Review: Between The Golden Lines

His inimitable way with millions of indispensable words made David Instone a genuine legend to me as a Wolves fan growing up.

He’s still the first name I think of when I hear the title ‘Wolves correspondent’ and were I to name the top three heroes to leave an indelible impression on my formative years, he’d be keeping company with Steve Bull and Dad.

Dad for his love. Bully for his goals and Instone for his words.

Partly due to ‘digital’ not being a thing when the pen and paper ruled supreme and partly due to my burning desire to be a journalist for as long as I can remember, but David Instone wasn’t just a by-line on a back page to me, but a bona fide big deal, whose exclusives can still prompt me to remember where I was when I first read them. (John de Wolf and Don Goodman press conference = Leysters Bus Shelter as Dad picked me up from school in 1994, having travelled to Tenbury Wells to lay his hands on a copy).

Anyway, to commemorate his 16 years as Wolves’ correspondent for the Express & Star and 30th anniversary in the Molineux press box, David has penned his recollections via ‘Between the Golden Lines’ and it goes without saying that I lapped up every word.

Bringing his years with the UK’s largest regional to life – of which I would also serve with much less aplomb – David has triumphantly narrated my own era I’ll treasure most (1987 onwards) and if I could implore you to read one single Wolves book from now on, then this would be it.

Devouring these 256 pages in the time it took a Thomas Cook plane to cross the Atlantic last week, you are reminded just what a crackpot club we were, and treated to some previously unheard sub-plots and stories behind the scoops, with today’s successes under Nuno acting as an inadvertent juxta-position to add poignancy to each failing regime, whether it be Turner, Taylor, McGhee or Lee. Timing, in this rare instance, has surely been perfect for David – and long overdue.

There are too many anecdotes to relay in this attempt at a book review, but the overall impression having read Between the Golden Lines is that David Instone was a stellar, Premier League journalist in all but job title, falling agonisingly short of reporting in it when effectively sacked in quite scandalous – if not ironic – circumstances.

Having covered so many disastrous appointments and exits himself, there was something of the ‘art imitating life’ when his own employers acted with the same impulsive ineptitude as Jonathan Hayward when pulling the trigger. In many ways, fate could only afford David Instone an exit quite like this. Not that he complained, only sounding disappointed when missing out on the Promised Land at the very moment he thought he was there. Something else in common with McGhee and Taylor, at least.

He wrote: ‘By the time Wolves did make it back to Highbury, Old Trafford and Anfield, I was no longer at the Express & Star and by no means covering every game. This, therefore, is as much a record of following the team to Chester, Halifax, Hartlepool and Scarborough as of visiting the big venues. In many ways, the rise from the ashes, the revivalist spirit, the record-breaking work of Bully and others at the unglamorous league basement was MY time.’

Unwittingly perhaps, this book throws up levels of comedy, tragedy and romance on a King Lear scale, thanks to similar levels of hairbrained thinking during David’s tenure along Queen Street. And aside from reliving the gargantuan contribution made by Steve Bull from the press box, Instone’s fractious relationship with Graham Turner – which completely disintegrated by the time the manager resigned – was arguably the most significant moment in his career, as it forced him to sniff out the scoops with GT on mute.

And boy did the scoops arrive, thanks to a vault of copper-bottomed contacts and an insatiable work ethic which all us fans benefited from, if not his own personal life. Again, he didn’t complain.

The one about Graham Taylor arriving was the stuff of legend, as he broke the news before anyone else was even close.

‘We had some high quality sources to mark our card during the search that followed (post Turner)…We had known for months that there was some admiration among the Molineux board for Graham Taylor and I was dispatched to England’s World Cup qualifier away to San Marino in November 1993…

‘…We went big on Taylor’s chances of landing the job when it came up in mid-March, especially as we heard through a trusted intermediary that Graham would jump at the chance. Through our informant, we confirmed the following Monday afternoon that Taylor was coming in as soon as he was back from a trip away. The Express & Star loved the fact that we felt confident enough to write: “Graham Taylor WILL tomorrow be named manager of Wolves.

‘It was so much more powerful than couching it in terms like ‘is in line to’ or ‘is poised to.’ There was no ambiguity. We had the story nailed – a huge one at that.’

Other anecdotes to live in the memory was a similarly stunning bit of work along with chief snapper Dave Bagnall to oust the impending arrival of David Jones, scooping more nationals in the process on a tireless day of work while a match was going on. You felt exhausted just reading it.

Stories such as these, interspersed with tales of maddening short sightedness makes Between the Golden Lines an absolute must-read. Different regimes looked numerous gifthorses in the mouth, it would transpire, including Ian Taylor and Nigel Pearson on a plate from Sheffield Wednesday, while Jason Roberts was even worse, effectively giving him away without giving him a chance, before Roberts plundered seven goals post-Christmas for WBA which ultimately kept us down.

It wasn’t like David was being wise after the events with many of his stories either. His infamous piece about Bully needing to leave Molineux to get the chance of Premier League football was actually quite prophetic, while his cringing at Jonathan Hayward’s attempt at a joke when unveiling Mark McGhee was telling, even back then. ‘And now…please welcome our new manager Dave Bassett,’ he quipped. The perceived dinosaur was yet another to reach the Premier before we ever did, finishing 27pts clear of us when taking Forest up. Hilarious.

Such misplaced irony seemed commonplace back in the day, when just about every dice possible was thrown to get us to where we are today under FOSUN’s brave new world.

Being able to read the past through the prism of today really does make for a compelling read and as a lifelong David Instone fan, I can only thank him for taking the time.

If you like comedy, you won’t be disappointed either.

After a tortuous drive up to The Shay in Halifax in 1986, Instone reflects on a ramshackle press box that greeted him in the bleak midwinter, with no lights where he was sitting.

‘Oh, there are, lad, reet there,’ an official told us pointing. ‘But you have to bring your own bulb.’

‘Out of darkness, cometh light’ sounds about right.

‘Between the Golden Lines’ is a hard-back costing £18.99, excluding post and packaging. For details of how to order email thomaspublications@blueyonder.co.uk or ring 07734-440095.

A Dangerous Triangle – One Year On

I read over the article I wrote for the Wolves Blog a year ago, and frankly, I had to laugh.

Having spent the season railing against the arguments presented by Leeds, Aston Villa and Derby County, it suddenly occurred to me that last summer I was doing something very similar. Unlike those clubs however, I’m prepared to hold my hands up and say how wrong I was.

In the summer of 2017, on the back of what seemed like another false dawn as a big-money takeover yielded only a 15 th place finish, I was the classic Wolves fan. I was scarred by countless failures and the times I’d dared to dream, only for it to be cruelly snatched away with ludicrously high points requirements (being relegated with 52 points, or missing the play offs with 78) or 11 point leads surrendered. So when the winds of change blew through our club, I was always looking for the negatives, because there had been so many previously.

I questioned the need for a summer splurge, cheekily suggesting that it served only to line Jorge Mendes’ pockets. Having had the pleasure of watching Ruben Neves spray effortless passes around, or Willy Boly saunter upfield to start an attack, I think it’s fair to say that the summer splurge was in everyone’s interests.

Comparing how I felt in 2017 with how I feel in 2018 emphasises the incredible efforts of Fosun, Nuno and the players. Our manager has unified the club, dumbfounded his critics and brought genuine joy back to the fans. This season has eroded the pessimistic, hope-for-the-best-but-expect-the-worst Wolves supporter I once was.

Where nervousness once ruled, now inspiration prevails.

Going into games this season expecting something from them was unchartered territory. Of course that will change in the Premier League, but we have nothing to fear – and certainly no need for pessimistic articles from fans *cough cough*.

If I were to re-write my article now, I would perhaps entitle it ‘A Risky Triangle’ – but as we’ve seen this season, a great risk can certainly yield an even greater reward. Hopefully this time next year I’ll still be feeling as optimistic!

Every Wolves Player Who Made An Appearance in 2017/18 Ranked By Contribution On The Pitch

Actually, to clarify the point, ranked by my personal opinion about their contribution on the pitch. I’ve tried to mesh that together with appearance stats and some other info to give it more credibility.

#33 Harry Burgoyne – Handed a solitary token appearance at Sunderland after the game was already lost.

#32 Michal Zyro – One start in the League Cup and that was that for the big Polish striker. Got a few goals for Charlton.

#31 Sylvain Deslandes  1 sub appearance in the league and 2 starts in the League Cup before leaving for Pompey on loan.

#30 Jordan Graham – Same appearance stats as Deslandes and couldn’t get a game at Fulham or on his return to the club in January.

#29 Dave Edwards – Another with 1 sub appearance in the league and 2 starts in the League Cup before ending his near decade-long association with the club.

#28 Rafa Mir – Just 1 start in the FA Cup and 3 sub appearances for the striker since arriving in January. No goals and no real chance to make an impact after the arrival of Afobe.

#27 Donovan Wilson – Came off the bench at Southampton in the cup and scored his first goal for the club. A memorable moment in a morale boosting win early doors.

#26 Oskar Buur – Played for 20 minutes in the league and netted a crucial equaliser against Hull. What was he even doing up there? More importantly, who cares? Also got a start in the League Cup.

#25 Connor Ronan – Got a look-in for a short time but once the squad was beefed out, struggled for minutes. Like a few others, impressed against Man City and left with De Bruyne’s shirt before heading to Portsmouth on loan.

#24 Kortney Hause – Not a single league start for Kortney and just 4 appearances in total, which must be a source of immense frustration. Somewhat surprised he was given a contract extension, but at 22 there’s still significant room for development.

#23 Jack Price – 5 appearances off the bench in the league and some game time in the League Cup. Played very well at The Etihad before bringing the curtain down on his Wolves career.

#22 Ben Marshall – Soon became obvious he was down the pecking order so no surprise he eventually left to get some games. Did manage one league start in his 5 appearances before impressing at Millwall.

