Old golden memories of Wolves' Sherpa Van Trophy win
It was 30 years ago today when Wolves fans packed out the city centre in a sea of old gold and black after a glorious Wembley victory.
In scenes reminiscent of the Championship promotion party – just a few weeks ago – thousands of supporters congregated in Wolverhampton for the team’s civic parade after the Sherpa Van Trophy win in May 1988.
The Sherpa Van triumph 30 years ago marked a turning point as the club set about climbing back through the leagues.
Graham Turner’s side had lifted the Fourth Division title three weeks earlier. And Wolves had a chance to clinch another trophy at the Home of Football against Burnley. Tens of thousands of supporters travelled down to London for the Sherpa Van final – proving the club’s fanbase remained as passionate as ever. And the packed civic parade back in Wolverhampton showed the city still stood firmly behind the club despite its troubles.
Goals from Andy Mutch and Robbie Dennison secured the cup and put the seal on a stunning season, which saw club legend Steve Bull score on an astonishing 52 occasions.
Ally Robertson was Wolves’ skipper on the day in May 1988 and described his memories of a ‘fantastic’ day which proved Wolves’ remained a big club – despite their slump down the divisions.
The defender said: “It was just great to be part of. To see 50,000 Wolves supporters at Wembley was unbelievable, just unbelievable.
“On the way to Wembley I was thinking – even though it is horrible thing to say – I had played in the First Division all my life more or less, then we are in this little Sherpa Van final.
“On the way to Wembley, you are thinking well ‘this is just a little cup game’.
“Then all of a sudden, we were about three miles from Wembley, and it was just gold and black everywhere.
“It was incredible. And I can still remember – just before we went out the door – saying to the lads, ‘we have got to win this for them’.
“We could not believe how many fans were there, we really couldn’t believe it.
“I started laughing the other night when I saw the first team having their parade through the city.
“They won [The Championship] and are back in the Premier League. But it was similar for us on that Sunday after the Sherpa Van.
“I thought ‘good God’ – it shows how much it means to the supporters. When you think we had just won the fourth division and the Sherpa Van, and we had exactly the same kind of celebration, it is absolutely great.”
Anticipation was huge in the build-up to the game with fans snaking around Molineux for tickets.
Up to 6,000 camped and queued for the last remaining 4,500 tickets days before the game took place, with the total attendance larger than an England v Scotland game a week earlier. It remains Wolves’ last trip to Wembley, while the crowd of 80,841 still stands as the Trophy’s highest-ever attendance.
Long-awaited success on the pitch came against a backdrop of turmoil off it, with Wolves having faced liquidation and extinction in the years preceding the final.
Northern Irishman Dennison, who netted Wolves’ second goal, said: “It was a difficult time for the club then. It was a really serious time and the club was struggling financially.
“They looked like they were going out of business at one point. And then I think the momentum started again with those couple of seasons where we got promoted and won the Sherpa Van.
“I think it was a crucial time really for the club because if it had gone the other way at that time, then they would have taken a long, long time before they got back to anything.
“So it was a crucial time even though they have had difficult times along the way since then. We took 50-odd thousand to Wembley to watch the game which was phenomenal, considering we were a division four side then.
“So there were 80,000 fans there at the game and the place was full, so there are fantastic memories.
“But also we had the celebrations afterwards. The fans deserved to get back on track again and that is what we were able to produce. The parade the other day was sort of similar to what we went through as well. You know driving through the streets of Wolverhampton, the place was absolutely rammed.
“The celebrations afterwards were absolutely incredible. The fans deserved to get back on track again and that is what we were able to produce at that time again.”
Legendary full-back Andy Thompson previously revealed how the Wolves players were stunned by the number of supporters who had travelled to Wembley.
The Featherstone-born defender said: “We knew how big the crowd was going to be, but nothing prepared us for what we saw coming down Wembley Way.
“I’d never seen a group of people that big in my life and the Wolves fans were in great voice. It set us up for a day to remember.”
Meanwhile club-record goalscorer Bully described the scale of the club’s support as making ‘the hairs stand up on the back of your neck,’ adding: “All I could see was a sea of gold and black as we got to Wembley.” In his review of the match for the Express & Star, Bully said: “Unbelievable! That’s the only way I can describe our victory at Wembley, which rounded off a quite incredible season.
“If someone had told me last August that by the end of May Wolves would have won the Fourth Division title and the Sherpa Van Trophy and I would score 52 goals, I would have laughed at them and told them they were mad.
“But it’s happened and it’s a dream come true. Going to Wembley from our hotel I don’t think it really dawned on us we were actually going to play in a final until we got about three miles from the ground.
“Then we saw Wolves supporters in their hats and scarves waving and shouting at us, and that’s when the nerves really started coming.
“And to walk out for the start of a match in front of more than 80,000 supporters was another quite unbelievable and unforgettable experience.
“I wouldn’t mind playing at Wembley every week.” Keith Downing, who completed the full 90 minutes in Wolves’ midfield, said: “I think at the time back in 1988 it was a revival of the club itself. The club was obviously in dark times and had gone into administration, so we were probably the first green shoots of it trying to recover.
“I suppose it is a fond memory to a lot of supporters. It was the first sign of a recovery and the Sherpa Van was the icing on the cake, because the main priority was to get back up through the leagues. Going to Wembley and winning the Sherpa Van was an added bonus.
“But the main priority I’m sure for Graham Turner was to get back up through the leagues, recover and try to get back into the top league as quickly as possible.”
Proud Wolves boss Turner said at the time that the Sherpa Van success had been the highpoint of the season, describing winning at Wembley as ‘an unforgettable experience’. “The colour and the noise are things you remember for ever. We had a lot to follow after clinching promotion and the Fourth Division title, but this is better still.”