Photo Sam Bagnall
Moor Street station in Birmingham (where we are catching our train) is a beautiful place. I love the wrought iron work, I love the Gingerbread roof, I love….oh fucking hell. A load of Aston Villa scruffs walk past me as I am gazing at the architecture. They are a scruffy load of gits. Mind the gap? Nah, pull your trousers up Aston Villa, wipe the drool from your lips. One of them has a carrier bag full of Carling. Jesus Christ, if you are going to pre drink at least buy something that has some taste…HEY! that’s pretty much a mantra for their team. I laugh to myself a little bit as Horace slurps his coffee next to me and I can feel there is a bit of violence in him. Last March, me on the cold streets of Witton, Downer and me sharing the pain killing gas and laughing. Aston fucking Villa. There will be loads of them on the train but I’m past caring about them for a few weeks at least. They have sacked Steve Bruce and thrown cabbages on the pitch. I laughed that much I nearly had multiple fractures of the funny bone. Fuck Villa.
The train to that hole London. ‘Us’ the Wolves. It’s a collective term really that encompasses the whole zeitgeist Nuno and Fosun have made. Now the ‘Wolves’ is all of us, everybody. It’s a strong seedling that’s germinated in the tear soaked soils of Molineux. Fucking hell we have had some pain here. Now of course we can look forwards to a visit to London.
My Adidas (which mar mate Andy gave me) are dry. No wet foot. Here in London are deep puddles which every body else jumps over. I of course have to gingerly step through and over them so each step is a concentrated manoeuvre so I don’t fuck my leg up. Twenty minutes into the walking and I am exhausted already but the need to see this team overrides any pain. I would crawl through broken glass to see them, to sing at them, to venerate them. It’s a journey for all of us really. It does give you a spring to your step as you navigate through this London, this most horrible of places that has an even darker underbelly. South London, it’s a hole. Not something like a cosy Rat hole but a place where ideas are thrown never to be seen again, We go for a pre game pint in a plastic pseudo pub where the staff is one fat disinterested Cuban and one Czech sex fantasy with a bogie stuck in her nostril. Her boobs are nearly falling out and I am mesmerised by her tits on the one hand and the snot on the other. She is asking me what I would like and is annoyed because I’m not listening. The bogie and the tits. Fucking hell. I order a hipster beer. An IPA called Hopadelic and I want to throw it over them and smash the place up a little. Fetch out your Riot Gear. Wolves are here. But I hand my fiver over and get 2p change. Fuck off.
Surrounding us is the detritus of the place. Tourists laden down with overpriced shit they have bought. Getting the ‘British pub experience’ in this plastic insane place. They have bags and trolleys, suitcases. Everybody looks like they want out of this place. The only laughter here is Wolverhampton laughter. It is genuine laughing because it’s deep and rumbling honest and pure. I choke down the first pint and outside the rain is in sheets, incessant. It will do this all day.
‘Nunos the special one, Nunos the special one’
Crystal Palace is wrongly named. Shitstal Palarse more like. The trip over the green murk of the Thames and we enter South London. Rows of roofs slate grey, gardens full of shit, windows curtained so they can shut out the environment. What are we doing here? Nuno tells us to come. He doesn’t pimp ticket sales of course. His message is deeper and he pulls us towards every match with his idea and his intent. Is Nuno the special one? That would mean entering the shoes of another ‘special one’ and I don’t think Nuno would accept the place of another. Nuno isn’t the special one…Nuno is the one. The rain sticks to your skin here, there is a grime within it. The passive slack faces of the inhabitants are in stark opposition to our faces which shine through the gloom. A raindrop from an awning over the entrance to a ‘Money exchange’ shop staffed by a slack jawed bucolic Syrian fat man drips down my neck. I am transported instantly to Swansea away last season, cup game, rain, storms, wetness.
Crystal Palace. A journey to Hell indeed. We talked of Galatasary and their ‘Welcome to Hell’ banner but a Turkish painted bedsheet is a vapid devoid idea really. This is hell, this cold rain, these Londoners rushing to nowhere. Nobody talks, everybody rushes, everybody has earphones on, everybody looks sad. Hell is cold and damp not hot but our faces shine anyway. This is a pilgrimage not a visit to watch a football match. This is something else. That glow in our faces? Direct from Portugal mate, a fire inside us. Another tube station platform and the sounds of ‘Nuno had a dream’ comes floating down the platform, bouncing off the walls. You cant see who’s singing of course, there is a crush of damp bodies that press and move. The song is of course a mantra. We have to keep singing it because it is the only way to understand what is happening when we watch our team. It’s the only thing that helps us make sense of all of it. The walls of the subway reverberate to it and adds it’s own magic to whatever pain these tiled walls hold. Then the song is quieter as whoever is singing it turns a corner and you walk a little faster so you can still hear it.
Roy Hodgson is a fucking idiot. We all know it. He managed ‘Them’ once. You know who. He has a face like a sick mans pillow, like a pair of old stained knickers caught on a canalside Hawthorn tree. We remember you Roy. But you got out of North Birmingham fast. We don’t blame you mate.
They start the game on the front foot for sure. Their team move the ball ably and with danger. They press high and seem to be pushing back Doherty and Jonny into weird deep positions. We aren’t getting them up front to support Costa-Jota and Jimenez. They of course have occasional forays into dangerous positions. But these Palace players. They play almost the same football as us for large slices of the game. Coady is omnipresent. Here is a lad not far from the intrigues of League one football who has thrust himself on to the worlds biggest footballing stage. Watch him snuff out another attack. Watch him destroy another Crystal palace move. Watch everything he does. Southgate doesn’t want him in the England team yet. I want whats best for Conor. Will he write his name large within an England team that are clique filled and arsey? Can Conor do that same thing here? At Wolves? and disregard the fluff and flannelling from the madhouse that is the England set up?
