Wolves have had an unforgettable season – but what has it been like for staff working behind-the-scenes?
From the ground-keepers to ticket office staff, there is a real buzz within the club.
They have described this season as ‘unreal’ and the most exciting one they have seen at Wolves.
The success on the pitch has seen ticket sales and membership numbers soar through the roof, while the club’s owners Fosun are investing in Wolves’ training facilities as they plan for the future.
Chronicling past for the future a ‘privilege’
One staff member who has seen all the highs and lows at Wolves is the club’s historian Graham Hughes, who is 84.
Graham has worked at the club since the 1980s and has helped out in a variety of roles.
He says he has enjoyed the ‘attacking football’ on offer this season.
Graham is a club stalwart and was the man tasked with placing the 2017/18 Championship trophy into the club’s trophy cabinet on Sunday, after the players and manager had been presented with it on the pitch on Saturday.
His first game that he watched was in 1942 and he recalls watching Wolves play through the 1950s.
Graham said: “I started working at Molineux in 1988.
“I have been through the divisions with Wolves from then all the way until now.
“I used to watch Wolves when they were in the fourth division. I have watched them all through the divisions to the play-off at Cardiff.”
Asked about this thoughts on the football played this season, he said: “Wolves have played some good attacking football this season and I am looking forward to Wolves playing in the Premier League next season.”
A video of Graham placing the trophy into the cabinet was shared on Wolves’ official Twitter account on Sunday, where he lifted the shiny trophy into the cabinet to stand alongside the other silverware from down the years.
Wolves tweeted: “After the dust settled following yesterday’s celebrations, Wolves club legend Graham Hughes made sure to find a spot for the @SkyBetChamp trophy.”
Graham has his office inside Molineux which is filled with memorabilia from down the years, including old match reports and newspaper cuttings.
Graham said he has worked in a variety of roles at Wolves through the years but now works at the club’s historian, a role he very much enjoys.
He said: “It was a privilege and honour to be able to put the famous football league trophy into the cabinet.
“For all the years that I have been involved with Wolves and seen them win trophies, it is an honour.”
As part of his role, Graham shared some facts on the history of England’s old first division.
He presented a fact sheet which read: “The Football League First Division trophy was first awarded in 1891 and was presented to the winners through to 1992.
“Following the creation of the FA Premier League it was a second-level division.
“In 2004 the league was re-branded as the Football League Championship.”
Wolves’ trophy cabinet located by the main reception is filled with trophies and memorabilia down through the years.
Wolves add their most recent piece of silverware to the collection after winning the Championship title last month with a 4-0 away win at Bolton.
It now stands alongside other trophies, which past stars of the club have won in previous seasons.
The history of Wolves is also showcased in the club’s museum, which is located just around the corner in the ground.
There are more trophies located in the club’s museum, including the very first one that Wolves won, which was the 1884 Wrekin Cup.
Ticket sales through the roof and close to record season
Wolves have had one of their best seasons for attendances at Molineux.
James Davies, head of ticketing at the club, said the average attendance has only been 50 or 60 people short of their record year, which was in 2009/10.
He said there is a real buzz amongst staff and excitement is building for next season in the Premier League.
James, 44, who has been at Wolves for 23 years, said: “This season has just been amazing. From more or less the word go.
“We had a home sell-out for the Middlesbrough game which was game number one.
“It just seemed unreal right the way through. There have been games where you think to yourself, you only see a game like that every five years or whatever, and then you get the same the next week. And the same the next week, and the same the next week. So, football wise, it has been great. I don’t think any of us has seen a team that has played this way before.
“Certainly not on a prolonged and consistent basis. And not only that, there has just been moments of unbelievable drama as well.
“For football and ticket sales to have run sort of parallel the way they have has just been mind-blowing really. I think we had 12 home areas sold out in 12 games out of the 23 this season. Which is better than any other Premier League seasons we have had.
“The average attendance is just under our best average attendance during the new Molineux, if you like, which was in the 2009/10 season.
“And I think we are going to fall about 50/60 seats short of that.”
James said the football on offer and the club’s engagement with fans has helped to drive up the attendances.
