Today marked the anniversary of a rather significant moment in our history. 15 years ago today, Kenny Miller guided the ball past Tim Howard to secure us the biggest scalp of what was ultimately a doomed first season back in the Premier League after 19 years away. Manchester United arrived with a stellar line-up including a young Cristiano Ronaldo and were dispatched by a dogged, if aged Wolves line-up.
I was also reminded of another impressive result against the same opposition during out next stint in the top flight, with George Elokobi appearing on Wolves’ own ‘Old Gold Club’ podcast. Elokobi, a man who would have you believe he masterminded victory with two goals against what was then an unbeaten United side, flying high at the top of the table. Elokobi, also a man who came here to study and ended up being a Premier League football. There were other such stories of varying scales littered throughout the team that conquered United that night, but our current squad is something akin to what we would have liked to have had at our disposal in those two previous Premier League assaults.
What really struck me from my relatively vague memories of those two games was the hostility of the atmosphere. This comes in the wake of us departing the Etihad Stadium with aspirations in some areas, but not others. We’re on the road towards reaching such a level of success, if you believe what our owners are telling you and there appears to be a dilution process that takes place over the course of your successful years. For City, the height of this was Sergio Aguero’s last gasp winner versus QPR to ensure they pipped city rivals United to the title, a moment so euphoric anything subsequently pales in comparison.
The context and circumstances of the match didn’t help – Monday night, a televised game, which was over as a contest at 1-0 with 10 men – but the flatness of the atmosphere was incredibly noticeable. Again, this is a club so accustomed to success and the sight of their team flattening opponents that they take on a watching brief from the stands. Rightly or wrongly, a large portion of their support clearly feels no need to offer their vocal support to their team in order for them to experience victory. Obviously there are occasions when the inner-warrior comes out but we simply aren’t the household name required to irk these fans into action. Man City are a club that have suffered in a similar way to ourselves in recent times and perhaps their rise and settling in the upper echelons of world football is a glimpse into our own future.
But, let’s be honest, have we not been guilty of this ourselves? How many flat atmospheres can we recall from the second half of last season, when we were in cruise control, after the euphoria of overcoming Aston Villa and Leeds United in exhilarating fashion? In the even more recent past, after a monolithic victory over Tottenham, we arrived back at Molineux, against a Crystal Palace side who were clearly deemed below the block-buster level required to create a fortress of noise at our home and we duly limped to a 2-0 defeat. That may be on the players and the tactics of the manager, but what’s our excuse?
We’ve still not achieved anything as a Premier League club. We need to remind ourselves of that and create a genuine feeling of humility that gives us the desire to create the atmosphere that every football arena craves. We could still get relegated – mathematically of course, not realistically – and something tells me that if we treated this club as we did back in the days when we were always looking up the table at the rest of the league, we may just be able to draw on that warrior spirit that can often drag us to a result. I’ve always played down the emotional side of the game and I always try to view football through a prism that removes the impact of fans, atmospheres and external environments. But part of the enjoyment of this whole journey is not only through what we see on the pitch but in the way we support this club through it. If we can’t sing and dance our way along this rollercoaster, when will we?
One day in the future, I have no doubt a sterility will take over, but a small part of me will always hark back to the days when Dave Jones and Mick McCarthy took their band of Merry Men and beat these teams against all odds. We now have individuals who are on a par with anything in the country and it seems we’ve taken a sense of entitlement along with that.
To bring this back to results, we have problems at home. We’ve lost 5 of the last 7 games in our own back yard, which simply isn’t good enough. Again, we won’t be playing a headline team, but this is a team with similar aspirations who have experienced their own levels of euphoria in recent years. We need to take on some of that underdog spirit that we were always able to call upon in the past and drive the team onwards. Perhaps we use the fact that this is the closes thing we have to a derby game this season.
Just remember that feeling you had when George Elokobi was nodding one in past Edwin Van der Sar, or when Kenny Miller arced away the North Bank in celebration, that feeling that we were the little guy, getting one over the establishment. Soon, we may not be able to relate to those feelings, but it’s what will make these moments all the more special.