Big Win Makes It Happy Returns For Mike
Bailey Back Among Old Pals
Fifty years ago this month, Mike Bailey returned from one of his increasingly frequent injury absences to witness the joy of a John Richards hat-trick at home to Everton.
More relevantly to this story, the captain’s fitness was tested over the next fortnight by playing three First Division games in four days, two of them away and one as far from home as Ipswich.
Football at Easter was very different then to the modern-day game he had a look at when he made a popular return to Molineux for Saturday’s game against Chelsea.
Julen Lopetegui’s side worked feverishly to prise out three valuable points but this is an unrecognisable landscape – even amid the catching-up following a mid-season World Cup – from the one of old.
Bailey watched the 1-0 win from an executive box in the Steve Bull Stand and shared the back-slapping and hand-shaking with Kenny Hibbitt and Mel Eves, who did a pre-match tour of q&a duty in the museum, worldwide lounge and fanzone.
The choices of personnel weren’t coincidental. Hibbitt’s first senior start for Wolves was in a 2-2 draw at Chelsea in September, 1970, when he scored, and he should have been accompanied this weekend by one of his big mates, Willie Carr, who famously made his debut in gold and black in a 7-1 victory over the Londoners in 1975.
Carr is currently unwell but his replacement, Eves, also has history with the same opponents, having used a tense late-season trip to Stamford Bridge in 1978 to crash in his first goal in first-team football.
Sadly, we are left to guess what Bailey, who is 81 and some two and a half seasons on from his family’s decision to go public about his memory problems, would have made of Wolves having seven days to prepare for an Easter Saturday fixture and seven more to plan for the follow-up.
And what, in turn, would match-winner Matheus Nunes, acting captain Max Kilman and the rest think about the gruelling holiday workload almost annually undertaken by Bailey, Hibbitt, Eves and Carr?
In the previously-mentioned 1972-73 campaign, for example, Wolves were at Ipswich on the Saturday, at home to Norwich on Bank Holiday Monday and at Stoke the following day. And that wasn’t a one-off. Around Easter in 1971, they played five games in 11 days, including a jaunt to Scotland for the first leg of the Texaco Cup final against Hearts.
Football has changed hugely in so many ways over the decades but the spread of fixtures is one of the most noticeable differences. What an experience it would be to observe a chat between groups of players from these different eras!
In and around the trio of returning favourites two days ago were fans from Australia, Singapore, Berlin, Norway and Sweden, especially in the worldwide lounge, so it felt like a pleasant holiday occasion.
And how fitting it was that the massively admired Mike Bailey should have an outstanding result with which to send he and his family members back to London.