While we await news that Martin O’Neill is indeed our new manager, get this: Steve Bishop*, founder of the Cannock branch of the Wolverhampton Wanderers Supporters’ Club, has not missed a game for 35 years. Every gloryseeker in the land should stand back and salute, or pity, his astonishing loyalty and stamina. In the second Wolves “Who are You?” features, we get Steve talking about Mick McCarthy, Jody Craddock, trips to Roker and much more (oh and yes, he thought when writing his responses that Steve Bruce would stay …
Salut! Sunderland: Another season, another relegation battle. Or at least that is how it seems, certainly for us as things stand and also for you. Are you worried?
Yes I am worried. By our own standards, Wolves have spent heavily in the last two seasons and this does not seem to be reflected in an upturn in our fortunes on the pitch. In particular, our two big signings of the summer Jamie O’Hara and Roger Johnson have disappointed most. O’Hara has struggled to capture the form he showed when he was on loan with us last season (ain’t it always the way). Johnson has made several errors leading to goals but even more importantly, he has failed to galvanise our leaky defence.
I love it that Wolves are in the Premier League. Naturally, I think it’s where we belong, just like supporters of West Ham, Leeds, Derby, Forest, the Sheffield clubs and so on. Incidentally, I believe all those clubs I just mentioned do have a better claim than Wigan, Blackburn, Notlob and Fulham. I do not deny any of them (apart from Wigan) an occasional place at the top table but their long-standing membership of the top-flight does undermine my fundamental belief that the biggest Clubs with the best support should graduate towards the top. It’s only natural.
I repeat, I love it that Wolves are in the Premier League. Apart from the prices, it’s all good. Better games obviously and I prefer it that there are fewer matches, less traipsing up and down the motorways during the week. For the time being, no more trips to Selhurst Park on a Tuesday night. God, I hate that place. Frankly, Wolves have seen enough of the Championship having spent the best part of 20 years at that level.
Mick McCarthy: lots of Sunderland fans have a soft spot for him but he has been under pressure. Is it time for a change?
I recently did an interview for The Guardian which mainly concentrated on this very issue. I will echo my views given then: after all there may be readers itching to pick out my inconsistencies.
I suggest that throughout football managers are rarely downright incompetent and rarely unconditionally successful: instead, I think it’s mostly just luck whether a Club is successful within the realm of its financial resources. I’m sure that is a controversial view but how often will you see a manager that enjoys success at one Club, moves to another Club at which he fails. Another move, another club and success returns. Is it really possible to argue that the abilities of such a manager do fluctuate to the same extent that their performance suggests. It’s a whole host of factors many of which are beyond the influence of one man. A lot of these are personality based: a set of players does not of itself make a team.
In summary, it depends whether the ball is rolling your way. Earlier, I called the word luck to describe this factor. Perhaps, that’s not useful, so may I suggest the word “mojo” instead?
By most measures, McCarthy’s time at Wolves has to be described as a great success. He took over from Glenn Hoddle who left us in a terrible mess, we were stagnating in the Championship and our squad had been decimated. Within just three seasons, MM had turned it around and got us promoted. Now we’re in our third season at this level. How can that be considered anything less than a great return.
But now it seems there is a growing gap at Wolves between expectation and outcome. I have already alluded to our summer signings, these did definitely raise expectations at the start of the season. A perceived failure to achieve these expectations is unsettling things at Molineux.
I fear Mick McCarthy has lost his Mojo for the time being. I have to say he deserves time now to recover it.
And do you think Jody Craddock’s time at the club (he was a much-appreciated Sunderland player) is coming to an end – just two Carling Cup appearances so far at the time of writing?
It’s fair to say that Jody has achieved legendary status at Molineux. He’s been with Wolves eight years now. When he signed up he seemed to be just another journeymen doing the rounds. We were dumped out of the Premier League at the end of his first season and Jody took more than a fair share of the blame.
Sunderland supporters may be aware of the song that has been accorded to Craddock by the Wolves fans that goes: “He used to be sh*te, but now he’s all right”. Okay, so it’s ironically understated but it succinctly sums up how he’s perceived here.
But hey, he’s closer to 40 than 30 so naturally his time with us (and as a football pro) is coming to an end. We have to look to the future and blood younger places. For now, I am more than happy to employ Jody as cover in the event of injuries.
Which players are the key to your survival, of better, this season and who needs to be replaced sharpish?
I would not like to go on record slating any particular player (notwithstanding my earlier comments about Roger Johnson). I prefer it that supporters pursue their “job-title” and support.
On the plus side, I have a keen inkling for our defensive midfielder Adlene Goedioura. He could be key if he could stay clear of injuries that have plagued him recently.
How aware and proud are you of the great old Wolves tradition, Billy Wright and all?
I’ve followed Wolves many years and over time I’ve immersed myself in the Club’s history so I’m fully aware of our history and very proud.
However, I’m in my early fifties so Wolves’ best years pre-dated my times. My Dad has told me all about it, as have many others of that generation. In football terms, I’m a child of the seventies, Derek Dougan and all that. Even then we were one of the better teams in the top flight. UEFA Cup finalists in 1972 don’t you know!
But history is no guarantee of future success – didn’t Sunderland used to be known as the Bank of England club as the wealthiest in the land.
Moreover, I suspect that the team of the Fifties may actually have been a burden to successive generations. Older supporters still use it as a yardstick.
What thoughts do you have of Sunderland: the club, its fans, the city?
I’ve never had occasion to visit the city except to watch Wolves but I’ve always had a high regard for the Sunderland fans.
I can remember watching Southampton v Sunderland on Match of the Day in the seventies and being amazed how many Mackems had made that not inconsiderable journey.
