Express & Star

When Wolfie the Wolves mascot took on the three little pigs in a memorable altercation

There are many things which combine to create a memorable awayday.

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The Bristol City v Wolverhampton mascot ruck

Perhaps the manager going into his first game in charge can mastermind one of the most stunning victories in recent history?

Maybe the team might score six goals?

The striker who hasn’t found the net in 15 appearances for the club could grab four of them.

And just maybe, a furry life-sized mascot could end up fighting with three little pigs who were promoting the wares of a double glazing company? As you do.

Who knows? There could even be all four of the above.

Bristol City 1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 6. Twenty-five years ago, on Tuesday of next week. And certainly, among one of the most dramatic away trips enjoyed by the Molineux faithful over the last quarter of a century.

A delightful cocktail of football, pugilism and pantomime. It was quite a day.

The backdrop to the entire proceedings began in the Wolves dugout, where Colin Lee, previously assistant manager, had been put in interim charge following the dismissal, 48 hours previously, of Mark McGhee.

The two knew each other well having initially been apprentices together at Bristol City and, as a manager and assistant, joined in a coaching trio by Mike Hickman, had dove-tailed perfectly to achieve success at Reading and Leicester.

Over a three-year period, Wolves produced several successful spells of consistency and others where they fell away, losing out in the play-offs to Crystal Palace in 1996/97 before an impressive run to the FA Cup semi-finals a year later.

During that time however, the sands had been shifting behind the scenes. Sir Jack Hayward’s famous ‘Golden Tit’ speech about the level of money spent led to a tightening of the purse strings and something of a family fallout.

And so, with McGhee unable to deliver the Holy Grail of promotion, he was sacked in November 1998, with Lee asked to take the helm, initially temporarily.

Their relationship, and indeed friendship, was strong, but was sadly ultimately unable to survive Lee eventually being handed the reins on a full-time basis.

“It had become more difficult than we expected because of the disruption behind the scenes where there was a lot going on,” Lee, now 67, recalls.

“Over those three years we had been trying to build a team, and whilst it might not be the best excuse, when the finances that were once there are no longer there it becomes a challenge.

“When it was announced that Mark was leaving it was difficult because we had worked together for so long.

“The club wanted me to stay and take the team - they weren’t asking me to leave - and I wasn’t in a financial position to be able to just up and go and be out of work.

“I clearly remember helping Mark to pack his things and then spending a few hours at his house, talking it through, where he said he had no problem with me taking over and understood my position.

“Following that however, our relationship became more difficult because Mark wouldn’t speak, and I think he had listened to stuff from a few members of staff who had got to him.

“For me it was a hard time but not a hard decision because there was no decision, I had a young family and a mortgage to pay and couldn’t just walk away.

“Honestly, I had a great time working with Mark McGhee, we had a fantastic period in football with nothing I would change, but I can’t have any guilt about what happened at the end.”

McGhee was dismissed on November 5th, but the real fireworks arrived less than 48 hours later, after a quick transition for Lee from being assistant to having his name above the door.

“I had always put together the training programme and implemented the plan regarding the opposition and the players were used to working with me in that respect,” says Lee.

“I think they knew how professional I was and there were never any grey areas when we were on the training field.

“I was the tough part of the act when it was Mark and myself – I expected 100 per cent professionalism from everyone around me and the players knew that.

“Even so, it is very difficult when a manager get the sack and you are the assistant taking over but I explained the situation and tried to get the players psychologically right.

“To be honest, we were never going to change much, and a lot of what I did working for Mark had always been discussed between us.

“The difference now was that it was me making the final decisions, and it was quite nervy going into that game at Bristol City.

“But in the main it was about setting the team out not to go and play on a negative basis but with a really positive attitude.”

Lee opted to play five at the back and encourage wing backs Kevin Muscat and Lee Naylor to bomb forward, and in Simon Osborn – the playmaker who had pulled the strings so productively at Reading – Steve Corica and Fernando Gomez, there was plenty of technical ability in his midfield three.

Up front? There was Guy Whittingham, back for a second loan spell after a hugely successful one four-and-a-half years earlier, and another loanee, 21-year-old David Connolly, who had joined from Feyenoord after an impressive start to his career with Watford.

Adding further significance to the fixture is that the 100-club at Ashton Gate had hosted the wedding reception for Lee and wife Lynda, some 23 years and one day previously. Was his graduation to the role of manager going to prove an equally successful marriage?

The Bristol City v Wolverhampton mascot ruck

Not immediately. Bristol City actually scored first through Chris Hutchings on 12 minutes before Whittingham – the first goal of his return – and Connolly, his first goal for Wolves, struck in quick succession midway through the half to put Wolves ahead at the break.

Connolly had arrived on loan thanks in part to a strong recommendation from future Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, who had picked him for the Republic of Ireland.

He had scored on his debut for Feyenoord, before finding opportunities limited, and so made the move to Wolves, where he had made 15 appearances, many from the bench, before Ashton Gate.

“I was coming on as a substitute and trying to get up to speed but at the time Wolves had a really good squad with a lot of ability,” Connolly recalls.

“But we were finding it difficult to get wins and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked, or as well as Mark McGhee would have liked, and he ended up losing his job.