Memories Of When The Cup Packed ‘Em In
Wolves’ midweek visit to Manchester United is once again set to create debate over the relative merits of the Premier League and the knockout once regarded as the best in club football.
Notwithstanding the fact that 31,381 witnessed the third-round deadlock at Molineux nine days ago, we suspect we might be heading for a dumbed-down version of what was an epic collision in decades past.
We must wait until Wednesday evening to see how seriously the two camps take this first of two Old Trafford meetings of the clubs in the next three weeks – but, beyond the squad rotation that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Nuno are likely to implement, what of the turn-out?
Ok, the so-called Theatre of Dreams doesn’t do small attendances but let’s just look back to Wolves’ last trip there in the FA Cup.
For a quarter-final tie in March, 1976, the visit of a relegation-bound side drew in a crowd of 59,433 – a whopping 15,000-plus more than when Wolves lost 1-0 in a League there just before Christmas.
The replay at Molineux a mere three days later attracted 44,373 spectators – that was more than 12,000 beyond what United’s opening-day Division One trip to the West Midlands had pulled in.
In other words, the Cup had an extra magic beyond the League programme; a point underlined in the previous decade when two famous United visits to these parts had the cash tills ringing merrily.
For a midweek sixth-round clash at Molineux, 53,581 were shoehorned in (a full 27,000 more than for the League game between the sides the previous October) while, only 12 months later when Wolves were in the Second Division, there were 53,428 present.
The pattern wasn’t unique to Wolves-United games, although there seemed to be plenty of those at that time. With Ronnie Allen’s side on their way to Second Division promotion in 1966-67, Everton’s fourth-round visit here attracted 53,439 (around 13,000 more than the club’s highest League crowd that season) while the Goodison replay was attended by a staggering 60,020.
The FA Cup was special, magical, unmissable. Far from being an opportunity to rest players, managers saw it for the thrilling sudden-death spectacle it was.
Teams had 41 chances to put things right if a League game went wrong. The Cup was all about being on the brink – of elimination as well as something unforgettable.
We are all loving the Premier League spectacle now, despite the underwhelming recent results against Watford and Newcastle, and the Euopean journey is confirming this as another epic Molineux season.
If you see empty seats in Manchester on Wednesday, though, bear in mind that the reason is more deep-rooted than merely the ticket prices. The emphasis of the domestic game has shifted.