A History Of Epic Battles
Wolves And United – Long-Time Arch Rivals
Wolves’ Saturday night quarter-final blockbuster against Manchester United provides a reminder of the rich history between the clubs in the FA Cup. Clive Corbett finds his look back at past meetings an understandably nostalgic experience…..
Tomorrow’s meeting is the fifth time the clubs have met in the sixth round of the competition and the seventh occasion on which they have clashed at this stage or later.
The first two of those confrontations were semi-final battles contested almost 70 years ago – on March 26 and April 2 of 1949.
An initial 1-1 draw at Hillsborough, where Sammy Smyth’s opener was cancelled out by a Charlie Mitten goal, is probably best remembered for a heroic display by a Wolves team reduced to nine men by injuries.
I know almost every detail of the game thanks to my dad’s scrapbooks and particularly his ‘Road to Wembley 1949’ collection and first-hand descriptions. United were Cup holders and finished second in the League that season, making Wolves the underdogs.
It is difficult to think that the iconic photograph of HRH Princess Elizabeth handing the trophy to Billy Wright a few weeks later on Dad’s 60th birthday would never have existed but for that tale of extraordinary grit by Stan Cullis’s Wanderers.
Teams: United: Crompton, Carey, Aston, Cockburn, Chilton, McGlen, Delaney, Anderson, Rowley, Pearson, Mitten. Wolves: Williams, Kelly, Pritchard, Billy Crook, Shorthouse, Wright, Hancocks, Smyth, Pye, Dunn, Mullen.
A daunting task was rendered all the more difficult when left-back Roy Pritchard badly injured his groin in a sixth minute collision with Jimmy Delaney. There being no substitutes, Pritchard was reduced to occupying a slot on the left wing and offered little more than nuisance value.
Cullis had to shuffle his pack accordingly, moving Jimmy Mullen to inside-left, Jimmy Dunn to left-half and Billy Wright to full-back. It was soon after Pritchard was hurt that Wolves opened the scoring just before the quarter-hour, reporter Wilf Jones writing: ‘It was bad luck day for United’s centre-half, Chilton. He fumbled a pass to his goalkeeper, and the whirlwind Wolves forwards moved the ball into the net so fast that nothing on earth could have stopped it. Hancocks crossed to Pye, who passed to Sammy Smyth (my Auntie June’s idol), who finished it off.’
Roy Peskett did more justice to Smyth’s fourth goal of the Cup campaign by reporting that he ‘trapped it, feinted one way, pivoted and smashed the ball past Crompton.’ But United responded by pouring on the pressure and equalised on 23 minutes when Charlie Mitten caught Lol Kelly unawares to fire left-footed past Bert Williams and high into the net.
Without firing on all cylinders, United had Wolves under the cosh for the majority of the 90-plus minutes that remained, including extra-time. As the corner count and possession supremacy mounted in United’s favour, Wolves suffered another blow mid-way through the second half. Pritchard’s full-back partner, Kelly, badly sprained an ankle and had to be carried off.
Amazingly, Lol returned to the field, one report calling him ‘an example of the amazing grit shown by the Wolverhampton players. He could scarcely move without suffering acute pain but remained for almost an hour just wandering around in no definite position. It is doubtful whether he kicked the ball more than twice after his injury but he refused to leave the field.’ In fact, three minutes from time, Kelly appeared in the United box and narrowly missed turning a Billy Crook free-kick home for what would have been a sensational winner.
In front of a 62,250 crowd who generated receipts of £15,236, Wolves held on to fight another day and this time win at Goodison Park a week later. Five minutes from the end of another tight encounter, this time in front of 72,631, Sammy Smyth headed home after Crompton had parried a shot from Jesse Pye.
Wolves went on to meet and beat Second Division Leicester 3-1 at Wembley but, for one of the Hillsborough heroes, there was no happy ending. Neither of the injured two made the semi-final replay but both were fit for the final. Pritchard turned out at right-back but Kelly was replaced on the left by Terry Springthorpe and famously stepped off the team coach at a red traffic light in Oxford when told by Billy Wright of his omission.
The next two Cup meetings between Wolves and United came within a year of each other in the mid-196s, the first during a 1964-65 season that saw Cullis sacked and Wolves relegated to Division Two.
Positively stored away in my personal memory bank is the grainy black and white BBC Sportsnight coverage of a fifth-round 3-0 second replay win over Villa at a snow-covered Hawthorns.
The short-lived joy was swiftly extinguished when United visited Molineux and progressed to the last four on a March Wednesday evening.
The 53,600 present saw Hughie McIlymoyle strike twice in the first 15 minutes and although Peter Knowles also chipped in, United won 5-3, with Denis Law (2), Pat Crerand, George Best and David Herd their scorers.
With Wolves languishing in Division Two, the Cup again brought most interest the following season – one that would ultimately peter out into a sixth-place finish.
Cheshire League side Altrincham were dispatched in the third round courtesy of two goals from Ernie Hunt, a Dewar own goal and strikes from McIlmoyle and Bobby Woodruff. Three weeks later, 32,456 saw Sheffield United eliminated as a result of another goal from the big Scottish no 9 and a Knowles double.
But a potentially glorious run was once again ended by the star-studded Red Devils, this time a round earlier. Amid wild excitement, Terry Wharton put Wolves two up within ten minutes, both from the penalty spot, but Law (2), Best and Herd brought the Molineux masses back to their senses. As The Wanderer wrote in a subsequent match programme: “It was a fine effort while it lasted but, alas, our FA Cup hopes for this season ended at the same obstacle as last year, at the hands of the redoubtable Manchester United.”
