I was 11 the last time we won at the Hawthorns.
Little did I know in the aftermath of that glorious, sun-drenched afternoon in September 1996 what the following 27 years had in store.
In short – torment, pain and suffering.
West Bromwich Albion Vs Wolverhampton Wanderers has not been a regular fixture, with the sides often passing each other in that revolving door to the Premier League, but even so, we’re winless in 11 visits to their ground, losing on 6 of those occasions.
Meanwhile, even more trauma has been endured at Molineux in a string of barely believable, soul-crushing atrocities, rubber-stamping Albion’s dominance in one of the most one-sided derby contests of the last two and a half decades.
Since that last Hawthorns triumph in the mid-90s, the overall record between the sides reads 24 matches played, 13 West Brom wins, 7 draws and just 4 Wolves victories. Terrible in isolation, but the full story, as we’re all painfully aware, cuts so much deeper.
Origin of trauma
If you asked any football fan to consider the worst thing that could happen to their team, I imagine most of the answers would describe our collapse in 2002. Before this apocalyptic event, it was just another local derby, but ever since, it’s been something more. For the uneducated, the story goes something like this…
After a decade of squandering Sir Jack Hayward’s money, a couple of play-off defeats were all the club had to show for their efforts. But finally, Dave Jones had cracked the code. An 18-year exile from the top flight was coming to an end and we were on our way back to the promised land – until we weren’t.
Wolves seemed destined for a top-two finish alongside Kevin Keegan’s imperious Man City team, but Jordao’s goal in a turgid 1-0 win for the Baggies at Molineux in early December was a precursor of what was to come.
The team regrouped after that defeat and embarked on a barnstorming run of form to seemingly put themselves in an unassailable position by early March. But a lousy 2 wins from the final 9 matches opened the gate and Gary Megson’s stripey scrappers gladly crawled through, winning 7 of their final 9 to do the unthinkable.
For Albion fans and even some outsiders, it was probably perceived as a win for the underdogs, wrestling promotion away from their big-spending rivals in the most glorious way imaginable. That might even be true, but at the time and even today, it still feels intolerably cruel.
Norwich accounted for us in the playoffs (with Blues beating them in the final to rub more salt into the wound) and even though we’d go on to win promotion at Cardiff a year later (taking Albion’s place in the Premier League in the process), the scar tissue from that chastening experience remains all these years later.
Four defeats in eight months
Having not contested a Black Country derby in the four years after that disaster, 2006-07 cooked up something really special.
In a bizarre and luckless turn of events, we not only drew our friends down the road in the FA Cup but also went on to meet again in the play-offs, meaning a total of five matches in the space of one Championship season.
It was a typically solid start with a 3-0 whomping at the Hawthorns, then another 3-0 defeat, this time at Molineux in an FA Cup game that will be remembered for Jez Moxey surrendering our sacred South Bank seats to accommodate our boinging rivals. That one was entirely self-inflicted.
Jay Bothroyd’s winner a few months later put a plaster on a gunshot wound but of course, we lost both legs in the play-offs, consigning us to four defeats in the space of less than 8 months as the Baggies boinged on to Wembley. Has any team ever suffered so much at the hands of a rival in such a short space of time? I doubt it.
I can reflect on that season and admit they were just streets ahead. Mick McCarthy was in the early stages of piecing the jigsaw together in the aftermath of Sir Jack’s exit and they had players like Phillips, Koumas and Kamara who were just better than anything we had. But even so, it was them again – taking the glory, having the last laugh and in the process, rubbing our noses in the dirt.
The Premier League years
On paper, the four points we took from them in the 2010-11 Premier League season gave us the edge, but dig a little deeper and you find it’s not quite that straightforward.
Wolves desperately needed the points at the Hawthorns in late February and Jamie O’Hara’s screamer looked like getting it done as we entered injury time. Finally, the first win there in 15 years. Oh no, wait, there’s Carlos Vela bundling home a 92nd-minute equaliser to turn a victory into what felt like another cruel defeat.
We had a rare moment in the sunshine at Molineux a few months later thanks to Steven Fletcher and Adlène Guedioura – a victory that helped stave off relegation but laid the foundation for one of the darkest seasons in this already grim rivalry.
The standard 2-0 defeat at the Hawthorns was perhaps to be expected, but a 5-1 humiliation at Molineux in what signalled the end of the road for Mick McCarthy and set us on course for a double relegation to League One, while they enjoyed their most prosperous years in the Premier League, was a startling and impressive new low.
It would be near enough another decade before the sides met again and of course – of course – they managed to avoid locking horns with the best Wolves side we’ve had for 50 years.
Nuno was on the downward slope and there was no Jota or Jimenez by the time that horrible lockdown season rolled around. Big Sam duly stomped into town and one long throw and two penalties later, Wolves had contrived to lose again.
We went ahead at the Hawthorns and briefly threatened to lift a curse that’s spanned nearly three decades, but an equaliser duly arrived – as it always does – and that was that.
They went down that year and we remain a Premier League team, yet somehow, it still felt like they had the better of things.
When will it end?
All of this accumulated pain and suffering means that one miserly FA Cup victory on their patch is hardly going to restore the equilibrium, but it would certainly be a good place to start.
Wolves have better players than West Brom and the league tables tell you we’re a better side. On paper at least, we should win.
But will we?
There’s an ingrained belief somewhere deep inside me that thinks we’ll just go on taking the punishment for the remainder of my living days. Beaten to promotion, beaten in the playoffs, beaten in the Premier League, beaten by the underdogs, humiliated home and away until we can take it no more.
ITV will no doubt shape the narrative that we’re swaggering into town, expecting routine progress but the well-educated will be, like me, living in hope but existing in fear.
I suppose in a sick way, even after all these years and all the torment, pain, and suffering – that’s part of what makes these occasions so special.