If no one minds, this week’s Who are you? feature, ahead of SAFC v Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday, is an in memoriam edition. It honours David Graves, a Wolves-supporting colleague and great friend who died in a diving accident seven years ago, and Jake, the baby taken by cot death syndrome a year later from Jody Craddock, a centre back who has been a model of commitment and professionalism at both Sunderland and Wolves. Fittingly, the game is previewed – in the first of two Black Country contributions – by Andy Nicholls*, another Wolves man with a Mackem connection …
Briefly, David was a reporter I had known since our days together at the Press Association. He was extremely good at his job but also a committed family man. He, his wife Diana and their two boys deserved better than that he should die while diving in the Bahamas. He would have been my first choice to answer questions prior to a Wolves v Sunderland encounter.
Equally briefly, Jody – coincidentally a big fan of Bahamas holidays – was still a mainstay of our defence when he and his wife Shelley, lost Jake at just five months. Jody, a gifted art student when at school, returned to canvas to work through his grief. His work – which can be seen and bought at his own site – illustrates (with Jody’s consent) this series of excellent responses from Andy Nicholls, from the top Wolves fan site Molineux Mix. Our thoughts are with both families.
And here are the questions …
Salut! Sunderland: A lot of our fans wonder how Mick McCarthy might have done with the money available to Keane and Bruce. Has he had enough at Wolves and has he spent it wisely?
Let me start by saying that all football supporters always want more money. Has Mick had enough? I think so – so yes! Only time will tell if he has spent it wisely or not. Over the past couple of seasons Mick and the board have introduced the “young and hungry policy”, which has stood us in good stead. However, Mick did state that he wanted to purchase players with Premier League experience and this has not really happened. We now have players with “experience”, but will the experience of the Austrian and Serbian leagues really be enough? I hope so!
On that note, Greg Halford seems to be picking up a lot of five out of tens in newspaper player ratings. He was a great disappointment at our place. Still not up to it? What about other signings from Sunderland eg Neil Collins and Jody Craddock?
Neil Collins has now moved out on loan – a good move for him and a good move for the club. He will do well playing in the Championship, a whole hearted player who plays with passion and has the heart of a lion but not good enough at the level we are now at. Jody “he used to be ****e, now he’s all right” Craddock – a great servant of both clubs. Jody has had a bit of a resurgence over that past season. Firstly farmed out on loan to Stoke – only to be recalled, nailing down a first team berth and leading the team to last year’s Championship. He will never set the world on fire and some of us do wonder if he can really cut it at this level BUT he is playing and playing no worse than anyone else.
It’s great to have Wolves back in the top flight. Can it be more than a one-season wonder? Where will each of our teams finish this season?
Believe you me it’s great to be back! I honestly believe that we can make a fist of staying up this year – as long as some of our better players remain fit. I think we will finish in the bottom six and with a bit of luck and good management above 18th place. As for Sunderland, well I reckon mid table (9 – 13) is not an impossible ask – and that really sticks in my throat – with my wife being a Sunderland girl and all that!
What would it take to recreate the glory days?
Time travel! Failing that a hell of a lot of money, a chairman who would be willing to spend it (for the record I believe that we do have such a person in charge) and a manager who has the tactical know how to see it through. As much as I like MM, I not sure that tactics are his strongest attribute. We have very passionate supporters (just like yourselves) who want – no, who crave- success. The glory days are a long way off now, a time that lives only in the memory of older supporters and only in folklore of the younger generations of supporters. My eight-year-old knows that at one time we were the best team in the land; he probably knows more about the legend that is Billy Wright than I do (see below) and I would love for him and I to witness together the return of the glory days to the Molineux faithful. It’s a long way off but you never know, maybe just maybe our time will come again!
Could Billy Wright really do no wrong? Any first-hand or passed-down anecdotes to illustrate the man and the player?