“I think to have done that in the Championship (the ticket sales) is another sign that it has just been amazing and there is this buzz,” he said.
“It is not just the football, but the other stuff we have done this season as well – to engage fans and make the fans feel as valuable as they are to us – has brought fans and staff and everybody together as well.”
What has it been like for the staff behind the scenes? “I think pretty earlier on, it was obvious what kind of character that Nuno was. And he has got this ability to come up with a phrase or line that fans get behind. And the same applies to the staff as well.
“Ninety per cent of staff are huge Wolves fans and they are lead by that.
“But the staff got on board with it, got behind it in the same way fans have.”
And does James expect more sell-out crowds at Molineux next year? “Yes absolutely,” he said. “I think we see this as a kind of a bit of a cliché, and a bit of a repetition of what the football side have said.
“But this is the end of step one and step two will be just as exciting and will bring in the crowds just the same way.”
The hidden depths behind pristine Molineux turf
Next season Wolves will be welcoming Premier League giants to Molineux and the man in charge of making sure the pitch is in tip-top condition will be head groundsman Wayne Lumbard.
Wayne has been at Wolves for 13 years and has been head of the grounds-keeping department for the past nine.
Wayne said the football played by Wolves this past season has been the best quality he has ever seen.
Molineux underwent a pitch refurbishment last year and it has proven successful, meaning the club want the same work done at the Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground for the first team.
Wayne is overseeing the redevelopment taking place under new investment by club bosses. Work is expected to be completed in the summer when the players return from their break.
Wayne spends 75 per cent of his time based at the training ground and heads up a team of six.
Each Wolves team, from its under-8s to senior team train there everyday, meaning a lot of effort is needed to keep the pitches in pristine condition.
But the work adds up to a joint effort which has helped the club taste success this season.
Asked for his thoughts on this past season, Wayne said: “From us as a grounds department, looking after the pitches, it has been great. The pitches that we have produced, the manager has been overall happy with.
“Molineux has turned out to be a great surface after the investment from Fosun in the close season this time last year, when the new Desso Grassmaster pitch was put in.
“This first year that has turned out really well, hence why we are having two pitches being constructed here which will be the same as at Molineux.” And what has he made of the football itself? “The football has been great, the best quality that I have ever seen.
“When you speak to any fans they all say it is the best style of football that they have ever seen.
“And we have got the best quality of players that we have ever had, hence why we won the Championship.
“I took over the department about nine years ago and obviously we have seen all the changes and quite a lot has happened since then.
“Obviously we achieved promotion before under Mick McCarthy. But this seems a completely different change and a different way forward.
“At the moment it is great. It is a good time to be here and this season has been the best since I have been here. Hopefully we will have a great season in the Premier League next year.” There is more work that goes into building the pitches than meets the eye.
While fans only see the pristine green of the surface, there are multiple layers of material hidden underneath. There is gravel, grass roots and the irrigation and heating systems which help keep the turf in top condition.
There is a lot more work than people realise. Wayne said those that turn up for an hour-and-a-half on matchday sometimes think it is just a case of keeping the grass cut, but he is keen to put people right.
He said: “It is a lot of work. There is a lot of pressure because you have got pride in what you do. Everybody sees it on TV. Everybody sees it in the crowd. Everyone judges you on how good the pitch is.
“If they are not talking about the first team then they are talking about the pitch that they play on.
“The hardest thing for us, of course, is the weather which you can’t predict sometimes.
“And we have to do our best to work around that and do our best going forward. It goes without saying it is a full-time job. Sometimes people turn up on a match day for an hour-and-a-half and think that’s your job.
“But all the work that goes on seven days a week ought to produce the best it can for that one-and-a-half hours.”
More fans flooding in for tours
Wolves’ successful season has seen more people flock to its museum to learn about the club’s history.
Patrick Quirke, the curator of Wolves’ museum, has had to hire more tour guides as a result of the increasing demand.
Patrick, aged 68, described Wolves’ football this season as sublime and said he has ‘never seen anything like it’.
