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Graham Taylor dies: How his only full Wolves season unfolded

Sport | Published:

As Graham Taylor dies at the age of 72, we're republishing a feature from 2012 when Wolves correspondent Tim Spiers looked back at Taylor's only full season at Wolves in 1994/95.

It's always dangerous in football to daydream about what might have been, particularly when it comes to Wolves.

But it's often tempting to do just that about one season in particular, a season which encapsulated everything that membership of the gold and black family is all about.

Hope – so much hope – a thrilling ride, wonderful memories, bad decisions, a nagging feeling of regret and someone else to blame for it all going wrong – 1994-95 had it all.

Such is my celebrity rock 'n' roll social life I recently stumbled upon the 1994-95 highlights video when reacquainting myself with some old season reviews.

As the blurb on the back on this 73-minute gem quite rightly states – 'a town experienced every emotion the game had to offer'.

The background is thus: Backed by Sir Jack Hayward's golden tit, recently sacked England manager Graham Taylor – about as high profile an appointment as could have been made in any division – ushered in a big-spending dawn that was supposed to take us into the Premier League and beyond.

Tony Daley, Steve Froggatt, Neil Emblen, Don Goodman and John De Wolf arrived for the best part of £4.5million – massive money for a second-tier club in those days.

The ground's refurbishment had been completed and, with most clubs still yet to redevelop after the Taylor Report, Molineux was one of the best-looking stadiums in the country.

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Everything was in place.

What followed was 10 months of thrills and spills for which the term "rollercoaster season" could have been invented.

Wolves scored more goals (77) than anyone else, including 10 more than champions Middlesbrough, but no one in the top half conceded more than our 61. Rock-bottom Notts County let in 66.

When all were fully fit – which was never – we had quite a team back then.

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Imagine if you will…. Mike Stowell; Andy Thompson, John De Wolf, Dean Richards, Mark Venus; Tony Daley, Gordon Cowans, Geoff Thomas, Steve Froggatt; David Kelly, Steve Bull.

Not bad eh? Throw in utility man Neil Emblen, more flair in Robbie Dennison, the experienced Peter Shirtliff, goals in Don Goodman and a touch of class in Mark Walters and you've got a squad far too good (and ridiculously big – 13 midfielders were used in total) for the second tier. In theory.

There were a few cult heroes knocking about too, including Mark "Shabba" Rankine (who ran like he constantly needed the toilet), penalty-saving stand-in keeper Paul Jones and even Brian "this bus looks like fun" Law.

Expectations were huge and the team, propelled by flying winger Froggatt and goals galore from Kelly and Bully, initially delivered, winning seven of the first 10, before Taylor's squad became cripplingly beset by injury.

Daley missed all-but one game of the season with a horrific knee injury, while Geoff Thomas and Neil Masters endured typically long spells on the sidelines. Crucially, Froggatt wasn't seen after Christmas and De Wolf was laid low in March.

But with a leaky defence, a prolific attack and a gung-ho approach from Taylor, entertainment was never in short supply and some of the scorelines read like rugby matches.

Southend and Bristol City were smashed 5-0 and 5-1, while we were hammered 1-4 at the mighty Oldham and 1-5 at future nemesis Bolton (more of them later).

Comebacks, particularly of the last-minute variety, were our forte and the heart attack-inducing football came to a head in April when we played out three 3-3 draws in the space of just six matches. Three in six!

The ever-changing side accrued nine wins in 14 at the start of 1995, with impetus gained from a thrilling run to the FA Cup quarter finals (knocking out two Premier League sides in Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester and taking a third, Crystal Palace, to a memorable world-class-goal laden replay).

Molineux was packed out most weeks and there was a purity about the atmosphere – not one doused in fear and negativity as in future seasons. It really seemed like we were going places.

However, an immensely frustrating run of seven draws from the last nine, with those defensive frailties coming to the fore, meant we finished agonisingly short.

In the final reckoning we were six behind 'Boro (the only team to go up automatically with the Premier League changing its numbers) and had to settle for the play-offs, where Bolton stood in our way.

After such an exciting season and with the team capable of just about anything on its day, hopes were still high, but we all know what happened next.

You can see the goals here (check out the Wolves fans in the home end after Bolton's first in the second leg) but they don't tell the whole story.

Bolton escaped with a 2-1 defeat at Molineux, with 45-year-old Peter Shilton (playing one of just two games for the Trotters) pulling off a succession of top-drawer saves.

And then of course at Burnden Park, with the tie locked at 2-2 in extra time, John McGinlay's left hook on David Kelly resulted in a mere yellow card (just listen to the commentary – he has to go ref, HAS TO GO!!!) and the same man scored a gut wrenchingly late winner a few minutes later.

I watched the game on the big video screen at Molineux with thousands of others and I remember a few tears being shed that night.

The image of Bully disconsolate at full time is one of the most tragic in our history – the last shot he had of being in the Premier League with Wolves while he still had a lot to offer was gone.

It just wasn't to be for that team, nor for Taylor who was hounded out by Christmas, but I often wonder what would have happened if we'd made it.

The Premier League was a different animal back then and we could – could – have established ourselves as a genuine force once again.

Instead it was all McGinlay's fault and we'll be bitter for eternity.

Let's not dwell on that though. Instead let's put on some gold-tinted spectacles and remember five classic matches from what was without doubt the most entertaining season of my Wolves lifetime.

Derby 3-3 Wolves

The season in a microcosm. A high-scoring goal with hapless defensive errors erased by a great last-minute comeback. Note some Taylor tinkering (with five at the back), Paul Simpson scoring against his future club and the Wolves fans chanting "Deano" at their new hero, who had only joined two weeks previously.

Port Vale 2-4 Wolves

It's a testament to this extraordinary season that a 2-0 win over the enemy, a comeback from 2-0 down at Mansfield in the FA Cup (on what the commentator somewhat undersells as a difficult pitch, before Goodman is left hanging by Dennison after his screamer) and a thrilling 2-3 reverse against Nottm Forest in the League Cup (Forest would finish third in the Premier League) didn't make it into this list. But put simply, a match in which "De Wolf Man" scored a hat-trick simply cannot be left out.

Wolves 5-0 Southend

Forget the first three dog-ugly goals and have a gander at an achingly gorgeous curler from Walters, topped only by a breathtaking counter-attack finished off by Bully for the fifth. From Stowell to the Southend net in 12 seconds. Football doesn't get more satisfying.

Wolves 2-2 Sheff United

Nathan Blake – with the best goal he ever scored at Molineux – had given Sheffield United a 2-0 lead which they held until the 90th minute. The game was over and the ground half empty, but the comeback kings weren't beaten. A De Wolf penalty and an Emblen header won the most improbable of points and nearly gave the commentator a hernia.

Wolves 1-1 Sheff Wed (4-3 on pens) FA Cup fourth round replay

Watching this still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up – you could write a blog on the penalty shoot-out alone. We'll never be involved in one as dramatic, or with so many sub-plots. In front of the Sky cameras (still a novelty back then) Paul Jones was the hero, saving once again from Chris Bart-Williams (as he had done in the first game) and then from Chris Waddle who was taking his first pen since Italia '90. Jones later said he knew Waddle would go the opposite way to that famous miss. Highlights include Robbie Dennison missing his rebound as well as his pen, De Wolf's cheeky grin (after winning the battle of the mullets with Andy Pearce) and Kevin Pressman scoring the greatest penalty of all time.

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