Remembering Rachael Heyhoe Flint

As a youngster with just one parent to navigate me through those choppy waters of adolescence, my dear old man decided that the pen was mightier than the sword.

Rather than dictate the right and wrong way to behave to his lad, he simply gave me a book.

Ironically enough, that Life’s Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown was the only paperback I studied religiously as a teenager (as I opted to dick about with my mates instead of study like my sister).

I still flick through those 500-odd tips on a regular basis. And as Rachael Heyhoe Flint was laid to rest in Wolverhampton today, I can’t help but think it could have been written by her.

‘Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated’ was one pearl of wisdom. Number 33 in fact.

I only met Rachael once, and it was safe to say that she did precisely that. My good mate Paul Robinson, just a kid back in 2006, was returning from his first tour of duty in Basra, Iraq.

I really, really missed him while he was away. More than that, I really, really feared for him every day he’d gone. More than he will probably appreciate.

So when he returned home I wanted to do something for him. As a lifelong Wolves fan himself, I wondered if the club might do something for him to welcome him back. I wrote an email to the club.

And within 5 minutes, Rachael Heyhoe Flint was calling my mobile, no less!

She rolled out the red carpet for Paul for a Friday night league game against Sunderland and left no stone unturned.

Paul and his family arrived with me at the main reception where Rachael was already waiting.

16. Be the first to say hello

6. Have a firm handshake

7. Look people in the eye

128. Remember people’s names

107. Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond price

That was Rachael, causing me to well up with pride for being a Wolves fan at that very moment, whilst simultaneously regressing me back to my youth, when Dad handed me that book.

“Sir Jack has so much time for anyone serving in the Armed Forces, particularly a Wolves fan like Paul, so it would be the least we could do,” she’d say.

Rachael then led us pitchside where Bully was waiting – with a replica shirt she had evidently got the players to sign.

94. Make it a habit to do nice things for people

Again, that was Rachael. As Jenny Wilkes so beautiful paid tribute on Radio WM the other day, she’d have a very persuasive way of getting people to do things, whether they wanted to or not!

So there Bully stood, chatting about his favourite ever Wolves goals (I monopolised the conversation here, with a left footer against Bolton at the North Bank end featuring highly in Div 3.) Rachael, meanwhile, asked about Paul’s life, family, and six month experience in a 40 degree shithole known as Iraq.

133. When someone is relating an important event that’s happened to them, don’t try to stop them with a story of your own. Let them have the stage.

145. Be enthusiastic about the success of others

After meeting the two legends, Paul met another one, as Thommo was thrust in our direction, while injured players were also instructed to meet the main man of the evening – my mate Paul.

287. Promise big. Deliver big.

We adjourned to our seats and watched the game in our bubble of unbridled, fuzzy joy. It was a largely forgettable 1-1 draw featuring an utterly memorable Jemal Johnson 30 yard screamer. But that evening will live with me forever, as one special lady went the extra-mile for a family she’d never met – nor ever meet again.

As was the case with just about everything she put her mind to, Rachael Heyhoe Flint brought so much happiness to people’s lives through her own selfless actions.

274. Leave everything a little better than you found it

God bless xx

Barnsley 1 Wolves 3

Typical of Wolves to go to Barnsley on a miserable Tuesday evening and lose…

…After an FA Cup win at Anfield, a £13 million record signing and a genuinely fresh-thinking season ticket offer, these last four days have never felt less typical.

The times they are a-changin’, with this 3-1 win offering more evidence of such, not least when we look lethal from set-pieces, score early in another game and prevent that inevitable goal from a former player (Hammill).

Playing Barnsley minus top scorer Sam Winnall and talisman Conor Hourihane meant we were facing them at the perfect time but again, when does fate befall us in such a favourable way?

Hopefully this league win will alleviate any lingering looks over our shoulders towards the bottom three, just a week or so since our Norwich defeat raised one or two alarm bells.

