West Brom vs Wolves: A toxic rivalry traced back to an orange Ford Cortina

Fighting breaks out between Wolverhampton Wanderers players and their opponents West Bromwich Albion in the Nationwide First Division match at Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton. West Bromwich Albion won 1-0.
There is a feeling the intensity of the rivalry is not fully understood outside of the midlands - Allsport/Mike Finn-Kelcey

Enmity has always run deep between West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers but the tale of hostility can be traced back to a bright orange Ford Cortina.

It was coming towards the end of 1986 when Steve Bull packed West Brom team-mate Andy Thompson into his garish motor to kick-start the perceived act of treachery that further stoked up this old rivalry.

With West Brom mired in financial issues and under the threat of extinction, they had little choice but to accept a combined fee of around £65,000 from their deadly enemies.

The rest is history, with Bull steamrolling his way into Wolves folklore as a rampaging goal machine, while the ultra-reliable Thompson went on to make more than 450 appearances.

It has never felt the same since, and ahead of the first Black Country derby in front of supporters for nearly 12 years – on Sunday in the FA Cup – Thompson has been counting down the days to kick-off.

“People outside of the area don’t understand how massive a game it is,” he says. “The rivalry has really escalated since they’ve played each other more regularly, because when I signed for Wolves they were in the old fourth division.

“We had a few promotions and since then it’s really gone up a notch and made a huge difference to the atmosphere.

“I can still remember Bully picking me up in the car and driving us over to Wolves to sign.

“All my mates were Wolves fans and when I went back to the Hawthorns for the first time I got a lot of stick. I played for Tranmere at the end of my career against West Brom and got 90 minutes of abuse!”

Steve Bull and Andy Thompson
Andy Thompson, left, and Steve Bull after moving to Wolves from West Brom in 1986
Steve Bull and Andy Thompson recreate their old Wolves image during the Sky Bet Championship match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday at Molineux
And in 2016... - Getty Images/Sam Bagnall
Orange Ford Cortina
An orange Ford Cortina, similar to the model Bull used to drive Thompson to Wolves from West Brom when the pair moved clubs in 1986 - Alamy

Sunday will be the 194th meeting, and ahead of the FA Cup fourth-round tie at the Hawthorns, both clubs are expected to issue statements pleading for good behaviour.

It is perhaps not quite as nasty as the Aston Villa vs Birmingham City derbies, but recent grudge games have, regrettably, not been short of trouble.

In their last encounter in the FA Cup, in 2007, eleven police officers were injured and nine people arrested as bricks were thrown when violence erupted.

In the previous year, a smoke bomb was thrown from the visiting fans’ section into a volatile section of the home crowd. The Albion supporters responded by hurling objects back at the Wolves fans, one of whom was pictured with blood streaming from his head.

This Sunday’s bitter local argument will kick off at 11.45am and has been moved forward for television coverage, and on the advice of West Midlands Police.

WMP have said they are working with both clubs and local venues to ensure there is “as little disruption as possible”, with all leave for the force said to have been cancelled.

‘It was hostile’

Senior figures at Albion and Wolves are hopeful of avoiding unpalatable headlines, and that it proves an absorbing advertisement for what is a rare meeting.

Fans have waited a long time for this weekend. The debate over whether it is a true ‘Black Country derby’ has resurfaced, with some parts of Wolverhampton falling outside of the boundaries, but that will be irrelevant on Sunday.

Their last meeting in front of supporters was February 2012. It was a day to remember for Albion fans, as their team destroyed Wolves 5-1 at Molineux.

Peter Odemwingie grabbed a hat-trick and, in truth, West Brom could have scored even more.

As their then manager Roy Hodgson reflected on the result in his post-match press conference with typical dignity, chaos reigned outside on the streets.

The intensity of the rivallry has been known to spill over
The intensity of the rivallry has been known to spill over - Empics Sports Photo Agency/John Walton

Furious supporters demanded the sacking of Wolves manager Mick McCarthy and Gareth McAuley, the former West Brom defender, remembers the crazy scenes.

“Those Wolves fans weren’t happy with their team and we were trying to get out of there as quickly as possible on the team bus,” he told Telegraph Sport this week.

“It was hostile and that’s all part of the show. Passions run high and things sometimes can’t be helped.

“Everybody hopes that these rivalries don’t spill over, and it’s the fans who make these games what they are.

“The memory I will take from that game is how Molineux went quiet very early on, and it was just the West Brom fans singing.”

With Wolves’ season hurtling downhill, McCarthy was sacked the following day by owner Steve Morgan, who was away on a skiing holiday.

Wolves would eventually be relegated, also suffering the drop to League One the following season, while Albion remained in the top division. In the 2012/13 campaign they even finished eighth under Steve Clarke.

The two clubs would meet again, in the 20/21 season, but with no supporters present due to lockdown.

It was a surreal and joyless experience, and none of the players or coaching staff enjoyed it. This Sunday, the Hawthorns is sold out and the noise will probably travel to the M6.

‘People don’t see it as just a game’

Wolves will arrive with history against them. They have not won there since September 1996, after Iwan Roberts’ hat-trick in a 4-2 victory.

Under highly-rated head coach Carlos Corberan, West Brom are chasing promotion back to the Premier League and have only lost twice at home this season. Off the field, there remains optimism of a future takeover with Florida-based businessman Shilen Patel the frontrunner to buy the club.

Perhaps the one surprise this weekend is the absence of many locally born players, which some will argue dilutes the animosity.

Football is now a multicultural industry and Sunday’s dressing rooms will include players from Brazil, Turkey, Portugal and Oklahoma.

Police hold back fans of West Bromwich Albion during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers at The Hawthorns on February 20, 2011 in West Bromwich, England
Fans have been getting riled up for the tie since the fourth round draw was made - Getty Images/Jamie McDonald

Nathan Fraser, the Wolves forward who scored a precious equaliser to force extra time against Brentford in the previous round, was born in Tettenhall but comes from a family of Villa fans.

West Brom goalkeeper Alex Palmer is from Kidderminster while Tom Fellows is another academy graduate who joined the club at the age of ten.

Yet once the first whistle blows, the atmosphere will be ferocious with local pride at stake.

Around 4,000 Wolves fans will make the short 13-mile trip from Molineux, while nearly 100 representatives from TV will be present.

Thompson will also be in the stand, working as a commentator for Wolves TV. “Everyone loves a local derby and there has been a massive buzz around the city since the draw was made.

“People don’t see it as just a game. It’s the only thing everybody has been talking about for weeks.”

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