The most famous player in Wolves’ recent history was a helpless spectator when the club suffered perhaps the most embarrassing defeat of their existence.
Steve Bull watched glumly from the stands at Bolton’s Burnden Park as Wolves — then in the old Fourth Division — were beaten 3-0 by Chorley, of the Northern Premier League, in an FA Cup first-round replay in 1986.
Bull, who would go on to score 306 goals in 561 games for Wolves and represent England at the 1990 World Cup, had just joined on loan from West Bromwich Albion along with Andy Thompson but the pair were ineligible for the tie.
He recalls: ‘It went one, two, three-nil and we looked at each other and I said, “What have we done, Thommo?”.’
If history were to repeat itself tonight, it would be an even greater shock. Five tiers separate Wolves — who finished seventh in the Premier League in each of the past two seasons — and Chorley, who now play in the Conference North.
Despite their recent poor form, the modern Wolves are light-years away from the club brought to their knees by huge financial mismanagement in the early part of the 1980s, which resulted in three consecutive relegations.
Yet the word ‘Chorley’ still sends shivers through those who hold Wolves close to their heart.
‘I was watching the draw for the fourth round and thinking, “Please, not Chorley”,’ says Ally Robertson, who captained Wolves that night. ‘Then when it happened I said to myself, “Good God”.
‘When the game ended at Burnden Park I can remember thinking, “It can’t get any lower than this”.
‘You get into the dressing room and you sit there and wonder what on earth has happened. We were abysmal and Graham Turner, the manager, told us so. We didn’t deserve to win.
‘You went to Molineux and it was falling apart. The dressing-room ceiling was caving in, the plaster was peeling off the walls, there were rats, there were mice.
‘You would never have believed a club like Wolves could end up in that state. When I signed from West Brom, I had to drive back to West Brom to get some kit.’
Chorley progressed at the third attempt, after the first two matches ended 1-1. Their equaliser at Molineux in the initial replay was given because the goalscorer was played onside by a ball boy.
‘The Chorley forward was miles offside, but the linesman thought he saw a yellow shirt,’ recalls Turner. ‘It was a ball boy, which the linesman admitted afterwards.’
‘Disgraced!’ read the headline in the town’s newspaper, The Express and Star, after the Chorley fiasco. ‘Proper Chorlies’ said the Birmingham Mail, below a cartoon of a wolf inside a coffin.
‘It was your worst football nightmare,’ remembers David Instone, the Wolves correspondent for The Express and Star at the time. ‘The Chorley game was only six years after Wolves had played PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup. Steve Bull and Andy Thompson were sitting behind the press box at Burnden Park, wondering what they had let themselves in for.
‘For two or three years in the mid-80s, Wolves were at death’s door. By the time of the Chorley game they were starting to find some sort of stability — albeit in the middle of the Fourth Division.
‘Two sides of Molineux were closed for safety reasons — they had been condemned after the football tragedies in the 1980s. What is now the North Bank was shut, the main stand was shut. There was a horrible lopsided look to the ground and fans were miles from the pitch.’
A huge banner behind one of the goals at Molineux now features current boss Nuno Espirito Santo alongside the words, ‘Out Of Darkness Cometh Light’.
Fortunately for Wolves, the message has some merit. With Bull developing into one of the most fearsome forwards outside the top flight, and Andy Mutch, Thompson and Robertson starting to play crucial roles, Wolves climbed off the canvas.
Between 1988 and 1990 they won consecutive promotions, and also took the Sherpa Van Trophy at Wembley.
Now 68, Robertson still lives in the area and recently retired from his job in the car industry. The Scottish defender spent 17 years with West Brom before moving to Wolves in 1986 for the final four years of his career. One of his few regrets is that he was not around long enough to help the club back into the top flight.
Yet nearly 35 years on, the Chorley defeat still burns. He added: ‘After hearing the Chorley manager (Jamie Vermiglio) say they’d beaten Wolves before and now they just had to do it again, I hope Wolves beat them easily.
‘When I heard that on the TV, I bit straight away. My wife came into the room and asked me what was up. Wolves are in the Premier League, back where they belong. Show a bit of respect! I hope Wolves beat them five or six-nil!’