Clearly, Paul Lambert is engendering a special bond amongst his players – and those fans who made the hike up to south Yorkshire – and his words to the Fans’ Parliament a month or two ago ring true:

‘You have a brilliant club, but you’ve just come off the rails a bit and need to get back on track. But forget it (the past), it’s gone.’

Beating Liverpool, signing Costa and now David Edwards scoring a brace away from home suggests we’re getting back on track and embracing what the future might hold, rather than moither over yesterday’s misdemeanours.

This game sounded as good as over when Alex Mowatt clattered Jack Price to see red within minutes of Dave Edwards nodding home Connor Ronan’s free kick to put us two-up. It could conceivably have been three at half time too, had the referee not reversed an initial penalty decision which looked a cast iron spot kick.

Earlier, Kortney Hause did his best Richard Stearman impression to score from a dead ball while the fans were still taking to their seats.

Being hypercritical, we sounded a bit ragged against 10 men near the end when the game was already sealed from Edwards’s second.

But when we’re building more momentum (as typified by Connor Ronan tonight) it’s best to just enjoy this heady ride while it lasts – without looking back!

Fans’ Parliament – Ben’s minutes

It’s funny how the fans’ parliament meetings you look forward to the least end up offering the most insight.

Maybe this one was so informative because Jez Moxey wasn’t there, speaking so prolifically as he would, but ultimately saying so little.

In this instance, manager Paul Lambert, sporting director Kevin Thelwell and managing director Laurie Dalrymple were upliftingly honest and in Lambert’s case in particular, quite inspirational when signing-off his two-hour appearance with an unscripted, spontaneous rallying call.

With the asset stripping old regime gone and their hairbrained stupidity no longer occupying my notebook, I was expecting a somewhat sanitised meeting of little genuine substance. In my humble opinion, it was anything but.

My highlights of the evening were as follows:

  • We’ll only be bringing in two or three players during the January window. These will walk into the first team. The pressing need is to cut the squad back to a ‘manageable level’ featuring a more ‘domestically balanced group.’
  • We won’t be releasing as many as 10 or 12 in January though. Lambert: “Some need to go out and play, some will not make it with me.”
  • Kevin Thelwell on Jeff Shi and the 13 summer signings: “Jeff would be the first to say he has learned quickly.” (It was Jeff who decided to opt so exuberantly in the transfer window after watching the Rotherham game.)
  • Paul Lambert would walk away from the club if he wasn’t able to bring in the players he wants, stating: “I’m no shrinking violet, I hope you know that. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my own way then there may as well be a mannequin sat here.”
  • We’d need to ‘re-mortgage Molineux’ to afford Helder Costa. We do have an option to buy him, but virtually impossible if we are outside the Premier League. Thelwell said: “But we are talking about other options and ways to be creative to keep him here.”
  • The club was ‘dead’ when Lambert arrived, who now believes we are ‘miles ahead’ of where we were when he first walked in.

But I’ll start with Paul Lambert’s concluding sign-off, which was spontaneous, off-the-cuff and absolutely rousing. His voice quiet, his accent monotone, but his role as unlikely orator quite spellbinding as a packed room could hear a pin drop.

After answering each question honestly and openly, Lambert politely – but firmly – interrupted supporter liaison officer Paul Richards’s wrap-up (and request for appreciation for Lambert’s attendance) to provide his own:

“You have a brilliant club, but you’ve just come off the rails a bit and need to get back on track. But forget it, it’s gone.

You have got the history of the club, great togetherness here and I will do everything I can to be successful for you. It might work. It might not work. But we need a bit of time.

Your support is brilliant. You are on the cusp of something really special. The club is in good hands but it just needs a bit of help. If we all pull in the same way then we can have a really successful club.”

<cue spontaneous round of applause>

Onto the minutes themselves, I will go through topic-by-topic raised by fans, with my shorthand notes scribbling everything down as quickly as possible!

Why are players playing so badly? Some of them, particularly defensively, look to have lost all their ability and can barely control the ball!

