Apparently, today (16/1) marks the 150th anniversary of the Football Association. My team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, came into being in 1877. Like other teams, they grew out of a local school team, St Luke’s, who joined together with Blakenhall Wanderers Cricket Club to form the town’s football club and entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1883, reaching the second round. In 1860, Mr O E McGregor had bought the eight acres of land extending around Molineux House, a ‘handsome and spacious mansion’ which had been built for the gentry family of that name by 1750. McGregor was a man of vision who also respected tradition, keeping the Molineux name for the Grounds and restoring the House to its former glory.
He converted the estate into a pleasure park, which he then opened to the public for an admission fee. The first park of its kind in Wolverhampton, it contained a number of attractions, including a skating rink, a boating lake with fountain, croquet lawns, walkways, lawns as well as facilities for cricket and football. The park soon became a popular place of recreation, also become the venue for many fétes, galas and exhibitions. By 1872 the grounds were able to stage a variety of major sporting events, including cycle racing, athletics meetings and cricket and football matches. However, to begin with, Wolves played their matches on a sloping pitch at Dudley Road from 1881. It wasn’t until five years later that they played their first game at the Molineux grounds in 1886, losing 2-1 to Walsall Town in a local cup competition.
They reached their first Cup Final in 1888, losing 1-0 to Preston North End. By then, on 2nd March, 1888, Wolves had become one of the founding members of the Football League for the 1888/9 season, drawing their first match with Aston Villa, 1-1 on the 8th September. With these results, the foundations for greatness had been laid, and the club needed a more permanent and prestigious home to match their aspirations. When the Northampton Brewery acquired the Molineux Leisure Grounds in 1889, the House was converted into a hotel and the grounds were rented to Wolverhampton Wanderers at an annual rent of fifty pounds. No doubt the brewers saw an opportunity to make more money by meeting the needs of thirsty supporters. Wolves now had a much better playing surface on which to entertain the best teams in League and Cup.
The brewery paid for the construction of players’ changing rooms, refurbishing the 300-seat grandstand, and also built a shelter for 4,000 next to it and embankments on both South and North sides of the pitch. The Molineux legend had begun, and on Monday 2nd September 1889 Wolves beat their local rivals, Aston Villa, 1-0 there, in a pre-season friendly watched by nearly four thousand spectators on their way home from work, the kick-off being at 5.30 p.m. Apparently, the freshly laid pitch looked as level as a billiard table. Five days later, Wolves welcomed Notts County to their new lair, beating them 2-0. However, it took some months for the spectacle of Association Football to capture the imagination of the Black Country folk, as league games failed to attract even five thousand spectators. However, on Boxing Day, a crowd of 19,000 turned out to watch Wolves play Blackburn Rovers. With the Hotel on site, the ground became a popular venue for League meetings as well as important FA Cup and international matches. However, its facilities were soon overtaken by the new stadia built by its neighbours, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa. Only in 1911 was a roof built over the north end of the ground, its nickname ‘the Cowshed’ coming from the iron fencing surrounding it. Although this was demolished in the 1920s, that part of the ground still retained the nickname when I began attending matches in the sixties.
By then, Wolves had won the FA Cup twice, in 1893 and 1908, also reaching the final in 1889, 1896 and 1921.
John Shipley, Wolves Against the World: