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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 March 2021

Wolves got muscled out of the big time

Had Wolves been at their best in the 1960s, things could have been very different for them.

By one of those quirks of fate, I ended up watching the last Premier League game of 2010 in the company of two Wolverhampton Wanderers fans who could actually remember the Stan Cullis years.

Both left England nearly half a century ago, but their footballing hearts remain rooted in the Black Country.

Over the 90 minutes, the men in gold were worthy winners over a desperately poor Liverpool side that needs to be dismantled in the summer.

As we shook hands and parted ways, I thought of the faith that has endured for decades, long after Wolves ceased to be a force in the English game.

Wednesday night's win, like their previous one at Anfield in 1984, will most likely be one of the few consolations of what appears to be a relegation-doomed season.

In the half-century since they last won the league title, Wolves have seldom threatened the upper reaches of the table.

Back then, Liverpool were struggling to escape the old second division, under the stewardship of an ambitious Scotsman. In the 48 years since Bill Shankly took them up they have not once finished outside the top eight.

Such is the nature of sporting success.

Wolves were the team that time cheated.

Had the Cullis era as manager been a decade later, in the 1960s, it might have been them rather than Manchester United or Liverpool that attracted glory-hunting fans from around the world.

It might have been them mentioned in the same breath as Inter Milan and Barcelona.

Michael Holding, whose articulate commentary on cricket has always been touched with a wisdom rare in sportsmen, speaks of the circle of life. Much as he is dismayed by the depths to which West Indies cricket has plummeted, he remains confident that better days will come again.

And just as Caribbean cricket will one day revive, so other dynasties will crumble.

In 2010, we have seen gaping cracks finally swallow up a once-great Australia Test side. Unconvincing victors over Pakistan in a Sydney Test whose legitimacy will always be doubted, they had a dismal 12 months culminating in the Ashes being surrendered on home soil for the first time in 24 years.

Such has been England's superiority that they have won two Tests by an innings. Ricky Ponting, the captain who may now never add to a record 99 wins as a player, and Michael Clarke, his deputy, have managed less than 300 runs between them, while England's seamers and Graeme Swann have comfortably out bowled a home side, whose honest endeavour could not mask a lack of quality.

Yet, just under three years ago, Australia were winning a 16th Test match in a row. It was the second time in a decade that they had accomplished such a feat. Had you predicted such a decline then, a white padded cell may have been your lot.

The sporting arena, though, is one sphere of life where change can swamp you as quickly as the waves on Durban's North Beach.

Just as the 15 years of West Indian dominance gave way to a decade of Australian supremacy, so the Pete Sampras years in tennis gave way to the Roger Federer era. In golf, Tiger Woods's travails merely bring back memories of a time when Jack Nicklaus ceded ground to Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros.

In certain sports, there is a tendency to glorify the captain or coach.

In American Football, it is all about the man on the sidelines and the quarterback in the middle executing his plans.

When you think of United or Arsenal, you think Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger before going through the list of players that have helped them to scale the game's heights.

Ultimately though, no captain or coach can do a job if the players are not good enough.

Ponting's captaincy may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but do you really think Ian Chappell or Richie Benaud could have done better with this group of players?

Is it Ponting's fault Australia do not have a single young batsman as accomplished as he was when he made his debut 15 years ago?

Luck is one thing, but there are no miracles in sport.

One of the Wolves fans spoke at half time on Wednesday of a time in 1982 when the board tried to get Aberdeen's manager to succeed John Barnwell. He refused.

A year later, he won the Cup Winners' Cup against Real Madrid. Three years later, United lured him to Old Trafford. Ferguson has been there ever since.

Would Wolves have won 11 Premiership titles and two European Cups in the last two decades if he had gone to Molineux instead? Who knows?

What we do know, like Ponting and middle-aged Wolves and Liverpool supporters, is that the glory years do not last forever.

Published: December 31, 2010 04:00 AM

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