Curious First Step On Europa Voyage Of Discovery
Bigger Guns Lie In Wait…….
Northern Ireland or a northern island? We now sort of know where Wolves will be heading on their return to major European competition – and it’s probably not anywhere we had in mind.
Norrkoping it isn’t. CSKA Sofia neither. Nor Dinamo Tbilisi, Hajduk Split or Maccabi Haifa.
The Premier League’s seventh-placed club avoided some of the better-known names they might have been paired with at UEFA headquarters yesterday and were instead handed a trip to the unknown.
‘Nice of them to include the post-code in their name’ was how one fan greeted the sight of B36 Torshavn alongside the better-known Crusaders in the either-or draw that most interests us.
It will surprise few supporters to learn that Wolves have never visited the Faroe Isles. In fact, a quick look at the world map suggests to me that the closest they have ever played to this Danish-owned outpost in the North Sea is in Dundee.
The rocky archipelago (Wikipedia’s description, not mine) is 200 miles almost due north of the nearest point of mainland Scotland, but a whopping 410 miles from Norway to the east and 280 from Iceland to the west.
Wolves will be breaking very new ground if they play there later this summer but their links with Northern Ireland are naturally stronger, although much water has flowed under the bridge since their last visit, some of it a little murky.
They have not been to the province since the summer of 1990, when they dropped in for a Friday-night 4-2 friendly victory over Robbie Dennison’s old club, Glenavon, at the height of Bullymania.
The striker scored twice in that win, which is not to be confused with the 3-2 success away to Glentoran in the autumn of the club’s 1982-83 Second Division promotion-winning season.
This posse of clubs are considerably more familiar to English eyes and ears than the one bearing the name of the Faroes capital and there have been enough Wolves trips across the Irish Sea for some supporters to already have seen the side play there several times.
They also faced Linfield in 1981 and had a somewhat stormy victory away to Derry City in the 1970-71 Texaco Cup but what is clear from yesterday’s draw is that the travelling is likely to become much more arduous.
Thirty-seven pairings will eventually form this draw and, with other teams to come into the competition from other routes – the Champions League in particular – the road ahead is long.
When you think that the FA Cup third-round line-up is much more streamlined than this, the task of following Chelsea as champions is underlined in bold.
This journey is also six months longer than the one the winners of our major domestic knockout face, so it is neither a sprint nor even a middle-distance race – but very much a marathon.
Still, it’s thrilling to have Wolves in major European competition for the first time in 39 years and exciting to wonder whether their path towards the Gdansk final might take them to previously unexplored like Albania, Bulgaria and Finland.
Also in there are Roma, Strasbourg, Malmo, Espanyol and Eintracht Frankfurt, so there is potential for the going to become harder and higher-profile than this first step.
Therein lies possibly the over-riding feeling from the draw…..Wolves may know little about their prospective first opponents but they will know that they are expected to beat them without raising too much of a peak-summer sweat.