Coady is attacking every attack, he doesn’t defend this man, he doesn’t retreat and block, get his body in the way although there are aspects to his game that require it. He dampens the opposition attacks and disintegrates the movement splitting up Palaces tactical offense. He is the ‘Terminator’ of CPFCs premier league quality, it seems effortless but I know it isn’t really. Hard work Nuno keeps repeating. I know Nuno is right. Bennett and Boly either side of him and they are a power trio, a veritable Motorhead of defences. We fans stuck under a leaking roof and a view I would describe as ‘abstract’ and ‘shit’ keep singing. We understand perfectly well thank you. We withstand this barrage of Palace silkiness with more singing, more shouting, we are not disheartened of course because ‘we know’. We are a few weeks into this season of Premier League madness and already we have withstood the intricacies of the Manchester teams and deployed our philosophies perfectly well against the other quality laden sides we have faced. We know that Nuno doesn’t have a dream, he has a plan, and we stick to it like the London grime to damp skin. Horace is chewing his knuckles again, but he knows.
Rui Patricio our goalie stretches and flies again across the goal. This man is world quality. He shifts his weight from foot to foot and he is springing around like an insane mountain goat. Here he is throwing himself into a tangle of bodies, a loose ball, feet everywhere, the ball pinging around. Coady protects with an almost violent passionate attempt to dissipate the attack and get the fucking ball away. This incisive violence and passion of Conor Coady the perfect foil to the almost Zen like quality of Patricio.
They have many chances of course. They are a Premier league team. But as the first half progresses we start to see a sort of lethargy creep into the Palace side. Not a physical lethargy of course but maybe a metaphysical one for sure. They tactically fumble their way to the break. They are trying to pick a magical lock with a ten quid set of lock picking tools off ebay and are tired of poking their intent at a footballing idea that defies logic. It is an ideological malaise for sure. What ideas will Roy Hodgson explain to Zaha, what foundations does Roy build his ideas upon? Here in the murk of South London? Jimmy has a chance, ten yards out. Its a fucking miracle he can twist his body around and put a thundering shot just wide. He is leading the line like a Warrior, he is everywhere pulling Palaces defence here and there allowing Costa or Jota to move and to probe spaces. Costa is beautiful bounding around Palaces defence like it isn’t there. Jota gets hacked down again. He’s back up instantly. Jota is a fucking machine but he needs a goal just for him really. Diogo is a pleasure for me regardless of whether he scores or not. Interplay now, Costa to Jota to Jimenez, it’s fluid and magical they can do this here in this strange place.
I suspect that Palace had locked down Ruben and Moutinho with some tasty man marking at some points. We were not clicking there for sure. It was more a case of hang on tight possibly for both of our midfield dynamos. There wasn’t much time to spend on the ball and todays murk required maybe another fraction of a second for Moutinho and Neves to define where the ball was going to go, we didn’t have it, not for large parts of the game anyway.
‘Where’s ya famous atmosphere’
Jimmy gets the ball and slinks it to Doherty who rages towards goal and splashes some colour into the greyness. Boom. Straight through Hennessy…remember him? I was vitriolic towards him when he first ran onto the pitch, I booed every time he touched the ball and I did this for half an hour maybe. Before Hennessy meant nothing at all. A redundant meme under the glare of our team. 1-0 to us. Crowd goes wild. Everybody is hugging everybody else and for a moment I don’t have anybody to hug and share the moment with so I grab a dude in the row in front and rag him around a bit, then my glasses fall off again, I go to pick them up and somebodies knee hits me in the face, my Adidas have a big foot mark on them, my knee is hurting, my glasses have steamed up, somebody punches me in the back of the head. 1-0 Jesus Christ. Doherty. I was moaning about him ten minutes earlier. What do I know about football? Fuck all mate. 1-0 Jesus Christ. Palace fans start to walk out the stadium, I laugh. Then I weep a little bit too drying my eyes on the Pret Napkins I nicked earlier on in the day.
We are all Pilgrims you know. Now the whole Wolves thing is turning into an almost quasi religious thing. I know supporting Wolves needs faith at times but it’s becoming an almost revelation to see beautiful, passionate and hard pressing football that we are. I look at our team and I have to pinch myself that they are my time. Here’s another word. Healing. Those days at Gillingham and Burton, Brentford and Rotherham watching our team disintegrate under teams that should never be allowed to put their stinky feet on our hallowed turf. Wounds we had for a long time. Open wounds. Hoddle, Lambert, Saunders now being healed by this football. Our football. Nuno calls and we answer him, we travel and we attend these sacred events with happiness that we have been delivered from the evil football we have had to endure. I think we have ceased to be fans and are now Pilgrims. Nuno comes over at the end of the game to clap and applaud us. I am weeping a bit again. It’s emotional.
There are Villa fans on the train coming back and they are happy for some reason. I suspect they are just stupid. Their songs are too shrill, too loud. Their laughter is forced and too long. They too are drinking Carling. One of them tells me it was a bad idea beating us last March. He thinks we broke them. I hate his accent, I hate his team for what they said about us. Horace is staring at him. Everybody is staring at him, everybody Wolves any way. But this Villa thing is in the past. We have left them behind in our wake and they know it. They will never have what we have, they will never suffer what we have had to endure over the years. I ask him ‘are you ever going to eat cabbage again?’ and he looks at me like he is confused. Standard.