Express & Star

Wanderers punch above their weight with big boys

A grassroots junior football club from Wolverhampton are hoping to keep on upsetting the odds in the Midland Junior Premier League.


Wolverhampton Olympic Wanderers currently sit sixth out of 71 teams in the MJPL Under-12s division, a league that includes sides such as AFC Telford United, Villa feeder club FDC and the Albion Development team.

Such is the league’s quality, more than 25 of the teams involved are directly affiliated with professional and non-league clubs, with Wanderers flying the flag for amateur sides across the Midlands.

“Finishing in the top six would be a monumental achievement for the boys that we have and all the hard work that they’ve put in,” said Wanderers manager Amo Kalirai. “When we stepped into this season we didn’t even consider top six or anything like that, we didn’t set any targets.

“Our aim this season was to keep the boys happy, give them enough game time to develop them in preparation for next season when we go to 11-a-side.”

Kalirai has led the side for six seasons, starting out in the Stourbridge Sunday League with an under-sevens team.

Four years ago he was joined by coach Damian O’Connor, and together the pair have helped Wanderers punch above their weight in the highest level of junior football outside of the professional academy structure.

This is their third season competing in the MJPL, yet despite their underdog status O’Connor believes their success is not surprising.

“I think we’ve always felt that top 10 would be a fantastic achievement, particularly with the sort of clubs that we’re up against,” he revealed. “The ethos of ‘be better than you were the season before’, whether that’s as a team or as a player or as a coach, has served us well.

“I’m not surprised by it because I think for the last two seasons we’ve been competing and improving, that’s the key thing.”

Wolverhampton Olympic, formerly known as Warstones Wanderers, have enjoyed success in local junior football since they were founded in 2012.

However, with no pathway through to adult football in place, they face an uphill battle against sides with professional structures in place.

Club chairman Alistair Warden commented: “There is a status if you play for someone that is club affiliated.

“We’ve always kept our playing fees to an absolute minimum, but it can be hard to recruit as we’re a bit unheard of unless you’re from the area.”

He added: “I do believe we’re seen as a friendly club; we have coaches that are in it for the right reasons, just wanting kids to play football to the best standard they can.

“To go and play professional and semi-professional development teams and really compete makes us proud.”

And competing is exactly what the under 12s Wanderers, who play their home games in Perton, are doing. Nine wins from 16 matches is enough to have them sixth in the division, scoring 37 and conceding just 10 goals in that time.

Defender Usman Jimoh’s performances were enough to earn him a contract with Villa’s youth set-up, forcing him to leave the club, while other members of the squad have been offered trials with professional academies.

O’Connor added: “It’s fantastic because we’ve taken things as far as we could, and it’s a real success for him and us to see how he’s developed over the years.

“We want to give them the opportunity to get better.

“It’s about going on a journey with the boys and seeing them develop, the team develop and ultimately Wolverhampton Olympic develop.”