Wolves capitulate in Division One, 2001-02
The Season When ~ Adam Bate remembers a season of hubris for Wolves, as they spent all their money, won loads of games and then threw it all away – to West Brom
The 2001-02 season was supposed to be the culmination of a decade of investment by local boy Sir Jack Hayward in his beloved Wolves. The club that had been languishing in Division Four in 1986 now had a pristine new stadium and was finally on its way back to the Premier League. It was a dream. But it was a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare.
Wolves had been something of a laughing stock throughout the 1990s as Hayward spent big money trying to reach the top flight. England internationals such as Geoff Thomas and Tony Daley agreed to drop down a division in their prime to play for former England manager Graham Taylor but promptly suffered catastrophic injuries. The notion that Wolves were cursed gathered momentum.
But after a period of sustainability, Hayward gave it one last throw of the dice under new manager Dave Jones in 2001. Jones reportedly offered Hayward two routes to success. Invest slowly and build a team or spend big and guarantee promotion. Hayward opted for the latter. Cedric Roussel, Nathan Blake, Alex Rae, Colin Cameron, Mark Kennedy, Shaun Newton, Paul Butler and Kenny Miller arrived as Wolves blew £15 million in no time at all.
The impact was immediate. Wolves took 27 points from the first 11 games of the season, scoring nine goals without reply in three consecutive away games. The winter addition of Dean Sturridge – who scored eight goals in February alone – ensured they were still flying high in March, when a 2-0 win at home to Gillingham made it seven wins on the bounce.
“A workmanlike victory, albeit a complacent workman who takes a lot of tea breaks,” was how Caroline Bailey described it in the Guardian. “For the final 15 minutes, their attention waxed and waned, their head in the clouds and their foot off the gas.” The fans chanted for the players to wave in their direction and each of them duly obliged even while the ball was in play. The match was won but, looking back, the stench of premature triumphalism was rife.
At that stage, Wolves were eight points clear of second-placed Manchester City. Arch-rivals West Bromwich Albion were scarcely a consideration. Players told the local media they would not settle for mere promotion but wanted the title itself. Kevin Cooper was signed for £1m that month, having rejected Albion just days earlier – seemingly confirming the relative standing of the two clubs.
And then came the inevitable collapse. A run of one win in seven games included a miserable home defeat to Grimsby, a footballing lesson from Manchester City and a late Steve Claridge winner for Millwall. To make matters worse, the form of Wolves' rivals was relentless. City won 11 of their final 13 games, while Albion’s unbeaten ten-match race to the finish-line included eight victories.
Wolves finished third. All that was left was the final indignation of a play-off disaster. Sturridge’s goal at Carrow Road provided brief hope but a second-half collapse gave Norwich a 3-1 lead to take to Molineux, which was more than enough.
Famously, some fans unfurled a banner at the final whistle displaying the message: "You’ve let us down again." There was alarm expressed, given that the move had been premeditated when there was still hope of progressing at kick-off. But anyone who lived through that campaign would know – this was a season that had disaster written all over it. Adam Bate
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