Regular visitors to MFW may recognise the name Don Harold, as one of the site’s regular commenters. With Don, in addition to being a massive City supporter, being a resident of Wolverhampton it made perfect sense to turn to him for an ‘inside’ view on the Wolves of the Black Country.
I met him in the virtual pub and over a couple of imaginary pints (actually, the one at my end was real) and we had a good old chinwag on the eve of the acolytes of all things Old Gold coming to town.
Hi Don, how come you support City while living in the Black Country?
Don: I was brought up in Lakenham and moved to Birmingham in 1989 (love, work and all that). We moved to Wolverhampton a couple of years later and have been there, happily, ever since.
I’m a business development manager (euphemism for a salesman) for a commercial recycling and waste management company, which is dominated by Birmingham and Villa fans and which often means that work takes time to get started on a Monday.
I understand your children (pretty much like ours) aren’t exactly supporters of Norwich City…
I have a wife and three daughters aged 16, 19 and 22, none of whom are football fans. I took my daughters to Molineux once but they didn’t like it (who can blame them?). I’m quite happy having football and NCFC to myself as I’m not sure I would be able to be responsible for them at a game and they’re not quite aware of how much swearing I’m capable of in 90 minutes. They’re all quite amused, or bemused, when they hear the noises coming from the living room when a Norwich match is on TV.
Okay, let’s cut to the quick: What’s it like to be a City supporter living in an area where you’re surrounded by Wolves fans?
Lots of my friends are Wolves fans and usually I’ll take one or two to visit the Fine City when we play them. Wolves have announced that they are providing free travel for our forthcoming game – I wonder if they’ll take me (perhaps not!).
I get on well with the ones I meet but do enjoy their reaction when I prove to them that we are now a bigger club than them based on average crowds, season ticket sales and the fact that we’ve won something more recently than them. My favourite line is that in the season when we got relegated to League One, they got promoted to the Prem but our average attendance was higher than theirs. Some of them really do think they’re still a big club, up there with Man Utd; mind you, when I hear some Norwich fans talking they seem to think we should be competing with Real Madrid.
My most cherished moment in Norwich/Wolves games was in the 2002 play-off semi-final when we knocked them out. I almost skipped the mile back to my local wearing my Norwich top, trying to suppress a Cheshire Cat grin and ignoring some of the looks and comments I was getting from the surrounding fans (most of them were fine). I walked into the bar with my arms in the air and saw several people quickly leaving through the back door.
The people of Wolverhampton are generally among the most friendly I have met. I have lived here for over a quarter of a century and have always felt welcome. Strangers talk to each other and look out for each other. The mood of the city often reflects the performance of Wolves, much like it does in Norwich.
There is a problem with some football thuggery. I have never felt concerned but I go home in the opposite direction of where this usually happens. It seems there are people who lie in wait of away fans returning to buses and the train station and in the cowardly way this is done, attack some people who have become separated from the main group. The club seem to be trying to address this and, with the support of the council, have announced a series of road closures and other measures to try to improve things.
I agree with you – having worked reasonably regularly in Wednesfield, I’ve always found Black Country people warm and welcoming – outside of Molineux. A couple of pints in The Tiger and a trip to the Balti House after work with some colleagues was always a pleasure, but NCFC and Wolves fans do not mix well. We dislike them because of what Kevin Muscat did to Craig Bellamy. But do you know specifically why they dislike us?
I find that Wolves fans are surprised that Norwich fans particularly despise their club; I feel that it is in many ways a one-way issue as hardly anyone in Wolverhampton seems to remember the Muscat abuse of Bellamy (I think Keith Curle was almost as bad that day – they had clearly targeted him) and many shudder in embarrassment at the mention of Muscat.
I will say though that maybe some Wolves fans like Norwich a bit less after talking to me and listening to my attempts to cure them of their ‘big club’ delusions of grandeur and misplaced superiority complex!
Having got the contentious stuff dealt with early doors, we moved on to discussing the realities of following City from afar…
Time and finance means that I only get to Carrow Road about five or six times per season. When I go I stay overnight, usually in a B&B, and do lots of socialising before and after the game. I do this because the three+ hour drive home after a game is miserable when we lose; one of my mantras is that you shouldn’t let the football spoil a good day at the football (borrowed from Johnny Vaughan).
Living less than two miles from Molineux has some advantages (honestly!). In the distance from Norwich to little 1p5wich, this season I have Wolves, Villa, Birmingham, Burton and Derby. Nottingham, Bristol and the North West clubs are pretty easy to get to and my middle daughter is at Sheffield University. I go to as many away games as I can; most seasons I get to more away games than home ones.
I’m an upper Barclay Boy (ex-lower). When you do get to The Carra, where do you prefer to sit?
Mostly I sit in the South Stand or whatever it’s called this week. I occasionally go in the Barclay Lower but it’s not so easy to get a ticket there. I have never been in the Snakepit, I must put that right sometime as it seems like fun – the nearest I got was in the next door block of the Barclay when Iwan left Muscat in no doubt who was boss; one of the most beautiful moments in my NCFC experience. (And mine – MP).