He said: “The club’s success on the pitch has certainly generated more interest in terms of the Wolves tours.
“At one point, we did one tour a Sunday and no-one turned up. But last week we had 65 and on Sunday it was in the high 40s. People want to be involved and find out the heritage of the place.”
And it is not just local fans that are visiting the museum.
“I have noticed fans from other countries visiting here, big time,” said Patrick.
“Wolves had a good following in different parts of the world.
“In Scandinavia, Wolves are strong. We have had the Swedish Wolves here and they have a fan club of about 50.
“Malta have got a good following. And of course a lot of this stems from when Wolves were touring in the 1950s.
“If you look at the display before the match on Saturday, we saw the flags of supporters clubs from California, Berlin, and Swedish Wolves.
“It is not just in Wolverhampton and Britain, but way beyond.”
Wolves are also getting recognition in China, the home of Wolves’ owners, Patrick revealed.
Asked if he felt Wolves are increasing their profile internationally, he said: “Yes of course. The owners are pushing this as well. When we had the Chinese boys here, the under-10s, apparently their little game with the Wolves lads was streamed back to them in China.
“There were a million people watching. Our lads held them – I think it is lack of physical experience and maybe our boys are a bit physically bigger.
“But all the same it was a good experience because I talked to some of those lads through an interpretor. And it was their first time outside China, even for the interpretors.
“It is a global business now isn’t it.”
Patrick has been involved with the club for around 10 years.
He said: “I retired from teaching when my late wife became ill.
“I had written a couple of books on the club.
“One of the origins of Wolves and the other one of Major Frank Buckley, who was our first big manager pre-war.
“I got involved when they were putting the museum together, I became the education officer.
“It is only a part-time role. But when we went down to the first division, we had a lot of people go, including the archivist and myself.
“But then because I’m retired, I volunteered a day a week, just answering correspondents basically. And from that it evolved, I started looking after the museum because there was no-one else.
“I sort of stuck with that. Officially I’m still only employed half a day a week.
“But I do come in. I organise the tours and museum as well.”
Record sales for season
Wolves have sold a record number of memberships this season – and sales bosses have put this down to the football on the pitch.
The club have seen a strong year for sales of memberships, season tickets as well as mascot packages, the latter which sold out in December.
And Kerri Davies, who is the manager of Wolves’ membership department, is expecting another busy period going into the new season. Asked for her thought’s on this past year, Kerri, aged 48, said: “Amazing, absolutely amazing. It has been fantastic. I sold out mascot packages on December 11 for the rest of the season.
“I could have sold them over and over again. Demand was really high. I got 15 mascots on Saturday, plus the player’s children. It has been hectic but it has been amazing.”
She continued: “For the membership, we have exceeded all our targets and sold the most members we have ever done.So we hit 10,000 back in December and we have never hit 10,000 members before.
“Last year we finished on 8,228 I think it was. And this year we are on nearly 11,500 members.
"So, personally, that was such a great achievement because memberships have been running for seven years.
"Our 10,000th member was a four-year-old boy who we invited in and we gave him a prize.”
Membership is the next best thing to a season ticket, said Kerri, which gives fans ticket priority after general sales.
As part of her role, Kerri, who has worked at the club for 12 years, is in charge of four membership schemes which are Young Wolves, WolfPack, My Wolves, and Wolves Dribblers membership.
She also looks after the club’s mascots. “I have got a lovely role,” she said. “It is actually my dream job. I love it.” The club are planning to roll out a new reward scheme for fans for the upcoming 2018/19 season.
“Next year we are changing to Wolves cash,” said Kerri. So if fans spend in the shop they get 10 per cent back in the shop as well as 10 per cent back in the ticket office. It means for the first time ever they can spend what they use in the shop back in the ticket office and vice-versa.
“We have had two pots before. One for merchandise cash, one for ticket cash. But or the first time ever they will be able to cross-spend it.”
Already this week the club have seen high demand for membership.
“We had memberships on sale on Monday morning,” she said. “I only put it on the big screen and a programme add and was at nearly 300 memberships sold on Monday morning.
“The target for next season is 15,000 members. That is my goal.”