In 1973, Tommy Docherty’s United were far from redoubtable and were bottom of the First Division when they visited Molineux for the third round of the FA Cup campaign.
With only two minutes gone, Mike Bailey had a free-kick blocked but latched on to the rebound to hammer home. Just before half-time, though, the skipper was forced to limp off and an x-ray revealed ankle damage that would scar the remainder of his season.
There was no further scoring but veteran full-back Tony Dunne was sent off late on for the first time in his United career in a tie marred by ugly scenes before, during and after. A Wolverhampton boy was struck by an axe and a Shrewsbury man was stabbed in the chest. That year, Wolves went on reach the semi-finals, beating Bristol City 1-0 on the way, only to lose to Leeds at Maine Road.
Wolves had to wait just three years for the next Cup meeting with United, once again in the sixth round, this time in a season when they would be relegated from the top flight.
They visited Old Trafford on March 6 and my route to the match took me from Liverpool with a group of university mates that included my future best man, Dave Tarsky. We travelled uncomfortably incognito on the bus from Piccadilly station to the ground before occupying our places in the Paddock terrace at the Warwick Road End.
Very much in the minority in a crowd of 59,433, we had to tolerate both verbal abuse and numerous everyday items being hurled in our direction as wave after wave of United attacks rained down on the Wolves goal. It really was a case of Phil Parkes and the back four against the Reds and they proved equal to everything thrown at them.
Among numerous other close shaves, Stuart Pearson hit the crossbar and Parkes made a fine reaction save to deny Lou Macari. Then, on 55 minutes, a Munro free-kick found Steve Kindon on the edge of the United box. He fed it back to Ken Hibbitt, who lofted the ball towards the penalty spot for Bobby Gould to win. His header across the box found Kindon on the left. He drove the ball across left-footed for John Richards to hold off Alex Forsyth and flick first time into the net in front of us.
Our unbridled joy, cue more objects and obscenities, lasted just ten minutes until Gerry Daly’s shot was deflected in off Willie Carr. In the last minute, Sammy McIlroy almost won it until Parkes threw up a hand to turn the ball over and earn a replay at Molineux on the Tuesday.
The replay was preceded by angry complaints from United fans that admission prices were to be raised by between 20p and 50p to 90p and £1 for behind the goals or in the enclosure respectively.
David Smith of the Reds Supporters Club recklessly chose to hold Wolves responsible for any violence that might result, saying: “If there is any trouble, the disgraceful decision to raise the cost will be to blame.” John Bird, leader of Wolverhampton Council, joined in the criticism by arguing that the match should have been made all-ticket.
There was much pre-match interest on the injury front. Bobby Gould had recovered from an ankle knock suffered near the end of the first match but Frank Munro had to undergo a fitness test on his injured knee and there was much speculation as to whether Mike Bailey would recover from strained stomach muscles in time to play for the first time since the Ipswich replay back on January 26.
Munro did eventually make the starting line-up but Bailey was on the bench. It was already known that the winners would face Derby at Hillsborough, with the other semi-final to be contested by Southampton and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
Speculation that Wolves v United would attract a sell-out 50,000 crowd and record gate receipts proved optimistic and although some spectators were locked out and had to wait until half-time to get on to the South Bank, the official attendance was given as only 44,373.
Sadly, the match followed an uncannily similar pattern to the Cup meetings of 1965 and 1966. Amid ecstatic celebrations, Kindon and Richards put Wolves two up with goals some two minutes apart not long after the quarter-hour mark.
The game was barely half an hour old when Docherty replaced Lou Macari, supposedly because of a foot injury. McGarry was convinced it was a tactical shift, though, with Jimmy Nicholl moved into defence and Brian Greenhoff into midfield. “Macari had two awful games against us and Carr was simply gobbling him up,” the manager said. “I’m sure United sensed this and that’s why they took him off.”
The substitution was a turning point. A right wing corner on 35 minutes eluded two defenders to allow Pearson to head home then, after Kindon hit the inside of the near post, Pearson’s point blank deflection to a Coppell delivery bounced off Phil Parkes and set Greenhoff up for an easy finish with just over 15 minutes left.
There were ten minutes of normal time left when McGarry sent Bailey on for Steve Daley, a change that inspired Wolves to pour forward and Carr and Sunderland both narrowly missed. Carr remembers: “We were 2-0 up and I went through and should have scored. I never caught it. I tried to place it past Alex Stepney but put it too close to him. We should have beaten them.”
Derek Parkin clipped the post from 30 yards but this was to be Wolves’ last real chance and Pearson turned villain again to provide the centre that McIlroy headed home for the 95th minute decider. Although our disappointment was intense when Pat Partridge (who had also officiated in the 1973 FA Cup semi-final) blew for time, we ultimately enjoyed ourselves on Cup Final day by cheering Southampton and ex-Wolf Jim McCalliog to their Bobby Stokes-inspired victory.
The teams were not drawn against each other again for nearly 30 years – the most recent encounter being a fourth-round tie at Molineux in 2006. Glenn Hoddle’s Wolves meekly succumbed 3-0 to two goals from Kieran Richardson and one from Louis Saha in front of a 28,333 crowd.
And so to this weekend. What happened in the past means little but there is a good omen…..the last time Wolves beat both Liverpool and Manchester United in an FA Cup run was when they won it in 1949.