Apart from Mrs P and a few relatives sadly deceased, my family has no tradition of supporting NCFC. How about you?
Sadly, I have no family in Norwich now. My dad was from near Glasgow and was a Celtic supporter but became a season ticket holder at Carrow Road and did the right thing by taking my brother and I to games when we were kids. My mum was interested in how Norwich and Celtic had got on but couldn’t be described as a fan. My brother lives in Dubai but comes over for a few games every season; those weekends can be quite lively. He sees most games live in a bar in Dubai with about a dozen other ex-pat Norwich fans. I am lucky enough to have lifelong friends who I meet before, during and after games.
Any Wolves fans in your close social circle?
None in the family although one of my daughters has a boyfriend who is a keen Wolves fan (other than that he’s a really decent young man). My dad was in the RAF in the 50s and was stationed at both Bridgnorth and Cosford, which are close to Wolverhampton. He often went to watch Wolves and always retained a soft spot for them.
I bet you could tell me something interesting about your earliest days of supporting City (those of a nervous disposition might care to look away now).
When I was about 13 my school (Hewett) was asked to supply ball boys for reserve games and I managed to blag my way into doing that along with three or four others. One evening game it was so cold and rainy we were asked if we wanted to use the players’ bath to warm up after the game which we did (once the players had got out). It then became normal for us to have a post-match bath while the players were drying off and getting dressed. The players and staff were all fantastic but thinking back the communal bath was a pretty disgusting place; full of mud, blood, wound dressings and other bits and pieces… different days indeed.
As a reward for giving our time for the reserve games we were given a full kit and were ball boys for a couple of first-team games each season. The most memorable of these was against Man Utd when their fans rioted (1978?). My position was the Barclay/South Stand corner where the United fans were; I remember being both terrified and excited at the same time but am now quite amazed that even as the violence was breaking out I wasn’t taken away from there by either the police or City officials. As I said, different days.
What do you think went wrong for Paul Lambert at Wolves?
I was surprised that Paul Lambert took the job as it was obvious that he was not going to have the level of authority in deciding which players came and went. He seemed to be doing a good job but it wasn’t a surprise when he left. I do like to point out to Wolves fans that the previous three clubs he’s left have been relegated within two years; there were times last season when that looked a distinct possibility and I’m just waiting for them to lose 15 games on the trot so that it can happen!
I still rate Lambert highly and am surprised he hasn’t got a job yet.
How do you feel about facing John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett?
I’ve always liked Ruddy and wish him well. He’s brilliant one-on-one but, as we know well, has bouts of poor form where he can cost a goal a game. He seems to have settled in well and is popular with the fans. I don’t get too upset when players leave and am happy that we have an impressive replacement in Angus Gunn.
As far as Ryan Bennett is concerned, I think he almost defined what was wrong with us for the last couple of years. He was decent but not quite good enough to impress; the change came at the right time for us and for him. He hasn’t been part of the Wolves squad for some time, I don’t know if he’s injured. A few Wolves fans I’ve spoken to saw him in pre-season games and thought he looked pretty good but haven’t seen him since. Good luck to him but I can’t see him doing too much at Wolves.
Your thoughts so far on the Webberlution? And the comings and goings on the player front?
As for the Webberlution I think it’s something that had to happen. If you don’t change things they stay the same so we absolutely had to change; the status quo was going nowhere and causing division among fans and, I guess, staff and players. Pre-season was exciting but the first five league games were frightening – how many teams are going to concede 11 goals against Sunderland, Villa and Millwall this season?
I was starting to doubt that the Farke way was going to work – luckily so was he! I have loved what has happened since and feel that we can trust Farke and Webber to be pragmatic enough to recognise what is and isn’t working, which is refreshing after the steadfastness of Hughton and Neil.
I wasn’t too worried about the players leaving, we needed a clear-out. I was disappointed at losing Howson but delighted at keeping Nelson in Norfolk. I did worry that I hadn’t heard of the players coming in and after the first five games I wondered what we had let ourselves in for, however a good coach can improve players and this seems to have happened with Zimmermann and more recently with Husband. I think it’s great that Ivo Pinto is captain and love his attitude to the game. Timm has made a huge difference and looks like the player who almost kept us in the Prem; Trybull looks like a great find and Tettey seems to be enjoying having someone to help him out.
I am optimistic but have been a City fan too long to get carried away in October. A visit to Wembley some time would be good (not Spurs in the F.A. Cup), but I don’t think we’re quite a top two team yet; gladly I don’t think we’re a bottom three team either. We still have a few transfer windows before we can free up the wages of some high earners like Naismith, so I’m happy to accept the transition period for what it is.
Don, we have to end with the cliché question: Wolves are going well, no doubting that. What’s your score prediction?
Wolves are going well but as I stated earlier I expect them to have a 15 match losing streak to continue Lambert’s record! I’d be very happy with another 1-0. I can’t afford a defeat as there are too many Wolves fans I have bet a pint with on the result!
And if anyone owes Don a pint it’s me. Many thanks mate.