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The History of Molineux 1889-1989

The Molineux family first came to England with Isabella of France, wife of Edward 11 in 1307, at a time when the Flemish wool-workers were frequenting this country teaching the British their trade!
They chose to reside in Wolverhampton, and occupied a mansion (which they called Molineux house) near the town centre. Wolverhampton was then an important wool town and as time progressed, so did Wolverhampton itself, and it became famous throughout Europe.

The Molineux Pleasure Grounds
(The Molineux Pleasure Grounds, the pool in the middle is the centre of the pitch)

'Molineux House' was made one of the town's principal buildings, and on local maps it was referred to as 'Mr. Molineux's Close', being situated between Wadham's Hill and Dunstall Lane.
In 1792 it became the residence for a family of French refugees, and the grounds were later developed into a pleasure park by Mr. A. J. Brewster, with galas and fetes being staged there at regular intervals.

In 1869, the South Staffordshire Industrial & Fine Arts Exhibition was held in the grounds of 'Molineux House' with croquet being the 'in game' and dominated by the ladies.
Two years later further developments took effect making the 'Molineux' complex into a more accomplished, sporting venue, with splendid gardens, a large boating lake, elegant band stand, and most important of all, a quality cycle and athletics track, which all slotted in perfectly with a spacious field in the centre, where the sport of football was occasionally played (Wolves themselves played there in a Walsall Cup semi-final v Walsall Town on 20 March 1886, 3 years before they actually made it their headquarters).

Dick Howell of the Wolverhampton Cycling Club was champion of England and Herbert 'Olly' Duncan (referred to at the time as 'HOD') was the world individual champion in 1880. He won all his heats at 'Molineux' that year in the mile handicap, only to be beaten narrowly in the final by Howell, who received 10 yards head start!
Another well known rider at 'Molineux' was Freddie Sharpe, later President of the Wolverhampton Rugby Union Club.

Wolves had played out their first League season of 1888-89 at Dudley Road, but obviously required better facilities, and consequently, in common with many other clubs of that era, decided on a new, more efficient ground - thus the Molineux pleasure grounds became their home in 1889.

The Northampton Brewery Company had by now purchased the Molineux Sports arena, and also the house which they converted into a hotel, and therefore it was they who came to the assistance of Wolves, converting the cycle and running track, into a football ground by building dressing rooms, an office, a reasonable grandstand which was able to seat 300 spectators , and a worthwhile shelter on the perimeter for an additional 4,000 fans to stand under in wet weather - all for a yearly rent of just 50. At about the same time Aston Villa were paying 200 per annum for the use of their perry Barr ground.

Molineux was officially opened on Monday 2nd September 1889 when Aston Villa were visitors in a friendly. The pitch, measuring 112yards long by 72 yards wide, was described on this historic occasion by Villa's skipper Archie Hunter, as being 'as smooth as a bowling green and as flat as a billiard table' and there were 3,900 spectators present to watch the game. (Details of the first match to follow).
The first League game at Molineux was between Wolves and Notts County five days after that initial 'friendly' when a crowd of 4,000 saw Wolves win 2-0 with goals from David Wykes and Arthur Worral.

During the 1890's Molineux was the venue for numerous Football League Committee meetings and in March 1891 England played Ireland in the first of four full internationals to be held there, England winning 6-1.
The following February, Molineux staged the first of it's ten FA Cup semi-finals when West Bromwich Albion met Nottingham Forest.
And in October 1942 England entertained Wales in a wartime international.
There have also been intermediate internationals and Inter League games there, as well as FA Cup second replays and several representatives matches, as well as a Rugby Union fixture when Molineux was at the disposal of the Wolverhampton R.U.C. during the first half of the 1926-27 season for an anniversary 'scrum down' against Commander W.J.A. Davies' XV, and an occasional boxing tournament, including title bouts.

At the outset it was said that the Molineux ground could house up to 20,000 supporters, and the first time five figures was reached was when Wolves played Blackburn Rovers in a league game on Boxing Day 1889.
That afternoon 19,000 fans attended to witness a six-goal thriller, with Rovers winning 4-2.

Developments and improvements to Molineux were carried out when funds allowed, and although it was one of the best-equipped grounds in the Football League, it still required an awful lot of attention, especially to one-side, which backed on to a busy main road.

Immediately after The Great War of 1914-18, with Wolves in the Second Division, Molineux was said to be 'below standard'. When there was an extra-large attendance, half the spectators present were unable to see what was going on!
Those who stood on the Molineux Street side of the ground complained bitterly that the sloping bank made their 'feet ache', while those who chose to sit down to watch their football, urged for the erection of a new grandstand on the Waterloo Road side. It was pointed out that without adequate amenities Molineux would not be a suitable ground for a First Division Club (when Wolves eventually climbed back up) or for England to play there!
The club's directors looked into the matter but it was quite sometime before anything was actually done, due in the main to the lack of funds.

In season 1919-20 crowd misbehavior at Molineux led to Wolves having to play two 'home' games at the home of neighbours West Bromwich Albion.

In 1923 disaster hit Wolves when relegation was suffered to the Third Division (N), but this 'drop' in status proved to be a Godsend, for a new limited company was formed which immediately purchased the Molineux ground from the Northampton Brewery Company for a very reasonable price, for a massive site - just 5,607. Twelve months later Wolves regained their place in Division Two, and on 12th September 1925, the first major stand with dressing rooms below, and built on the Waterloo Road side of the ground at a cost of 15,000, was officially opened by Mr. J. McKenna, President of the Football League.
The old roof covering from that side of the ground - a section measuring approximately 200 feet long - was hastily transferred over to the Molineux Street side to make room for it. The fate of this 'old' antiquated stand, however, was sealed when it was blown away one Sunday night in a gale!

