They’re not the first of the ‘grand old clubs’ to suffer the indignity. Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa – both also winners of Europe’s premier trophy - suffered the same fate, as did Leeds United, the Sheffield clubs and Southampton. For a club with proud traditions and lofty ambitions though, being dumped into the third strata of English football is a fall from grace that hurts just that little bit more.
For Wolverhampton Wanderers however, the pain is a poignant reminder of the bad old days. Fans of a certain vintage will recall that, back in the eighties, it got even worse. The Molineux club actually fell all the way into the fourth tier, before hitting rock bottom. These were the dark days of financial ruin, a stadium in tatters and owners with allegedly dodgy deals. That was the first time that the club had plummeted straight from the first tier to the third without pause, gaining membership to a fairly sparsely populated group of clubs that could ‘claim’ such a fate. This weekend saw Wolves strike out to form their own exclusive “unmerry” band as the only club ever to do it twice. The game against Brighton also saw an eerie echo of the eighties in that it was the Sussex club that beat Wolves on the last day of the season, on 4th May all those years ago to seal their relegation to the third tier. As it is now, it was then. Fate’s twist of the knife is chilling sometimes.
For the diehard fans of Wolves, there must be a dread that those bad old days are also going to be repeated. It was a long, slow climb out of obscurity in those days, achieved largely on the back of a hero – not exactly on a white charger – but from nearby town Tipton, when goal machine Steve Bull was artfully snaffled from under Ron Saunders’s nose at local rivals West Bromwich Albion. The boy from the Black Country will ever be lauded for firing that renaissance.
It was however perhaps not a promising start to a new dawn however, when club owner Steve Morgan issued a statement following the game. When the fans were craving a heartfelt mea culpa they got a carefully crafted, and doubtlessly well-intentioned message – albeit looking like it had been written well in advance and neatly polished by the PR department -saying that mistakes had been made, and would be rectified. Needing to hear burning passion, the fans got elegant prose. Wanting to hear rage, they got reason. The statement said that the club had “let down our supporters and the city” and that “I understand fans' pain, anger and resentment towards me.” Most Wolves fans would agree with the first statement, but probably query the second.
The modern day club however is in a much better situation than back in the eighties, and Wolves’ stay in the lower reaches of English should be fairly brief if the club can take the steps needed to exorcise their demons. In Dean Saunders, they have a young manager who recently cut his teeth in these nether regions of the English game, and if Mr Morgan is prepared to back him, exile the deadwood from the squad and build the club again, the old gold can be burnished again. Leading from the tunnel to the pitch at Molineux, there’s a phrase stating that “Out of darkness cometh light.” For the Wolves hierarchy, proving that this isn’t just a piece of empty rhetoric is now the challenge.