PL: “I’m not seeing that. The feeling around the football club is a lot stronger than when I came in. I think it was dead when I came in. It could be exciting but we have got to make some changes.”

On the size of the squad

PL: “There have been so many players to see and the size of the squad is far too big. Ideally you would bring in two or three in the window. Bringing in 13 was nigh on impossible. Lads that have come in don’t know the league. Look at Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Man Utd. Helder Costa has hit the ground running, Ivan Cavaleiro is starting to do it but others have taken time to adapt.

On the make-up of the squad:

PL: “I think that the squad is unbalanced and not just a little bit unbalanced. You have got to have two players for each position. We have too many in one place and less in other places. There is too much of a gap in quality. There is a discrepancy. We are top heavy in the centre of midfield and the balance is out.

What is our style of play?

PL: “You need young, energetic lads to play the way we want to play. They are fearless, they have got speed if we press or counter-press. They are quick lads who can hurt you. We have got to be better on the ball. Jack Price is excellent on the ball so he is one who can retain the ball. But we don’t lose that pressing aspect. We have got to get into the habit of pressing the game. To be fair, they are miles ahead from when I first came to the club. There has been a major difference in going to get the ball. If you look at Fulham, they should have won that game, let’s be honest. But we kept pressing.”

What is your formation? Is there a Plan A?

PL: “Yes. I look at who we are playing against and judge it from there. For the Nottingham Forest game on Saturday, I watched them in the week against Preston. Then I had the idea of going the way that we did. I thought that the front four we chose would cause them problems. In modern day football, you have got to be flexible. It is better this way than playing in one particular formation.”

On Bakary Sako possibly coming back?

PL: “There’s no doubt he had a brilliant time here. You have to respect that he is a Crystal Palace player. Do I like him as a footballer? He is a handful. An absolute handful. But he has the African Nations Cup, so there would be a lot to weigh up. But there is no doubt that he was a massive success here.”

On Helder Costa signing permanently:

Kevin Thelwell: “He is on loan until the end of the season with no recall clause, you will be pleased to know. We have an option to buy. We might have to re-mortgage Molineux to get him. It would be difficult to buy him if we are outside the Premier League, but we are talking about other ways to be creative and keep him here.”

Kevin Thelwell on fair play rules:

KT: “You can’t continue to keep spending money with the financial fair play that is in place. We paid a lot in the first window which has to have implications on the next window. So it will be more out than in, but without question we do want to improve the group, so on that basis we will look at one or two who can come in and improve the team.”

LD: “We do have an owner who is happy to invest but we can’t flout the financial fair play rules.”

Why didn’t we think about this at the start of the season? Asked one fan…

KT: “Jeff will be the first to say he has learned very quickly. There are a number of people that support ‘the process’ here (in terms of recruitment). It was fair to say that after the Rotherham game, we had to make a number of changes quickly, so we turned from an evolved plan to a number of players which hasn’t worked. Nor has replacing Kenny Jackett with Walter Zenga. I’d love to say that we all sat here and said ‘let’s get 13 players from across the globe but that wasn’t the case. We are where we are.

“We need to reduce the squad to a manageable level. We’ve got to get back to a more domestically balanced group who can help us to move up the league.”

What is Kevin Thelwell’s role and what is the process on recruitment?

KT: “A sporting director role was created because the club does not want to subcontract the football club to one particular person (I couldn’t help but think of Mick McCarthy here folks!)

Let’s get more transparency, more diligence, go and meet the player. Will he fit with the style of play? And so on and so forth. That’s part of the role. Not all of it, but part of it. I would speak to Paul Lambert and say ‘you want a centre back, let’s sit down and talk about these types of players.’

“The only way we can sign a player is if Paul Lambert wants him.

Did this happen with Joe Mason? Asked one fan…

KT: “Kenny Jackett wanted Joe but he couldn’t find the right place for him.”

Did this happen over the summer? Asked another…

KT: “I want us to look forward rather than back. I think it is pretty clear how we want it to operate.”

