Right Royal Occasions
Molineux’s Most Important Visitor
On the day The Queen’s life and reign were beatifully marked by a minute’s silence and the signing of the national anthem before Wolves’ game with Manchester City, we reflect on how she impacted on Molineux life once or twice in what might be called her middle years….
Dot Wooldridge spoke of her fears of what football people might refer to as ‘going to ground’ and Rachael Heyhoe Flint jokingly advised Steve Bull how to ensure he didn’t mete out the sort of physical contact he might occasionally have considered appropriate for Steve Walsh and others.
Well, being introduced to her Majesty came with very real responsibilities and considerable nervousness.
Meetings between Wolverhampton Wanderers folk and the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch were happily plentiful, with her 1994 visit here an occasion of particular note.
Thanks to a friendship underpinned through lunches in the garden when the Royal Yacht Britannia docked in the Bahamas, Sir Jack Hayward knew her well enough to persuade her to perform the opening ceremony at the rebuilt stadium in the summer of 1994. He even complimented her on choosing Wolves gold for her outfit, although many onlookers described it as tangerine!
Among others privileged to be granted official introductions were Graham Taylor, Paul Birch and the big-money winger he had just signed after knowing him well at Villa and with England, Tony Daley.
Most of the manager’s first-team squad, including Bully, were away on holiday, so the welcoming group was dominated by administrative figures, along with highly distinguished former players.
Billy Wright was then a proud director – and, sadly, in his final few months – so his place in the line was guaranteed. He had, of course, offered his hand to that famous royal glove several times before but others were treading new red-carpeted ground.
John Richards, who was to join the club’s board six months later, was alongside Ron Flowers and Roy Swinbourne in the official reception party while Dave Wagstaffe and staff from the Waggy’s Bar establishment the winger ran were lined up as interested onlookers outside, as were six of Wolves’ young trainees and even official club mascot Wolfie.
Manager’s secretary Dot Wooldridge and groundsman Bill Pilbeam, the latter of who had looked after those famous green acres since 1972, were given the honour of a place among the VIPs on the basis that they were the club’s two longest-serving employees.
Dot, then 50, remembered being among the watching crowds when The Queen had come to the ground in 1961 and was quoted in the Express & Star’s colourful coverage three and a half decades later as saying: “I just hoped I wouldn’t fall over when I curtsied!”
It was the monarch’s first visit to Wolverhampton since the silver jubilee year of 1977, her day in the West Midlands also taking her to the nearby Dunstall Park racecourse, St Peter’s Church, Dudley Zoo, Walsall and Tipton. At Molineux, she unveiled a plaque commemorating the opening of the rebuilt ground.
Rachael Heyhoe was no newcomer to Britain’s most photographed person, having received the MBE from her at Buckingham Palace in 1972. So she had some friendly advice when Bully was preparing to go to the Palace to receive the same award from her in 2000.
She explained exactly how he should bow when at close quarters with her, adding the tongue-in-cheek warning that he couldn’t be seen to be head-butting her!
*Older Wolves supporters may remember Britain’s last state funeral – that of Sir Winston Churchill on Saturday, January 30, 1965. Matches were not cancelled that day and the Sporting Star carried a highly evocative photo of all 22 players lining up on a wintry Molineux pitch before the FA Cup clash with Rotherham two hours after the funeral of The Queen’s first Prime Minister, who had died six days earlier.