Wright’s talent as a footballer was that whilst he was noted for his hard, even ferocious tackling, he still played the game fairly as a true sportsman. As he was never booked or sent off in his career; it’s rare thing for a defender to go their entire career without at least one blemish on their record. Despite being only 5? 8? he was almost unmatched in aerial battles, with an uncanny ability to be seemingly able to levitate when he jumped for the ball, the Michael Jordan of his day. Wright never tried to do things he couldn’t do, but what he could do, he did bloody well. An excellent reader of the game, with a sweet burst of pace, Wright seemed to be able to read the play before it had happened and break it up and give to a Wolves player to charge back down the pitch towards the opponents net. “I only had two things on my mind as a player: to win the ball and then to give the simplest pass I could to the nearest teammate,”
How good a captain and man manager was he? Here’s an example from the end of his career:
Spurs v Wolves at WHL, September 1958. Wolves, two down, are awarded a penalty. Ron Flowers steps up to take it. He shoots, the goalie (Gerry Cakebread) gets a hand to it, but it just goes in. Ref blows for encroachment and a retake. Flowers steps up gain, shoots. This time Cakebread saves it, tipping it over the bar. Ref blows up AGAIN, for another encroachment. Long pause while he lectures the offending players. While this is going on, Billy goes over and talks to Flowers, then to Eddie Clamp. Time for a third go. This time Billy has changed the penalty taker. Eddie Clamp steps up and smacks it in.
This was quoted at the time as an example of his good captaincy. Flowers’s confidence would have been down after his first effort only just crept in, and he missed with his second. So — change the kicker. We still lost the game 2-1, but went on to win the championship. A great man and a true football legend known the world over.
Any great or terrible memories of Wolves v Sunderland games? Have you been to Roker Park or the Stadium of Light?
I don’t have any outstanding memories of Wolves v Sunderland games. What I do remember though is the great respect that both sets of fans have always seemed to have for each other. The last time we played at the Stadium of Light, both sets of supporters clapped each other at the end of the game – great stuff. Having lived in Sunderland for a few years I have great memories of Roker Park; I used to love the pies from Roker Pie Shop. I was around Sunderland when the Stadium of Light was being built, I loved the way the club involved the fans from the off in the construction of it and the way fans could see their seats going in and the way fans could follow the development of the ground from the ‘exhibition” porta cabins. I still feel that as an experience for watching football the Stadium of Light is one of the best league grounds in the country (if not the best) .
What’s your thinking on this season’s top four. If Man City not included, why not?
I still think that the top four will be the same as last year – Man City will be close but not this season. I don’t think that they have the depth of quality and class that their near neighbours have. Liverpool have quality that most supporters would love to have in their teams, Chelsea look good this year – they have a great manager who organises his teams well – they will push Man U close this season. Arsenal, I feel, are the most vulnerable but again I think they have just enough to see off the threat of the new kids on the block (even after the beating they took from City the other week).
And the bottom three?
Hull, Portsmouth, Burnley.
The Eduardo question: last seconds of last game of season. A blatant dive wins Wolves the penalty that keeps them up. You take it gladly, you take it with a twinge of guilt or you’re so ashamed you almost wish you’d gone down?
Take it gladly of course – I’m certainly not one for cheating but this is the Premier League and we all want to be involved. However, they are such an honest bunch of lads at the Wolves that at times I wish they would fall over and win a penalty – they try to stay on their feet far too much!
Will you be there on Sunday? What will be the score?
Yes the whole family will be there – three Wolves fans and one Sunderland fan, all sitting in the away end – could be fun! Depending upon the result it’s going to be an uncomfortable journey home for someone! As for the result, I’d like to think that we can get something out of the game BUT I have a feeling that my better half will be the one with the sore throat (from all the gloating) by the time we get home!
What was the question I should have asked but didn’t – and the answer?
Who do you think has the biggest rivalry: us and Newcastle or you and West Brom? A difficult one to answer – I’ve been to a couple of Tyne – Wear derby games and I have to say that the atmosphere was electric (as you would expect from any derby game). The crowds are much bigger, therefore the noise at the grounds was much more intimidating. However, the passion shown by people in the Black Country for their two clubs is also pretty high. I’m going to sit on the fence because I don’t think that the rivalry between the four clubs can be split.
* Andy Nicholls on Andy Nicholls: Who am I! I’m 40 and a life-long Wolves supporter. My first game was verses Ipswich Town in 1973. Having lived away from Wolverhampton for a few years from the late 80s until the late 90s, I missed going as regularly as I used to. I lived in Edinburgh for a few years – attending Hearts games and Wolves games whenever I could. I then moved to Sunderland where I discovered that there was really another team in the North East and they didn’t play in black and white! I was a regular (well 10ish games a season at Roker Park and then the Stadium of Light) – The Dance of the Knights always makes the hairs on the back of my head stand up. I’m now back living in Wolverhampton and am a season ticket holder – along with my son and daughter, respectively eight and 15. My wife is a Sunderland lass who still has family living in Sunderland. As for what I do, I am a deputy head teacher at a challenging inner city school in Walsall – I love it! I also help to moderate a Wolves forum – Molineux Mix. Come along, join us and have a bit of banter – the natives are quite friendly!