Are you happy with this Paul?

PL: “I’m no shrinking violet. I hope you know that I left Blackburn Rovers at my own free will because I was not going to get my own way. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my way then there will be a mannequin sat here.”

The message of only bringing in two or three isn’t clear amongst fans who will be expecting more…

PL: “If we keep bringing players in then we will be top heavy. I don’t think that there would be many more (than two or three). If you bring in four, five or six in January and don’t get rid of the ones you want then you have got too many to work with.

“I don’t expect 10 or 12 to leave.  Some need to go to play, others will not make it with me.

“We need two or three new faces to freshen the place up a little bit.

KT: “Absolutely. We have got to get players in who are going to play.”

Will we be paying players off to leave:

KT: “We are not at that point yet. I think that would be counter-productive. Without giving too much away, we have got a number of solutions for a lot of the players. I just don’t think we are at that point.”

What do you think about the youngsters?

PL: “The best I’ve seen in years. Really, 100%. When you’ve got that bigger squad, you are stopping the development of Bright, Connor Ronan and Herc. You may as well scrap the academy. Bright, touchwood, is going to be a major star. Ronan the same, too. There are about six or seven of them. If you keep bringing in six or seven players then how do they develop? Young Niall Ennis is a terrific prospect too. I’ll be disappointed if a couple of them have not come through by the end of the season. It’s exciting!

“They need the right manager, at the right time, at the right moment. If they have fire in their bellies, the right attitude and the right ability then I will play them.”

One fan was worried about decisions to sell our best players, and used Kevin McDonald as an example, and worried Jack Price might be next:

PL: “Let me stop you there on Jack Price. As soon as I saw Jack Price I said he needed to play. Jack Price was great against Preston and did well against Sheffield Wednesday. The reason I took him out for two weeks was he was not ‘at it’ physically. If I’d have played him we’d have lost him for weeks on end. I was close to playing him together with Connor Ronan.”

A fan asked about bringing German players into the club, as Lambert has links with clubs there.

Lambert said it was difficult to prize players away from that country because they have such a great set-up there and players don’t want to leave. He could only really think of Ballack and one or two others.

KT added: “We are probably around 60/40 ratio (in terms of foreign players v domestic players). It is more 75/25 or 70/30 for successful teams that have got out of the league.

Other points were raised in the meeting, such as safe standing, new website (the company behind this gave a short talk about how it will be better than the current one) and ticketing. I didn’t take notes here as I needed to rest my hand for the points I felt were of most interest to you all. Please refer to the official minutes for these.

Some final bullet points:

  • Roman Saiss is the only player in the group who might be affected by the African Cup of Nations
  • Paul Gladon: KT said: “He probably needs to play more games. He has struggled to adapt to a strong, tough league. Intensity in Holland not nearly as high as in England. There is lots to work on, including making Paul more physical and competitive. An individual development plan is being drawn up to get him closer to the first team.”
  • A lot of staff have departed / will be departing, including Matt Grayson, Lynne O’Reardon and Richard Skirrow. Existing members of staff promoted, with new opportunities being created for good people.
  • Laurie Dalrymple talked about his role. Nothing groundbreaking here. A brief to be more efficient for Fosun, despite their deep pockets, I did warm to him generally. Quite a dry sense of humour, and you sense there is less spin and less appetite to grab a soundbite like his predecessor (who I note is at it again at Carrow Road, glibly talking of ‘promotion, promotion, promotion!)

In conclusion:

While this might sound convenient to many, there seemed to be an onus on looking forward, rather than dwelling on the past. Lambert alluded to this in his spontaneous sign-off, while Thelwell did likewise when reflecting on our summer spending spree.

Maybe the festive season is finally seducing me, but I would tend to agree – and hold no blame to Kevin Thelwell for our crazy recruitment policy. As our sporting director said, Jeff has learned his lesson there.