Of course, I can remember the 72 – 73! – ed – Cup Final: Stokoe, Montgomery et al. I went round a friend’s house to watch it – theirs was the first colour TV in the street. I admit I was rooting for Sunderland. Then, as now, we all hate Leeds. And they had knocked us out in the semi-final. It could’ve been Wolves you played.
Any memories – good, bad, funny – of past games between our teams?
Several, but blurred by the odd pint, perhaps the seventh or the fifth, or the ninth.
The supporters club I organise did have to endure quite a trip to Roker once. It was a League Cup tie in the early Eighties. There were only a few of us travelling so I hired a minibus from a local firm. Turned out to be a right old banger but what’s more the driver and his mate were Sunderland lads. (Incidentally, there were two further Sunderland fans with us one being the cousin of the late Rob Hindmarsh). It took ages to get to the North East but then it turned out that they’d arranged to pick up their mate to take him to the game. So another hour was spent collecting this fellow from deep in a council estate. By the time we got into the match, Wolves were already 2-0 down and it finished 5-0. After the game, we were taken to the Working Men’s Club (of course) and eventually got home around 4am.
Oh yes, after we beat you last season our coach would not start so we were stuck in Sunderland whilst the driver got it sorted. I’m afraid another visit to another Working Men’s Club was involved.
And did you hear about … the time Sunderland had two players sent off early in a match at Molineux but held out almost until the end.
Who will finish top four, in order, this season? And who will go down?
Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal.
Blackburn, Wigan, Swansea.
If Sunderland and Wolves are in neither of those lists, where do you think each club will finish up?
Grieves me to say so on your forum, but I think Sunderland will rally over the season. Let’s say twelfth. I think Bruce will still be with you come the summer (famous last words! – ed). By the way I cannot see Newcastle sustaining their position: I guess tenth for them.
Wolves season I fear is more precarious. The way things are going I can only see a hard season ahead. But we’re no worse than the other Clubs that are likely to be fighting it out at the bottom and I am confident we can secure the points to avoid the drop, Sixteenth, seventeenth is fine by me.
I used to call this the Eduardo Question after his dive for Arsenal v Celtic, then the Walcott Question after young Theo publicly admitted diving and apologised for it. Now it is the Barton Question (remember his play acting for Newcastle v Arsenal). That covers diving and feigning injury but what form of cheating most annoys you and what should be done to stamp it out?
Yes all that type of cheating annoys me not to mention also the harassment and haranguing of the match officials. In fact much of the ethos of professional football is downright irritating. I know it’s a cliche but I would look to Rugby Union as the model to follow: let’s see if we can get the players to call the referee Sir. The game needs to grasp the nettle to sort out this behaviour. I welcome the development whereby action can be taken after a match if the ref has missed something and the offender is “caught on camera”.
Is it club before country for you or do internationals matter more to you than Wolves?
That’s a bit of a moot point for Wolves supporters. Naturally, our International interest is with England. Apart from a token appearance by our Matt Jarvis last season it looks unlikely that Wolverhampton players will be exercising Fabio’s deliberations in the near future (notwithstanding the South Bank occasionally chanting “Craddock for England’). Of course, we do have many international players particularly for the other British nations: three players for Wales, two for Scotland, three for the Republic of Ireland so I wish these countries well but hey ho I’m English and proud
What one thing should the football authorities or Wolves do to improve the supporter’s experience of the game?
I am utterly convinced of the case for safe-standing. Personally, I prefer to sit down (my knees aren’t too good nowadays) but there are two aspects of this question which for me clinch the issue.
Firstly, I am appalled by the conflict it brings about between all the parties: Clubs argue with supporters; football authorities argue with clubs, threatening to reduce capacities; stewards argue with fans. It’s all so counter-productive.
Secondly, there are many supporters that through age or infirmity cannot easily stand when the rest of the crowd are up on their tip-toes watching the action. Quite often (at Wolves’ away matches), I am appalled to see elderly fans unable to watch hardly any football. This cannot be right: they would be able to see the match properly if the more active were accommodated in safe-standing areas. I hope this sentiment will resonate with Sunderland fans and all other supporters.
Unfortunately, Wolverhampton Wanderers are equally steadfast in their resolve that stadia should be all-seater. Therefore, it is not likely that our current stadium developments will show any concessions on the issue.
Instead, I suppose the best prospect for any change in the attitude lies with the football authorities, be it the UEFA, the Premier League or the FA. If safe-standing is good enough for Germany, then it’s good enough for the English Premier League. After all, Bundesliga attendances are higher.
Alternatively, a safe-standing development by a maverick English Club might be enough to break the back of these hard-headed attitudes.
How will you follow Wolves v Sunderland and what will be the score?
Ha, like thousands of others I like to have a drink before a match. Therefore, I shall not be driving on Sunday. I prefer public transport, it’s the bus for me. The big down-side of Sunday matches for me is the infrequency of the bus service. During the rest of the week I can catch the bus right outside my front door that takes me right into Wolverhampton: on a Sunday, it’s a one mile walk. After the match, I have to put up with a two-hourly service. Back to the pub I suppose.
The score? What is it you expect of me. What exactly is the point of being a football supporter if you’re not given to blind optimism. I could offer you a score – how does 3-0 sound – but I would have to concede that such a prediction would be made without an ounce of objectivity.
* Steve Bishop on Steve Bishop: Me? I’m 53, not missed a Wolves match for 35 years, started Cannock Wolves Supporters’ Club in 1977, been running coaches ever since. In that time we’ve had approaching 2,000 members. Our site is www.cannockwolves.co.uk
Interview: Colin Randall