A Golden Trail To The Brink Of Glory
Memories Of Fan’s Lengthy UEFA Odyssey
With Wolves well placed in their last-16 Europa League tie, we had planned to post this piece before the Molineux return against Olympiacos. But who knows when that game will now take place? In the meantime, we look back to the club’s last adventure of this magnitude through the eyes of a fan who attended all of the ties, home and away, in the 1971-72 UEFA Cup journey, except the one against Ferencvaros in Budapest. Oh yes, there was a brief ban on Wolves fan travelling 48 seasons ago, too.
Not a light show, a group table nor a VAR screen in sight. Life on the European beat with Wolves was different in 1971-72.
Several hundred pounds a time different if Bob Adams’s memory serves him correctly.
With hopes of a triumphant end, eventually, to the current Europa League marathon, the lifelong fan reflected on the proudest period of his near-60 years of gold and black devotion and thanks his lucky stars that he was nowhere else 48 seasons ago apart from Molineux. Oh…..and Portugal, Holland, East Germany, Italy and London. Boy, what memories he has!
“I went to 11 of the 12 games in that UEFA Cup run and was only stopped from going to the semi-final first leg away to Ferencvaros because there was a smallpox outbreak in Budapest,” he said.
“I know how lucky I was to see us win two League Cup finals in the space of a few years but that European journey was something else.
“I had not long left school and gone to work at the tax office in Dudley, so I didn’t have that much money. Following Wolves across the continent took care of most of what I had.
“I hadn’t been abroad before, so it was all very special. At home, I have two scrapbooks full of match tickets, flight tickets, letters from the trip organisers (Towns Travel in Liverpool) and hotel receipts. I would hate to lose them. They are such a wonderful souvenir of a great few months.”
So where did the side and this intrepid band of followers go and what does Bob remember? A pre-match coffee in Wolverhampton on the afternoon of the Espanyol return provided us with plenty of answers.
Round 1 v Academica Coimbra. “We stuffed them 4-1 over there after an equally comfortable win at home and it was a bit tense with some of the Coimbra fans becoming quite hostile with us. There were no police escorts and we were glad to make it back to the coach safely.” Trip price: £26.50, including £1.25 for match ticket.
Round 2 v Den Haag. “This was another free-scoring Wolves performance in an away leg. With the trip being little more than a short hop, there was a much bigger following to this one and plenty of supporters made their own arrangements to get to Holland. There was nothing like the same reliance then on official club trips and the mood was brilliant after a 3-1 win that was built on with the help of the Den Haag defenders in the return.” Trip price: £26, including £1.50 for match ticket.
Round 3 v Carl Zeiss Jena. “I thought a wind-cheater and just normal shoes and thin socks would do the job but it was bitterly cold as a small group of us sat in a long line in an open stand as the snow fell. We flew to Nuremburg in West Germany and had a four-hour wait as guards with machine guards got on the coach at the border to the East. We had been told in advance to be careful how we described our occupations on the documentation and not to write ‘Government official’ or anything like that. The organisers also reminded us not to be smart when we were asked to open our bags for inspection. The experience was a bit unnerving and we were relieved to be on our way again and to see a 1-0 victory in a game that I believe was the best I ever saw Mike Bailey play for Wolves. Trip price: £35, including £1.50 (from memory) for match ticket.
Quarter-final v Juventus. A bit low-key in some ways considering we were playing one of the Italian big-hitters. Another Wolves performance to be proud of, though, and a draw that left us in good spirits for the flight home and for the second leg. By now, a few of us were becoming decent mates. The same faces were popping up on each journey. Trip price: £26, including £1.50 (from memory) for match ticket.
Semi-final v Ferencvaros. My trip was booked and paid for and I was gutted when it was called off. Smallpox was still a problem in Hungary and, although the players were vaccinated in time and the certificates provided, it was seen as too big a job and too big a risk for fans from different areas over here to have their injections and secure the relevant paperwork. Tony Shaw, who ran the commercial department at Molineux, did his best to help us over our disappointment by inviting a few of us to his office to watch news of the game arriving on a teleprinter.
Final v Tottenham. We missed out on Ferencvaros but thought we would be going to Italy for a mouth-watering two-leg final against AC Milan. They lost to Spurs in the semis, though, and we always had trouble with them in big games at that time, as our narrow defeat this time showed. No planes required – I caught the train down to London and still marvel at what admission prices were. Trip price: £5.80, made up of £4.25 rail fare, £1.50 match ticket and 5p programme. And this total cost included a free game of bingo on board, record requests and coach transfers from Euston.
Bob was living in Dudley while all this was fun was unfolding. Many of our readers will see his point when he says that marriage and other responsibilities came along but, now Nuneaton-based and still working in Local Government, he did much as secretary and treasurer to give the Nuneaton Wolves Supporters Club some memorable years before their sad disbanding.
“That was it for me as far as European travels went,” he added. “I didn’t go on any of the other trips in the 1970s, nor to Eindhoven in 1980. But I wouldn’t change a thing……what a brilliant experience it was.”