For me, the first fifteen years of being a Wolves supporter were pretty simple. We would be one of the favourites for promotion, waste a load of Sir Jack Hayward’s money on overpriced flops, but ultimately finish around mid-table. In 2003, we managed promotion to the Promised Land of the Premier League, but that lasted just a season.
The last five years though have been somewhat more exciting. Winning the Championship in 2009 saw the promotion that so many Wolves fans had been expecting for so long. This was followed by two seasons of survival, including home and away victories over Tottenham, defeats of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea at home (given the other sport this summer, I should point out that this win was the same day as England won the Ashes in Australia), and a famous win at Anfield. Two seasons of survival, coupled with signings with Premier League experience in Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara and many felt it was the time to become established as a Premier League club. Seven points from the first three games the following season saw us sitting on the top of the Premier League, albeit only for a couple of hours.
But, we took only 18 points from the next 35 games, and finished bottom of the Premier League with Terry Connor in charge. The new manager, tasked with returning us to the Promised Land was Ståle Solbakken. But, a run of poor results led to the club’s management bottling it, and sacking the Norwegian, replacing him within a couple of days with Dean Saunders. While the appointment of Terry Connor was a shocker, Dean Saunders was an even worse decision, winning just five of his 25 games in charge. The prospect of relegation was in everyone’s minds at the time of Solbakken’s dismissal, but Saunders made it a reality. The club had gone from top of the Premier League to League 1 in 617 days, or 81 games. This time included 46 defeats, just 17 victories and an impressive four managers.
Now, for the second time in twelve months we are facing a new season in a new division with a new man at the helm. Kenny Jackett has arrived, together with an apparent new focus. Jackett is not a ‘Manager’; he is a ‘Head Coach’. What this actually means in real terms, no-one is quite sure of, but it is an apparent attempt to modernise the structure of the club. Whereas previously, Steve Morgan was the club’s owner, and Jez Moxey handled the day to day running of the club, Kevin Thelwell is taking a step forward and is the new Head of Football Development and Recruitment. One can’t help but think that Morgan and Moxey have taken a glance 12 miles to the South East, and are trying to replicate the success seen at the Hawthorns. West Brom have seen managers come and go, but they have the structure to support this, with Dan Ashworth (before his appointment as the FA’s director of elite development) arguably the most important person in their management team.
And so, we move onto the forthcoming season. Personally, I’ve only ever seen one Kenny Jackett side play – a 5-0 win at Molineux that happened right at the beginning of the slide (I missed both games v Millwall last season for work related reasons) – and so have very little idea what to expect. What is certain is that a number of the scapegoats for the disastrous two seasons will not be present. The so-called ‘Gang of Four’ are all (hopefully) being shipped out. The aforementioned Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara, together with Karl ‘former club captain and occasional liability’ Henry and Stephen ‘scorer of THAT winner at Anfield’ Ward were all left behind as Jackett took a youthful squad on a pre-season tour of Scotland, and none have been issue a squad number. Johnson and O’Hara are seen to represent the rot that set in just after they signed. These two players joined, on presumably large wages, with Johnson assuming the club captaincy before he’d pulled on a Wolves shirt. How much this affected a dressing room that had been together for the previous two years, no-one really knows, but the dynamics were definitely affected. One casualty of their arrival was Karl Henry, demoted to vice-captain. He has always split the fans – some viewing him a vital midfield snotter, who breaks up play. Others focus on his lack of offensive ability (although I’m sure a number of professionals think he is more than offensive enough), pointing out his solitary goal in the last four seasons. But, even his most ardent of supporters is agreed that it is time for him to move on, and he is thought to have been one of the chief revolters of Solbakken (again, I’m sure that a number of professionals in the game think he is more than revolting enough). Quite what Stephen Ward has done wrong, no-one is quite sure. Maybe he’s seen as being too representative of Mick McCarthy’s reign; maybe Kenny Jackett just doesn’t like people with big noses.
With those four frozen out, and possibly Bakary Sako following them, who does this leave? We still have a number of players left with Premier League experience; the returning Wayne Hennessey, George Elokobi, Richard Stearman, Kevin Foley and David Edwards have 342 top-flight games between them, while Kevin Doyle is a player that you all know about. But, Hennessey excluded, none of the others are guaranteed to be in the first team. Instead, it is likely to be a season of transition, as a number of youth players are given the chance to stake their claim. Matt Doherty, Jake Cassidy and David Davis are expected to keep the first team places they gained last season, while Danny Batth, Jamie Reckord, Jack Price, Zeli Ismail, Liam McAlinden and Lee Evans are set to challenge for the first team squad.
This youth will need to be supplemented by experience, not least from new signing Sam Ricketts. But the most intriguing addition to the squad is a player who was signed two and a half years ago, but is the current Scottish Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year (incidentally the third player to have ties with Wolves to win the award – any guesses?). Griffiths has had something of a chequered past; not being viewed as good enough to secure a place while in the Premier League, he has spent much of his time on loan in Scotland, scoring 23 goals last season. But he is not without controversy, having been suspended by Hibs for twice making offensive gestures to his own fans, before being charged by police over making an offensive comment on Twitter. But, desperate times and all that; the 23 SPL goals he scored last season, in addition to the two goals and two assists in three pre-season friendlies mean that he is the strong favourite with the bookies to be the leading scorer in League 1 next season (if you do fancy a flutter on this, I’d recommend you avoid Griffiths, and instead look to his probable strike partner. Björn Sigurðarson is best priced 34-1 and may well be worth a couple of quid).
To sum this piece up, no-one has a clue what’s going to happen. The bookies have us as favourites for the new season, but given the amount of changes that are occurring this summer, I’m not sure we’d be a good bet (personally, I’d be looking at Peterborough). The Wolves of this season will be very different to the Wolves of previous years. Instead, we will have a group of youngsters who are all desperate for their chance to wear the Old Gold. After the turbulence of the past couple of seasons, a boring season of transition will do me just fine.
Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger & also writes for The Football Network
Tom tweets at @toomb306