Molineux History
(Repairs being made to the old Molineux Street Stand after gales damaged it)

The building and reconstruction of the Molineux Street stand was itself finally completed in 1932, to celebrate Wolves return to the top flight. This quite distinctive structure, which was capable of housing 8,000 spectators (3,450 seated, 4,550 standing), all under a multi-span roof, had a clock mounted in the centre gable, and the only other stands in the country of a similar design were at Old Trafford, Manchester (built in 1909), Highbury (1913), the Homerton Ground, home of Clapton Orient, and The Valley, Charlton - mainly because of the roofs which were so heavy and very costly to maintain.

During the late 1930's, under Major Frank Buckley's reign as manager, when the crowds used to flock to home matches in their thousands, the terracing at both ends of Molineux - the North (cowshed) and South Banks - were covered, and in successive seasons there were crowds of over 60,000 recorded, with an all-time best of 61,315 assembling for the Wolves V Liverpool FA Cup tie in February 1939, a figure which incidentally, will never be bettered.

1950's Molineux
(1950's Molineux)

Floodlighting was installed at the ground in 1953 at a cost of 10,000, and four years later a brand new set of lights were purchased, this time costing Wolves 25,000.

During the ten year period up to 1963, Molineux played hosts to many of the top foreign club sides in friendly and European matches, and attendances invariably topped the 50,000 mark, with 30,000 on the South Bank, which at the time was one of the largest 'kops' in the country, on par with The Penistone Road End at Hillsborough, the Holte End at Villa Park and Birmingham City's Tilton Road.

During the next 15 years the ground itself changed very little, but then in 1978, following the introduction of the Government's new legislation - the Safety of Sports Grounds Act - it was unanimously agreed by the club's board of directors and by senior officers from both the local Police and Fire Authorities, that the stand on the Molineux Street side of the ground (now an all-seater construction) would not pass the required standards.
An immediate plan was formulated involving the redevelopment of that side of the ground but allowing enough room for the expansion on the now cramped Waterloo Road side.
Thus the 'old' Molineux Street stand was eventually demolished, and with it disappeared the famous gold-gabled roof and clock.

Then in 1979 Wolves purchased 71 terraced houses on Molineux Street and knocked them down as well, to make way for a 2 million luxury grandstand.
This massive complex was equipped with 42 executive boxes, eye catching red plastic seats - which contrasted splendidly with gold fascia, and was capable of seating 9,500 spectators.
It was designed by the architects Atherden and Rutter, who had been responsible for the magnificent stands at Old Trafford, and who later were the brains behind the marvellous two-tiered cantilever stand at White Hart Lane.

But while this new innovation at Molineux was being built, Wolves were surely falling into financial difficulties and despite winning the League Cup in 1980, and reaching the FA Cup semi-final, as well as getting themselves involved in two incredible transfer deals when Steve Daley left the club for 1,437,500 and Andy Gray arrived for 1,469,000, the club's bank balance left a lot to be desired.
They struggled to cope with the debt incurred from the building of that giant stand - named the 'John Ireland Stand' after the club's former president - and subsequently almost went into liquidation.

1980's Molineux
(1980's Molineux)

In 1982, right at the death, and following relegation to the Second Division, former Wolves and Northern Ireland striker Derek Dougan led a consortium of businessmen, and rescued the club from extinction.
For one season, although there was precious little money available to revamp the rest of the ground, all seemed to be running smoothly as Wolves regained their Division One status at the first attempt.

Four years later, however, the club found itself right in the doldrums, stuck in the Fourth Division, 1,988,000 in the red, and with soaring interest rates on the 'John Ireland' stand their biggest headache.
Attendances had dropped alarmingly and in January 1986 only 1,618 supporters bothered to turn up to watch Wolves play Torquay United in the Freight Rover Trophy - this being the seventh lowest ever gate at Molineux and the smallest since November 1892.

The infamous Bhatti brothers came and went as Wolves fate grew grimmer by the hour. On 2nd July 1986 the official receiver was called in and news bulletins flickered all over the world stating that the once mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club was about to fold.
Thankfully the club was saved from 'death' when the Wolverhampton Council purchased the ground for 1.12 million, along with with the surrounding land, while Gallagher Estates Limited, in conjuction with the Asda Superstore chain, agreed to pay off the outstanding debts - subject to building and planning permission be granted!

The Fire Service had previously carried out more stringent checks on Molineux in the summer of 1985 (following the Bradford City fire disaster and also the Heysel Stadium tragedy in Brussels) and the club was forced to close down the Waterloo Road stand to spectators on match days, although the offices, dressing rooms, press area, scoreboard, television gantry and player's lounge all remained in use.
Even the North Bank, with it's well-weathered browny-coloured roof, which had an enormous amount of 'old' wooden structure work and fencing at the rear, was also declared 'out of bounds' and at one stage it looked as though the popular South Bank would follow suit. But this was allowed to stay 'open' although the ground capacity was still cut from 41,000 down to 25,000.

Over the last two seasons 'Molineux' has begun to buzz again, despite being closed on two sides. It has regained some of it's 'lost' atmosphere following successive Championship winning campaigns in Division Four and Three. And the club has benefitted financially from renting out a portion of the 'John Ireland Stand' to the nearby Polytechnic's Faculty of Art & Design.

The Molineux Stadium, home to Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club and its supporters for the last 100 years, will no doubt see a lot more changes in the near future, hopefully for the best - and let us once again see it packed to its limit.

This History of Molineux is taken from the- '100 years of Molineux 1889-1989 Special Souvenir Programme'