#21 Nouha Dicko – Scored what proved to be the winning goal against Hull (ironically) so must rank higher than all the other also-rans. Also got one in the cup before being shipped out.

#20 Morgan Gibbs-White – Came into fashion after Christmas and was regularly involved. But only 1 league start and 3 in total from his 15 appearances. Still just 18 though and everyone at the club seems to think he’s going to the very top.

#19 Will Norris – Didn’t concede a goal in his League Cup campaign and was solid enough against Swansea in the FA Cup, but had a game to forget in his only league start at Sunderland.

#18 Ruben Vinagre – Had Douglas not been so effective, Vinagre would have made a lot more than the 13 appearances he mustered because whenever he did play, he looked motivated and capable. Scored a great goal at Burton.

#17 Bright Enobakhare – 26 appearances in total but just 2 goals and 1 assist for Bright. If he can beef up those numbers, he’ll be a Premier League player. You don’t make 26 appearances in a side this good if you’re not up to scratch.

#16 Roderick Miranda – Much like Danny Batth, looked pretty decent in the early games. I particularly liked his touch-tight, Italian-esque defending. Lost rhythm once Boly and Bennett became the preferred duo flanking Coady and looked vulnerable in subsequent cameos.

#15 Danny Batth – Started the season well enough, but once he lost his place to Bennett, he struggled on the rare occasions he was called upon. 21 appearances in total and an important headed equaliser against Bristol City for his only goal.

#14 Benik Afobe – Just 7 starts for Benik and a further 9 appearances from the bench. 6 goals was a decent return, but if I’m being hypercritical all his strikes came in games I felt we’d have won anyway.

#13 Alfred N’Diaye – Essential squad player. Only 17 starts but 20 more appearances from the bench. 3 goals and 2 assists. His physicality came in handy on several occasions.

#12 Helder Costa – 39 appearances in total but only 24 starts. Took him a long time to get up to speed. In fact it was only really down the home stretch he looked anything like the player we’ve come to know and love. 5 goals and 6 assists is still a decent contribution.

#11 Ryan Bennett – It didn’t look like he’d get a sniff at the start of the season, but ended up a key performer. 33 appearances in total and one special goal at Ashton Gate. That was his moment to savour, but overall he can feel very pleased with his efforts.

#10 Leo Bonatini – 47 appearances in total (31 starts) but it felt like he checked out at Christmas. Couldn’t muster a goal in 2018, but the 12 he registered early doors really helped get us up and running. 5 assists too for the Brazilian.

#9 John Ruddy – Would have been an ever-present in the league had Nuno not rested him on the final day. Won the Golden Glove for most shut-outs in the division but that owes as much to the defence in front of him. Made some big saves, most notably at Cardiff, but also let in a few soft goals and occasionally juggled crosses. Solid rather than spectacular.

#8 Romain Saiss – Major unsung hero. Immediately struck up a good understanding with Neves and connected the dots between defence and attack. 44 appearances in total and 4 important goals.

#7 Willy Boly – The centre-half of my dreams. Missed 10 games with injury and that’s the only reason he isn’t higher up the list. 3 goals and 2 assists to go with countless blocks, interceptions and carefree jaunts downfield.

#6 Ivan Cavaleiro – Rarely grabbed the headlines, but one of the big heroes of the campaign. 32 starts and 46 appearances in total. 9 goals and 12 assists.

#5 Matt Doherty

Only missed one league game all season and that was after getting sent off at Middlesbroguh. 47 appearances in total, 4 goals and 4 assists. A high ranking for sheer consistency. Not as explosive going forward as some previous seasons, but then again, he didn’t need to be.

#4 Barry Douglas

39 starts and 42 appearances in total. 5 goals scored and 14 assists. Yes, 14 assists. Nobody in the entire league managed more. Effective from open play but spectacular from dead ball situations.

#3 Diogo Jota

Quickly identified as the league’s most dangerous attacker and subsequently targeted for heavy treatment. 43 starts and 46 appearances in total is an incredible achievement. He was brought in to score and create and with 18 goals and 5 assists it was definitely mission accomplished.

#2 Conor Coady

Can count himself unfortunate not to be sitting at the top of the pile. 48 appearances in all competitions and barely a single mistake all season. A revelation. Factor in his character, his leadership and all those diagonal cross field passes and you’ve got one hell of a season. Made playing three at the back possible, which was essential to Nuno’s ‘idea’.

#1 Ruben Neves

42 appearances, 6 screamers and the best passer of a football we’ve ever had – certainly in my lifetime. Mick McCarthy was flabagasted Wolves spent £15 million on a ‘holding midfielder’ back in August. I suspect even he’s got on board by now. I wanted to give the number 1 slot to Coady, I really did, but I can probably count on one hand the number of seasons where we’ve actually had a midfield and this guy is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Disagree with my list? I’ll paste the names into a comment below if anyone fancies having a crack themselves.