Sherpa Van success was a golden day for Wolves
The Sherpa Van Trophy, to the majority of football fans, is not looked back upon as all too special a competition.
Now known as the Leasing.com Trophy, having also been called the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and the Checkatrade Trophy over the years, plenty would not bat an eyelid over it.
But for Wolves, the significance of lifting it at Wembley in 1988 was enormous.
Today marks 32 years since they beat Burnley 2-0 in front of a whopping 80,000 fans at the national stadium.
Remembered so fondly by so many, not only did Wolves walk up those famous Wembley steps to lift the trophy above their heads – they also emerged from the shadows.
Having won the Fourth Division title, too, clinching the Sherpa Van saw Wolves put the dark days of near-death under the Bhatti Brothers firmly behind them. Out of darkness came light.
Things were on the up again, so being captain for it all was so special for Ally Robertson.
“It was incredible. That’s what every player in their career wants to do, win a trophy at Wembley,” said the former defender.
“People talked about the Sherpa Van and it not meaning much as a competition, but to see 80,000 there – and 50,000 Wolves fans there – it really meant so much and was absolutely fantastic.
“You could just see the whole club turning around. My first game, I think there was only 2,000. But then at Wembley, you could see the whole club turning it around.
“The Sherpa Van day, it was just gold and black everywhere at Wembley. As we arrived, everywhere you looked, it was gold and black.
“I don’t think we realised just how big it was going to be but to walk out at Wembley and see two big sides, historically, in Wolves and Burnley playing in front of 80,000 fans, it was incredible.”
Having endured the toughest years of the club’s history, supporters were keen to lap the occasion up.
“It was the turnaround of the club. I remember being in the tunnel and thinking ‘this is for those people out there’,” said Robertson.
“Four of my brothers came down from Scotland to watch it, and they couldn’t believe there was 80,000 at Wembley for two Fourth Division clubs.
“I think they were just expecting about 20,000 or so, to be fair.”
Do not just take Robertson’s word for it either. The club’s all-time top scorer, Steve Bull remembers it all just the same, and just as fondly.
“I think the Sherpa Van sticks in everyone’s mind as that kick-started the climb back up again. That was an unbelievable day,” said Bully.
“Wembley was tradition and when you saw those twin towers, it was fantastic. It was a privilege to play there.
“That’s right up there in terms of my Wolves memories. One of my top ones. The Sherpa Van is what started it all off.”
Most will not need reminding how the game went, but of course we are going to go over it anyway.
Wolves were the favourites having won the fourth tier title, while Burnley finished 10th that season, and Graham Turner’s charges lived up to the expectation.
They took the lead just 23 minutes in when Bull hooked the ball across the face of goal for strike partner Andy Mutch to nod in from close range.
An injury to Robertson threatened to turn the tide, but Robbie Dennison soon allayed any fears as he floated in a fantastic free-kick to make it 2-0 and seal the final success in style.
“I got injured just before half-time. I was desperate to play on, but I couldn’t,” recalls Robertson.
“I said to Graham ‘just let me give it a go’, but I shouldn’t have come out for the second half.
“Then on the bench, I remember saying ‘this next goal is the most important goal ever’, and then Robbie came up with that amazing free-kick – fantastic.
“The minute it went 2-0, we all just knew that we had won it.”
Being victorious at Wembley and letting every second sink in, before a packed-out parade back in Wolverhampton, it is Robertson’s most special Wolves memory.
Having crossed the Black Country divide, arriving at Molineux from fierce rivals Albion, the Scot saw Wolves on its knees – and then standing proudly again.
They missed out on promotion to the Third Division in his first season – losing in the play-offs – but he feels that is how it was supposed to play out, so they could have the glory of clinching the title and winning the cup at Wembley the next year.
“Wembley, by far. It was great to see the club change completely – it had changed completely,” added Robertson.
“I always say I love both Albion and Wolves. I went to Wolves because they were Wolves. They were one of the top clubs in the country, although they’d gone down the divisions.
“I couldn’t believe how far down the club had gone, so it was so fantastic to help bring it back up. That will live with me until the day I die.
“As one of the older players in that side, seeing some of the younger lads like Bully, Robbie and Thommo (Andy Thompson) enjoy that and go on to take it forward for years with Wolves was absolutely fantastic for me.
“And the fans still talk about the Sherpa Van now. It was a very special day.”