There were rumours, and it was raining.
Steve Bull was down the Royal Oak giving out free pints, someone said. Ian Wright was in Penn Tandoori tucking into a bhuna. George Elokobi was by the Billy Wright statue handing out free hugs. Every single fan at the ground would be given a bright orange firework that would explode into a thousand golden Robbie Dennison coins. Those sorts of things. There were rumours, and it was raining. The alehouses were warm, the floodlights were bright, and somewhere Sir Jack Hayward was having a right good giggle at it all. Manchester United were coming to town, and it was the FA Cup quarterfinal. The atmosphere wasn’t electric; it was nuclear.
If you look up and down all the leagues in all the world at any time, there are very few fans who are happy at any one moment. This was one of those rare things: a game featuring two teams with fans that were happy, players that were happy, and managers that were happy. Ole’s been at the wheel, Rashy’s been at the goals, and Pogba’s been purring. And Wolves, well we’re in an old-gold tinted highlights reel of something that’s still being written. On Saturday night, Nuno wrote a new episode. By the end of the season, we could be on for a whole new series.
This was an event that got Wolves fans of all ages and all loyalties bulging into the city under one big Fosun umbrella. Pubs and cars full of people wearing Goodyear jackets and Doritos shirts discussing whether this was the biggest game in fifteen years. Or thirty years. Or sixty years. Eighty-year-old nans who’d seen us in the Fourth Division asking their sons how to say João properly and mouthing it over and over as they walked past the brewery. Eight-year-old kids being told about people called Andy Mutch and how Raúl Jiménez was the best we've had since. Dads telling stories about Billy Wright and why, at some point, there could be a stand called The Rúben Neves Stand. History met history met the nowadays on Saturday night.
Everyone was soaked through. The rain was so heavy that even if you’d got a taxi to the ground rather than walked there from the pub, you’d have been soaked through. It evened it out. Whether you were a BBC presenter or a Manchester United Director or a builder from Penn, you were soaked through. The rain created a level, wet, playing field. Everyone down the Mol on Saturday was a version of each other, all sloshing about in a golden pond together. Yes, the flags were silly. Yes, the light show is silly. Yes, the flamethrowers are silly. But football is silly. It’s ok to be silly.
The game itself played out exactly how the Wolves fans knew it would. We wait and wait and wait, and then we go. Five straight at the back to begin with, three buzzing in midfield, and then two up top connected with invisible rubber bands—each of them running to opposite sides then pinging back close to each other then far away again then meeting in the middle to nudge it past the keeper. We knew that United would have the ball for most of the first half. We knew that we’d have more of it in the second half, as Nuno moved Jonny and Matt ten yards, then twenty yards, then forty yards further forward. The formation is so malleable that within five seconds we go from playing 5-3-2 to playing 3-3-4: Jonny and Matt further forward than Raúl and Diogo.
We knew this was how we’d play, we knew we’d have chances, and we knew that we’d take them. I don’t think that any Wolves fan inside Molineux, sat around a television somewhere on the Cannock Road, or watching it on a laptop in Kuala Lumpur was surprised with how we played. Nuno doesn’t do surprises, he does tactical security combined with considered, counter-attacking chaos, and we know it. At the moment, we feel like we know it all. Every pass that a Wolves player makes has been played a million times on the training pitch at Compton. Watch Coady ping it out to Doherty—he doesn’t need to look. Watch Moutinho play a through ball to Diogo—he doesn’t need to look. Watch Neves slide to a left back position to give himself more space and a better angle—he doesn’t need to look. Us, the fans, can’t stop looking.
We won 2–1, and we deserved to win 2–1. Raúl Jiménez is the best all-round striker I’ve ever seen play for Wolves. His first touch, hold-up, and turn play is mind-bending. He’s quadruple bluffing his opposite number. And for his goal, he quadruple bluffed everyone near him five times over. The second goal, a Jota scurry from the halfway line, is something that’s been coming. He’s terrifying, Diogo. Yappy. Won’t leave defenders alone, referees alone, or himself alone. A skilful dog-child that bites ankles, nutmegs legs, and scores goals. Wolves won and deserved to win. Alongside my dad, my girlfriend, my brother, our friend, the subeditor of this magazine, and his mate: for some reason, we all thought we would.
After Nuno gave the South Bank those big pumps and we left the ground overflowing with golden joy and booze-soaked smiles, Waterloo Road became a flooded dancefloor of people who didn’t know each other acting like they’d known each other their whole lives. Saturday night gave Wolverhampton a couple of hours away from all that is miserable in a world full of divides, lies, and inequalities that seem to be increasing day-on-day. With plastic flags, wonderkids from Porto, and a particularly heavy lashing of weather, we were all wet and we were all together. We were the boys from Wolverhampton, and we’re going to Wem-ber-ley. And, by the way, the first bit was true. Absolutely true: Stevie Bull’s a tatter, he wears an England cap, he comes from Wolverhampton, and on Saturday night he was giving out free pints in the Royal Oak. There were rumours, and it was raining. Magic.
James has turned up to work in a Wolves shirt and scarf today. Says it'll be like this for another eight weeks. Jesus. Issue 17 is out now and available to order here, or you can subscribe and get every issue for a year to your door by clicking here. Up the Wolves.