Johnny Phillips: Some 56 years on, London Wolves still a capital idea
A small corner of south-east London was taken over by Wolves fans last weekend to celebrate a fine achievement.
The 55th anniversary of London Wolves (one year late, owing to the pandemic) took place in an executive suite at The Valley and the guests included some fans’ favourites who graced Molineux in years gone by.
The loyal supporters’ club was founded in 1966 when a dozen or so supporters travelling independently on trains from Paddington to Wolverhampton discovered they were bumping into each other regularly.
They got together and decided to form a club, putting out a few flyers at football games until they found enough people to run a coach from the capital to Molineux.
“It was 10 shillings (50pe) to go and if there were a few less it would be 15 shillings,” founding member Dave Slape recalled.
“When it started tailing off a bit by the 1968/69 season it was getting too expensive, and then we ran a train trip to the Burnley Cup game in January 1970.”
That third round FA Cup tie ended in a 3-0 defeat at Turf Moor. But the consolation for London Wolves was that they had found a discounted way of travelling by rail, through British Rail’s group booking offer.
The brains behind the travel operation today is Peter Woodifield.
He has been the travel secretary since 1987 and, in recognition of his great service to the members, London Wolves chairman Stuart Earl and former striker Andy Mutch presented him with a gift of thanks on the night.
“Representing Wolves for the best part of eight years was a great privilege,” said Mutch, scorer of Wolves’ opening goal at Wembley in the Sherpa Van trophy final of 1988.
“To play at Wembley in front of 50,000 of our own supporters, many of whom are here tonight, after the club had those bad times with the ownership was great.
“As a kid I was a Liverpool supporter and we went to Wembley quite often!
“We used to walk down Wembley Way but to sit on the team coach as a player with all the fans waving us in to the stadium was amazing.”
Another guest, Jim McCalliog, also represented Wolves in a final, taking over as captain from the injured Mike Bailey in 1972.
“From a young kid playing football at an early age and seeing their impact in Europe in the 1950s, to then go on and captain Wolves in the two-legged Uefa Cup final was absolutely fantastic,” he reflected.
Bobby Gould had two spells at Wolves and recalled the time George Best turned the heads of all the wives and girlfriends when he walked into the players’ bar at Molineux after a match against Manchester United in the 1970/71 season. Gould has been celebrating an anniversary of his own this month with 55 years of marriage to his wife, Marge.
Mel Eves was still at school when he signed for Wolves, having watched the 1974 League Cup final win from the stands. “I made my debut with John Richards, who I’d watched from the terraces,” he added.
“To play with players like that was marvellous and as a guest of this wonderful supporters’ club I’d like to say thanks for inviting me to share these memories.”
The former players were encouraged to rekindle the spirit of their playing days, although Matt Murray took the instructions a bit too literally by pulling out of the event on the Saturday morning with a back injury.
Wolves’ board was represented by John Gough who rightly pointed out that London Wolves have been supporting the women’s game long before its increased profile across the country in recent years.
“I’d like to thank London Wolves for their support of Wolves Women for the last 10 years,” Gough remarked.
“That hasn’t gone unnoticed, it’s very much appreciated by the football club.
“This year they were champions of their league and as a club we are fully behind the women’s team.”
The night’s proceedings were expertly hosted by Jason Guy, presenter of The Wolf Whistle podcast, and the evening ended with a presentation of a Wolves shirt from Worldwide Wolves secretary Alan Perrin who announced that London Wolves had completed a hat-trick of titles for Wolves Supporters’ Club of the Year.
There have been too many trips to mention, but perhaps one from the distant past sums up what this supporters’ club are all about.
In 1979 Wolves had a midweek fifth round League Cup tie away at Grimsby Town to negotiate on a cold December evening.
It coincided with the birthday of then treasurer Terry Peachey, who is sadly no longer with us.
Thirty-eight supporters tackled the trip from London, where they didn’t get back to the capital until half six the following morning.
The local station for Grimsby Town was New Clee, where no trains were stopping, so the guard agreed to make an unscheduled stop and wandered down the track with a lantern to open a side gate onto a road for the fans to walk to the ground.
Following the conclusion of the match – a 0-0 draw – the supporters returned via Doncaster where an hour-and-a-half was passed in a local disco while waiting to change trains back to London.
Any club is only as strong as its members and nights like that and the celebration evening last weekend at The Valley showed what a fine institution London Wolves is.