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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

Comments (9)
Comment by Frank Heaven 2012-03-14 12:46:35

Older Baggies might consider this as revenge for 1953-54, when the same thing happened in reverse, and Wolves denied Albion a league and cup double.

There is another account of the season, from a WBA perspective, on The Two Unfortunates blog: http://bit.ly/xDBrRR

Comment by ingoldale 2012-03-14 13:20:38

"A miserable home defeat to Grimsby" I remember it well - a Paul Groves strike sealed it for the Mighty Mariners - oh how we love to beat Wolves. Enhanced by quotes of the aforementioned type. Wolves are above Grimsby, Grimsby isn't nice enough to go to on a Tuesday night, Grimsby were unworthy of their place in the then Divsion 1. Blah, blah blah.

Comment by jonmid 2012-03-14 13:47:32

a bitter bitter season

Comment by David Agnew 2012-03-14 17:43:09

Glorious.

Comment by jonmid 2012-03-14 18:24:40

I seem to recall Ipswich got relegated during this season

Comment by JimDavis 2012-03-14 18:41:43

What a season it was. Who could of predicted Steve Claridge would ever become an Albion hero!
As a post script - the 2 points we dropped in the run in was in part due to a goal line error when a goal against Rotherham was disallowed even though it was closer to the back of the net than the actual goal line. It turned out we didn’t need the extra 2 points, but with that point, Rotherham went on to survive relegation on goal difference at the expense of Crewe.

Comment by Jon 2012-03-14 22:44:20

I'd completely forgotten about that disallowed goal at Rotherham.

During the run-in I must have checked the league table about 3 times a day, to see if it was mathematically possible to catch Wolves. I think we had a few games in hand over them, due to the best FA Cup run we'd had for about 20 years. I also seem to remember us having lots of injuries that season (wasn't that the season Appleton's career was ended by an injury?) so getting promoted after 19 years against all odds, the Battle of Bramall Lane and the wait to see if we'd get our 3 points, getting to the quarter finals of the FA Cup, the unbelievably tense last few games and pipping one of our local rivals to promotion make this my favourite ever season and the day we got promoted the best day I have ever had in my football supporting life.

Comment by jameswba 2012-03-15 06:01:50

Also(for Albion fans), there was the joy of doing the undreamed of. The feeling after the subsequent 3 promotions hasn't been quite the same because of that dreaded thing expectation. In 2003/2004 and 2009/2010 especially, there were plenty of moans and groans about the style of play.

It's interesting to read a Wolves fan's view of 2001/2002 but also surprising, given the 1-5 of just a few weeks ago. I'd have thought they'd want to recall happier times, like the Bully inspired double of 89/90 (their first season back in the second tier after the nightmare of the Bhattis) or the hat-trick Iwan Roberts put past 'Crisis' Crichton in 96/97.

Comment by Peter_Bateman 2012-03-15 12:02:30

I won't gloat too much about Wolves' travailspast or present , but if the Villa were to go down my joy would be unbridled. I am a dyed in the wool baggie but have no real problem with Wolves fans. They hate us and make no secret of it but, after Diviosn Four, Chorley, the Bhatti brothers, Wolves fans of my age have a realistic view of their club's place in the order of things. Villa fans,on the other hand, are smug and condescending and always have been. Things turn round quickly too. I remember going to Molineux in April 1984 as Graham Hawkins' dreadful team slid into Divison Two, the first of three back to back relegations and Albion fans gleefully singing "We'll meet agian don't know where don't know when." It was only five and ahalf years before the Orange shirts washed up at The Hawthorns and a certain Mr.Bull scored the winner.


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