The bigger points for me are:

  1. Our penny pinching, expectation shrinking regime of seasons gone has left.
  2. Thus, those deep lying roots of evil have finally been removed, which stifled any hope of growth.
  3. For a flower to grow in its place takes time. If lessons have been learned, then I expect some buds of recovery in the spring. Due care and attention is already in place.

Before this meeting, I don’t mind saying I wasn’t looking forward to it. Having been, I do maintain that – to coin a phrase from our manager – that we’re on the cusp of something really special.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Here’s to a happy 2017.

Ben

Cardiff City 2 Wolves 1

Listening to Wolves’ soul destroying surrender on the radio probably begged more questions than Bradley Walsh on my favourite quiz show.

 

The Chase for Championship survival is now well and truly on as our pathetic failures of past regimes – mingled with some of the most gutless foreign imports known to man – lurch to yet another disaster, this time away at Cardiff.

Which begs the questions:

Which team is worse?

a) Wolves 2012/13               b) Wolves 2016/17          c) New Mills AFC 2015/16

Which team surrenders possession the most prolifically?

a) Wolves 2016/17                b) Sunderland 2005/06                   c) The Blind School

Which of the following are the slowest midfield pairing in Wolves’ history?

a) Darren Ferguson and Mark Rankine         b) David Edwards and George Saville       c) Conor Coady and George Saville

Who is the worst signing in the history of Wolverhampton Wanderers?

a) Robert Taylor     b) Ivan Cavaleiro               c) Tomasz Frankowski

Which Wolves striker is the most impotent?

a) Robert Taylor     b) Jon Dadi Bodvarrson  c) Tomasz Frankowski

Who would Wolves like to play least in a one-off cup fixture if their lives depended on it?

a) Stoke City            b) Stourbridge Town       c) Wolves under-23s

Other questions for another day would be along the lines of: Why does Tim Spiers and company idly describe our squad as being ‘well resourced with individual quality’ when it is patently clear that it is well resourced only in ‘hopeless, substandard losers who are barely adequate for League One.’

Another headscratcher was Craig Noone’s omission from Cardiff City’s line-up when he is clearly better than any winger I have seen at Molineux in the past 11 months. Ergo, Cardiff win at a canter when he came onto the pitch.

Meanwhile, is there a single fan whose heart doesn’t sink when Helder Costa is substituted?

Questions about Fosun’s commitment to a League One club really don’t bear thinking about just yet, but unless Lambert can act quickly in January, then I’ll expect to be asking them soon.

Wolves 0 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Claiming to have witnessed the worst Wolves performance in 30 years loses its meaning after a while, after saying it so often in recent times.

But that was, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst Wolves performance I have ever witnessed in 30 years.

On a day we celebrated Bully and Thommo’s magical milestone before kick-off, their modern day contemporaries blackened the shirts they wore with such pride.

Never mind ‘new manager syndrome’ for Paul Lambert. This was dead cat bounce of bottom-three proportions, doing absolutely nothing constructive other than cement our two heroes’ legacy further.

In this instance, Lambert brought it on himself by playing Conor Coady, George Saville and Dave Edwards in the same midfield. Not so much a recipe for disaster, but a lethal concoction to earn any head coach the sack before the ink has even dried on his contract.

It’s bad enough having one of your midfielders locked into your ‘worst ever Wolves XI’ side. It’s absolutely terrifying that there’s another one there alongside him, with deferential Dave Edwards shuffling between opponents with all the impact of a junior waiter between the Toby Carvery tables.

‘Everything ok for you sir?’ he’d politely enquire, after the ball has been zipped from whence he’d came.

We got relegated with Edwards as a mainstay four years ago and if Lambert plays that midfield for a single game ever again, then we’ll be heading the same way.

Back in 2012/13, the prospect of the drop didn’t dawn until February time. This season, that rotting stench is there already – and we haven’t even reached December yet.

