Football and the elements – Wolves

Neil Reynolds hasn't the foggiest idea about one game at Molineux

Black Country derbies are not renowned for their high quality, but there was one Wolves v West Brom game a few years ago when there was actually no football seen at all. It was 31st January 1981 – a dank, dreary day, yet with no hint of the drama that was to unfold.

Three years previously, Wolves had realized that their antiquated stands were not up to modern standards and would not meet new safety legislation, so they had begun the ambitious redevelopment of Molineux. Several rows of terrace houses at right angles to and behind the Molineux Street stand had been purchased and demolished along with a fine chip shop.

The John Ireland stand was built in their place, the length of the streets further back from the original. The plan was to move the pitch across to create room to redevelop the Waterloo Road side as well, but the money ran out and the club faced bankruptcy. This meant that the prestigious new stand was a bus ride away from the pitch; by 1981 Wolves had returfed and relocated the playing surface so that both stands were equidistant from the touchline, still a Lorimer free kick away.

Approaching kick-off time the mist grew steadily thicker, until by 3:15 only the winger and fullback were visible from the stands. Ten minutes later, fans at the front of the John Ireland could just about make out the linesman, while those at the back of the stand couldn’t even see the spectators at the front. Chants of “linesman, linesman, where’s the ball?” grew louder, then, ominously, the linesman too was swallowed in the haze. Players and officials had simply disappeared; the only thing visible was an eerie glow from each comer.

In panic, many tried to leave the stadium, but locked doors blocked their exit. Cries of “We want our money back” were soon stifled by a muffled roar from some other part of the ground. Who was out there? Had someone scored? Never mind which player, which team had taken the lead? Nobody knew. The fog got worse and the doors remained locked until 4:43, when the near 30,000 crowd groped their way to the exits, in search of enlightenment.

That evening, the BBC screened what purported to be highlights from the game, and it appeared that Andy Gray and Mel Eves scored to win the match for the Wolves. There were even photographs in the programme the following week. Curiously, though, there were no photos of the “goals” themselves and the TV film was never again screened; it now seems to have been lost forever.

Strange incidents followed, and many questions remain unanswered. For example, why is it that spectators behind both goals thought that the goals were scored at the other end? A 79-year-old spectator, fit and healthy at the time of the game, suddenly died last year of “natural causes”. Why was there no investigation? Did the game really take place, or is it, like the supposed American moon landings or tales of Paul Crichton catching a cross, a fabrication on a grand scale? Were the Mafia involved? (Ronald Reagan had been sworn in as US President only a few days before  more than a coincidence, surely?) Only now, 16 years later, are the details beginning to emerge; will we ever know what really happened on that fateful day?

From WSC 121 March 1997. What was happening this month