Wolves bankruptcy in 1982, 40 years later: how former players still give something in old gold and black | Soccer News
The topic of conversation among Wolves fans this summer is the future of Ruben Neves and likely replacements at Gestifute agency, with several of Europe’s top youngsters linked with a move to Molineux. August brings a fifth consecutive Premier League season, with back-to-back games against Liverpool and Manchester City to follow in September.
Forty years ago, the discourse was very different. Bankruptcy, receivership, receivership, liquidation orders. Wolves were a club on the brink. Without social media or the internet, supporters clung to the words of local newspaper Express & Star.
On July 2, 1982, the title was the one fans feared the most: WOLVES ARE DONE. This heralded the darkest period in the club’s entire history, with a new administration coming in 1986 following the team’s fall from the First Division to the Fourth Division.
The club’s woes began with the failure to repay a secured loan to build a new stand in 1979. In June 1982, a power struggle at the top of the club saw Doug Ellis replace Harry Marshall as chairman. His first act was to ask Lloyds Bank to call the receiver for his £1.85m loan.
Over the next month, interested parties submitted their offers to buy the club, with the directors striking a deal with Manchester-based property developers Mahmud Al-Hassan Bhatti and Mohammed Akbar Bhatti. The brothers were believed to have ties to the Saudi royal family, but their property turned sour when they failed to strike a deal with the council for land behind Molineux. With no recourse to secure the necessary day-to-day funding, the club was allowed to rot with star players leaving, managers coming and going at an alarming rate and attendance dwindling.
Between 1984 and 1986, Wolves became the first club in history to suffer three successive relegations. On March 18, 1985, the weakest crowd in the league showed up at Molineux to watch a 1-1 draw with Bury. Jon Purdie and Micky Holmes were two who played in front of just 2,205 spectators that day with another, Neil Edwards, injured.
Incredibly, the three men still play today, representing the club in the guise of the Wolves All Stars, the team of ex-players who play in charity games every season with the motto “Give something back in old gold and black”. Earlier this summer, they traveled to Spain for the Field of Dreams tournament against veterans Mijas Old Boys and Walking Dead, at the Finca Naundrup sports complex in Marbella.
“I was released by Arsenal at 18 and it wasn’t so easy to change clubs,” Purdie recalled. “The offer of first-team football was available at Wolves. There weren’t many managers willing to give a teenager an opportunity and maybe that’s only because Wolves were in so much trouble financially and on the pitch that we had that chance. If they did well, I wouldn’t have had the chance, so there were positives to that situation as well. The club was certainly at rock bottom, that doesn’t make no doubt.
Purdie made his debut on the opening day of the 1985/86 season, a campaign which would see Wolves relegated for the third consecutive year. Edwards also made his first appearance in this game. A few weeks earlier, he was working as a roofer while playing in the West Midlands Regional League for Oldswinford. A colleague called him from a rooftop to tell him that the wolves were trying to make contact.
“I was straight from non-league so I used to change in run-down places,” he explains. “I would have given anything to play at this stage because it was a professional contract. My whole family were Wolves fans and playing for my hometown team was amazing. It was only in looking back I realized what a huge achievement that was. It means so much.”
Holmes joined the team three months later. “I didn’t realize the state of the club until we got there,” he says. “I came from Bradford on a Thursday and signed before I had been around the club. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw what it was like so I didn’t realize how bad the place was in bad shape.”
The reputation of wolves in the community was at an all-time low. It was not uncommon for local businesses to refuse to work when the club called. On one occasion a coach driver arrived at Molineux to take the reserve team to a game at Grimsby and refused to leave until he was paid. With no money to come, he left, leaving players stranded. A 12-seater minibus was found, with a staff member from the back office acting as driver and back-up.
