five decades – and that's before you even get started on the football.

It all began, though, in a very different era.

Stuart Earl, who was there from day one and is the club's chairman, takes up the story as we travel from London to Wolverhampton ahead of the Wolves v Norwich game.

"Me and Dave (Slape, current secretary) met on the 9.15 out of Paddington," he said. "We saw each other every week and just thought there had to be a cheaper way of doing it, so we set about organising coach travel and it took off from there.

"It struck me at Wolves away games in London that there were a lot of Wolves fans around the ground.

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"We put a couple of adverts in Football Monthly, Soccer Star and wrote to all the London clubs asking if they'd put something in their programme, which Fulham and Arsenal did. We got a few phonecalls and that was that."

Dave added: "I was on the first trip. Two weeks earlier we met Jack Howley, the Wolves secretary, with about 12 people saying we wanted to form a club. The first trip was Plymouth (October 22, 1966, a 2-1 home win)."

Football worked very differently back then. London Wolves would be let in to Molineux matches for free, with chairman John Ireland believing fans who travelled so far to get to games shouldn't have to pay.

They would board a coach from Victoria station (they switched to train travel after a couple of years) and have a corner of the North Bank allocated to them.

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Stuart added: "We used to come out of the players' tunnel and the North Bank would chant 'London Wolves' and point at us!

"The commissionaire used to salute us. We'd go outside at quarter to three and all go into the stand together.

"It was quite embarrassing."

The club's numbers soon grew. At their peak, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they had almost 400 members, with the 1981 FA Cup semi final against Spurs at Hillsborough attracted a record booking of 108 fans.

London Wolves present their annual player of the year award to Steve Bull in 1996

Travel secretary Peter Woodifield has been with the club since its formation and still kept attending in the dark days of the 1980s. Yes, he even went to all three Chorley FA Cup games.

"In the Bhatti era you had to be a bit more dedicated!" he said. "The Third Division, when we were still on our way down, it was a real effort to go to those games."

Mark Feehan had joined in 1976, aged 12, after spotting an advert in a Millwall programme.

"You hear people complain today about bad games, but you really had to be a diehard in the 1980s," he said. "You didn't even know if they would put a team out some days.

"We even had the conversations about what we'd do if the worst happened and Wolves no longer existed."

But London Wolves, like the club, survived – and thrived.

Sir Jack Hayward used to travel with them for midweek games (even taking part in Dave's 'guess the score' competition), as did a host of former players.

Dexys Midnight Runners singer Kevin Rowland is a former member, as is BBC presenter Jacqui Oatley.

John Richards is the club's honorary president and the likes of Carl Ikeme, David Edwards and Karl Henry have travelled back to London with them after matches in recent years.

"We have interaction with the players, especially some of the older ones," Mark added.

"You bump into someone like Mel Eves, or John De Wolf, and they'll always chat to us. And some of the current players too – Richard Stearman was still in touch with us the entire time he was at Fulham."

That's not to say that travelling from London to every game hasn't been without its pitfalls.

There have been several mishaps, delays and breakdowns over the years, even as recently as last season when horrendous motorway traffic on the way to Middlesbrough forced the group, who travelled to that particular game by coach, to abandon in Sheffield and watch the match in a pub.

Peter, who sorts out the club's bookings and match tickets, added: "Travelling to Blackpool in 1985 we got as far as Reading. Some of us went to a game in Aldershot or somewhere.

"There was one at Huddersfield in the 1960s when the coach broke down just on the outskirts of Huddersfield and we ended up pushing it up a hill! I'll never forget that. We missed the first 25 minutes of that one.

"After the game we were playing football in the Huddersfield car park and one of their directors invited us into the boardroom. He paid for everyone who couldn't afford it to get the train back home.

"We also played Darlington in the FA Cup (in 1998) and we got all the way up there and the game had been postponed, purely on a bad weather forecast that never materialised. We got a 4-0 win in the rearranged game though."

Andy Thompson and Steve Bull presented Peter Abbott with a framed picture after he missed his first home game for 37 years in 2013

These days the group have around two dozen or so travelling to most games, with some of the older fans converting their sons and daughters to create the next generation of London Wolves.

Chairman Stuart said that without his dear old friends Dave and Peter Woodifield the club would struggle to keep going.

"It's down to Dave and Peter, the work they do," he said. "They're conscientious and honest as the day is long.

"I don't know what we'd do without them. Nothing is too much trouble. They spend the whole day up and down the train doing raffles, or competitions, or collecting ticket money bookings. People give their time for absolutely nothing to make sure the club keeps going."

The 50th year was marked in style with a golden anniversary dinner at Charlton's ground, The Valley, in July, attended by a host of ex-players and then-boss Kenny Jackett.

A special reception will be held in Molineux's WV1 bar on the day of the Leeds game on October 22, marking 50 years to the day since that first ever trip.

And whether it's an early 12.30pm kick off at home to Derby next month, or a Tuesday night trip to Cardiff in December - games that will involve unspeakably early starts or unfathomably late nights - this likeable, hardy bunch of fiercely loyal supporters will be there, cheering on their boys in gold and black, like they have done for the past five decades.

"I think the reason we all enjoy it so much is the social side of it and the camaraderie," Mark said.

"We have a lot of away fans travelling with us too. Brentford brought a bag of Chinese fortune cookies with them the other week to share out.

"Everyone knows everyone and we're all friends."

Stuart added: "My mother thought I'd grow out of it, but 50 years later I'm still here."

Let's hope that in another 50 years, London Wolves will still be here too. Football – and Wolves – would be a poorer place without them.

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