Winning promotion in two successive seasons was more significant to Wolves’ long-term health and prosperity but no game from the club’s stay in the lower divisions is more fondly remembered than the one played 24 years ago today.
Wolves and Burnley had contested the domestic game’s biggest honour when they jousted for the League Championship in 1959-60, so their head-to-head in the final of the Sherpa Van Trophy might have appeared small beer to older fans.
But try telling that to the 80,841 crowd who descended on Wembley on May 29, 1988. It was a remarkable turn-out for any game between two Fourth Division clubs and 10,000 higher than for the Rous Cup match between England and Scotland at the same stadium the weekend before.
Wolves’ own following of some 45,000 is one of the biggest representations ever for a club game at football hq. And events justified the title of their Wembley song, We’re Back, with the Whit Sunday exodus coming two years after the last day of Wanderers’ season attracted a desperate 2,174 to a Third Division game at Lincoln.
When they arrived at Wembley for the second time in a month and a half – they had played there in mid-April in the Mercantile Centenary Tournament – Graham Turner’s side were already sure of going up as champions. They had secured the title in their final home game, then rounded off their campaign with a 2-0 victory at Orient before squeezing in a week in Majorca.
As well as having finished nine places above Burnley in the table, they had the psychological edge of having beaten them 3-0 at home and away.
There wasn’t too much to split the sides at the twin towers, though, the side of underdogs under the command of the late Brian Miller having their moments in the sun.
But Wolves were a club with serious momentum – and a winning habit. An error by former Molineux youth keeper Chris Pearce enabled Andy Mutch to head them in front from Steve Bull’s 23rd minute cross and breathing space came with a stunning Robbie Dennison free-kick six minutes after half-time.
With injuries to Alistair Robertson, Keith Downing and Micky Holmes taking their toll, the game became more open in the dying stages and Mark Kendall needed fortune on his side to extend what was already a club record with his 28th clean sheet of the season.
Wolves, having earlier that month become the first club able to bask in the satisfaction of winning all four divisions, were presented with the handsome trophy by Bill Slater, no less. He and Burnley legend Jimmy McIlroy were the day’s guests of honour.
Much more surprising than the 2-0 result was the fact that Bull was absent from the score-sheet.
He went into the game needing a hat-trick (and he already had four of those to his credit in 1987-88) to overtake Peterborough’s Terry Bly and become the highest scorer in a season for any Football League club since the war.
Alas, he missed out and remained stuck on 52 goals. Oh well, another 50 – plus England caps and goals – were to follow over the next 12 months.
WOLVES TEAM: Mark KENDALL, Gary BELLAMY, Andy THOMPSON, Floyd STREETE, Alistair ROBERTSON (captain, sub Jackie GALLAGHER), Phil ROBINSON, Robbie DENNISON, Keith DOWNING (sub Nigel VAUGHAN), Steve BULL, Andy MUTCH, Micky HOLMES.