The Sound Of Silence
Empty Stands Are A World Apart
Wolves v Leeds – a fixture historically associated with huge crowds but which was played out again last night to nothing louder than the urgings and exclamations from the pitch and technical areas.
So how would the players of past decades have coped without the ‘audience participation’ they took for granted?
“I remember playing some matches behind closed doors where it was first team against second team and I also had 18 months or so in amateur football at the end of my career with a team round here called Harrisons,” said John McAlle today.
“As a youngster trying to impress the manager, I didn’t need any motivating to play hard in those training games but running out to play at Molineux with that crowd supporting us in proper matches is something I always remember and loved to have.
“We were lucky enough to go to Wembley and win, of course, but it was always a fantastic feeling to do well and know you had pleased your supporters, wherever you played.
“I can imagine the players now are really missing all that. It’s just part of the game. I have to say that I preferred football as it was then to today and can remember how the noise level would go up if Waggy went racing down the wing with Derek Dougan and John Richards waiting in the middle.
“Ok, my contribution to bringing a big cheer was probably usually just a good sliding tackle in the mud but we all relied on that support to help us along in matches.
“Hopefully the present generation will soon have that behind them again when life gets back to normal.”
The crowd for the most famous Wolves-Leeds game of them all – the title decider at Molineux in May, 1972 – was 53,379. It was the biggest turn-out at the ground for five and a half years and has not been bettered since.
The meeting of the clubs in the following season’s FA Cup semi-final at Maine Road was watched by 52,488 and McAlle, like John Richards and Kenny Hibbitt, played in both of those games and also in what was another momentous game, attendance-wise.
That was the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Middlesbrough 40 years ago next month which was the last match at Molineux to be watched by a 40,000-plus crowd.
What Conor Coady and co would give for that sort of buzz at present!