Following Tommy Docherty’s departure in the summer of 1985, Sammy Chapman, Bill McGarry and Brian Little all took charge of the club before Graham Turner arrived at the start of the 1986/87 season. At the start of that debut campaign in the Fourth Division, the Bhatti brothers were sent off after the club went into receivership for the second time. Labour-controlled Wolverhampton Council stepped in to help secure Wolves’ future, with Birmingham construction company JJ Gallagher buying the club and leasing the stadium from the council.
The deal came as a huge relief to supporters after administrators at one point proposed Wolves swap places with out-of-league Enfield, who finished as Conference champions, in the days before promotion and relegation between the two divisions.
By now Wolves had sold their training center in Castlecroft and often used grounds in the middle of Wolverhampton Racecourse, among other venues. On a Friday, when even the racecourse was unavailable, Turner pulled out the bibs and cones in the car park behind the North Bank stand and marked out a makeshift pitch. The team won the next day and so a tradition was born.
“We loved practice at the parking lot on a Friday because it was a brilliant group of guys and we would have practiced anywhere really,” Holmes said. “You would try not to fall because you would end up with sand in your hands and knees. We all got tangled up, we were so close – Andy Mutch is my son’s godfather.”
“I used to have to leave after training at Cash & Carry to get the drinks to run the Players’ Bar on Saturdays because the club couldn’t afford to organize anything themselves,” adds Purdy. “We didn’t have much but we had a great group of players who linked up brilliantly and when you start winning games there’s no better feeling.”
That feeling of victory under Turner was largely down to Steve Bull’s goalscoring – 102 in the league in just two seasons – as Wolves climbed from the Fourth Division to the Second Division. The revival also brought new owners, with Sir Jack Hayward buying the club in 1990 and securing its long-term future.
As the team continued to grow, Holmes, Purdie and Edwards found themselves sidelined and had to look elsewhere to pursue their careers. But they remain extremely proud of the role they played in helping the club through its darkest hours.
“You have Wolves fans who would give their right arm just to represent Wolves once,” Purdie continues. “Being able to say you’ve played over 100 times for them, no one can take that away from you.”
And many years after retirement, the lure of putting on the boots is stronger than ever. Edwards had a training session with local youngsters on the morning of the Field of Dreams tournament before joining the Wolves All Stars roster with Holmes, Purdie and several other 1980s players including Paul Jones and Jackie Gallagher.
“I was an apprentice at Wolves who never made it and looked up to those guys,” said tournament organizer Simon Dunkley, who was a young player for the team during the Bhatti brothers’ days. Dunkley moved to Calahonda on the Costa del Sol earlier this year to pursue his second career as a blues and motown musician. “To have the chance to play with them again is fantastic. It’s the players who haven’t quite reached the top who seem to want to do a bit more too, they understand the importance of where they’ve been and of what they can A lot of them have been released in their careers and it seems to bring them together We all want to play football really, and be associated with the old gold and black, well that’s special all over the world, right, right?”
The Field of Dreams tournament has raised funds for the neonatal unit at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton as well as for a football academy in Marbella.
“We’re all in our 50s now and love a few beers, but we want to give back to the community whenever possible,” adds Edwards. “We don’t see each other very often but we’re definitely friends for life and when we get back together it’s like we’ve never been apart. That’s what football does for you. The mentality of the changing rooms is hard to describe.”
None of the players earned enough to retire once their football career was over and spent most of their adult life in employment outside of football. Edwards lives in Hemel Hempstead and runs his own DIY business, Purdie is a property planner at a law firm in Stourbridge after coaching young players at Samui United Academy in Thailand and Holmes sells stairlifts for a company based in Kingswinford.
“I think what we have is unique because the Wolves All Stars are mostly made up of our generation,” says Holmes. “The current Wolves squad will probably split up and go back to Portugal and all the other countries they come from, so you won’t see that again.”
The club today is unrecognizable from the Wolves of 40 years ago but, as long as they remain fit enough, the players from that nadir of the 1980s will serve as a reminder of just how far that progression has stretched, while giving back their part to the old gold and black.