Back then, we had Bakary Sako, Karl Henry, Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Foley in our squad. This time around, we are caught between two stools:

1. Play the proven dross that got Jackett and Zenga the sack

2. Play the batch of waifs and strays who are probably no better

My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that option 2 cannot be any worse than 1. And I never want to see the likes of Coady, Saville and Edwards in the same midfield ever again.

On this latest performance, we need eight new first team players (unless Saiss, Oniangue and one or two others can convert into first team material).

Only Kortney Hause, Price and Costa looked anything like respectable against Wednesday, while Stearman also gets a modicum of sympathy for being largely fine, but still unable to eradicate the one howler-per-game that always ends up in the back of our net.

Bodvarsson looks spent – and starved of any service – Doherty looks half arsed, while Iorfa appears to be unable to control his own faculties, let alone the ball to feet. His shocking loss of form is arguably the most depressing sight of all.

The one paced plodders ahead of them speak for themselves and frankly, they’re not fit to lace the boots of Phil Robinson, Nigel Vaughan and Keith Downing back in the day.

It’s not like we’re hankering after those Old Gold heroes anymore – never mind dear Bully and Thommo.

So passionless, leaderless and rudderless is this side that I’d settle for Nigel Quashie.

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Wolves Blog meets Paul Lambert

‘I’ve never known of a blade of grass that can cover a player’s backside.’

Just one of a number of refreshingly honest comments from our new head coach Paul Lambert, who took it upon himself to meet a handful of fans to learn more about the club he has taken over in recent days – and underline his intentions for the future.

Thankfully for those of a Wolves Blog persuasion, Thomas and I were among those to be asked along, which might just mark the beginning of more dialogue – the like of which has always been an aspiration for the pair of us, rather than a reality.

Having read Sir Alex Ferguson’s excellent ‘Leading’ book, I wonder if our new boss has taken a leaf from his most distinguished of compatriots, who wrote:

‘I tried to ensure that our club network extended to the supporters. Just as I was eager to know what was going on in the dressing room, I also liked to know the sentiment of long-time supporters. Every big club has factions among its supporters who are upset about one thing or another, and I just liked keeping my finger on the pulse.’

In any case, this initiative was entirely Paul Lambert’s and it goes without saying that we think it’s an excellent idea!

So, for over two hours, Thomas, me and one or two other fans chatted openly about the club, how we’ve been feeling and his overall first impressions from being around the training ground.

The man cuts a very impressive figure and while the meeting was ‘off the record’, I think I’m not betraying any confidence by disclosing the following:

· We are way, way too open as a side (to the point that he wanted to lace his boots and get back out there while watching us on TV)

· There’s some simple tactical things that we’re just not doing

· He doesn’t suffer fools gladly

· We need to toughen up

· The squad needs cutting back in January

· He needs to excite the fans, play on the front foot and ‘get at’ teams

· Our fan base is enormous and the South Bank is an incredible asset that he has admired from afar for years

And most importantly of all for me…

· He will play an integral role in sourcing new players – not just approving those prescribed to him at the final stage of any given transfer

For a Champions League winning ex-player and vastly experienced manager to be asking – and valuing – our opinions meant a huge amount. It’s a far cry from the ‘fickle’/‘numpty’/’nugget’ tags we were tarred with so liberally during the ‘Three M’ era.

He wanted to know about our own expectations in the short term and where we feel we should be. I simply told him that I want years of pragmatism to be replaced by aspiration at last, wherever that may be. Thomas quoted Klopp by saying we want to look forward to the next match at Molineux, as soon as the current one had ended. We all agreed that we we’ll back a passionate side until the cows come home (Our Southampton 0-6 defeat in 2006/07 an example of how great we can be).

Lambert understood and cut the jib of a guy in complete confidence in his ability to meet those expectations – and promotion back to the top flight. But more than a return to the Premier League and its unimaginable riches, I sensed he knows he could create a legacy at Molineux – and an identity that we’ve been searching for.

I told him I’m breathing clearly after our suffocating past.

Coupled with Lambert’s clear thinking and we might just be on to something.