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Wolves kick off next week to celebrate 125 years at official home of Molineux

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 29, 2014

By Steve Gordos

  • LEFT: Molineux - in the days when it was the impressive gardens of Molineux House and ABOVE: A top stadium today

  • The programme for the floodlight friendly against Dynamo shows how the ground looked in the 1950s

  • Work is in progress on building a new Molineux with the old house visible in the background behind the South Bank which has been cleared ready for the construction of the Jack Harris Stand

  • What might have been - the 1950s model of a proposed ground re-build for the Wolves at Molineux

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TUESDAY next week sees the 125th anniversary of Molineux becoming the official home of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

A friendly game with Aston Villa on September 2, 1889, marked the official opening of Wolves' new ground, a permanent base after playing at several venues since their formation in 1877.

A year earlier Wolves had begun their first season as founder members of the Football League while still occupying a ground in Dudley Road. As interest in football increased, it was clear they needed a bigger place to play and Molineux fitted the bill.

Once the impressive gardens of Molineux House, built in the 18th century, Molineux Grounds had in the second half of the 19th century been used for cycle racing and other sporting events. Wolves had played a few games there. too.

It would be several years before the additions were made to shape the ground so familiar to fans during the club's glory days in the 1950s.

Designed by famous stadium architect Archibald Leitch, the main stand on the Waterloo Road side of the ground, was officially opened by League president John McKenna in 1925. The old stand on the North Bank, affectionately known as the "Cowshed" because of the shape of its roof, was remodelled and increased in size with its own cover over the top terracing.

To mark Wolves' return to the First Division in 1932, a new stand was built on the Molineux Street side. With its seven gable roofs, it was unique, much higher at the Sound Bank End than the North as the stand followed the slope of the street behind it.

Finally, the South Bank terrace was given roofing over the rear part. At 63 yards from the edge of the pitch the huge terrace could hold 30,000 fans. It was slightly deeper than Villa's Holte End but held fewer people because a corner of it was cut off by the Molineux Hotel's bowling green. It was when legendary manager Major Frank Buckley had put the team on the map that the ground's attendance record of 61,315 was set for a fifth-round FA Cup tie against Liverpool in February, 1939.

That year saw Wolves finish runners-up in both League and Cup and such was their status that Buckley felt they might be outgrowing Molineux. He proposed they relocate on the edge of town to a ground that could hold 80,000, the majority of whom would still be standing.

Whether Buckley would have seen his vision materialise is open to conjecture but the Second World War meant football rightly took a back seat.

After the war any talk of moving was shelved. But the old ground often creaked at the seams as huge crowds saw Wolves three times crowned champions and twice win the FA Cup under the guidance of Stan Cullis. The installation of floodlights in 1953 heralded a series of prestige friendlies against sides such as Honved, Moscow Spartak and Moscow Dynamo.

There was a proposal at the end of the 1950s to re-build Molineux completely and a model was produced of the way it could look. Alas, the futuristic new-look was shelved.

In those days any re-build would have been restricted by the street layout.

Once Wolves had bought and demolished houses in Molineux Street they were able to start on an ambitious modernisation plan, only for the money to run out leaving the Molineux Stand, as the Steve Bull Stand was first known, in glorious isolation opposite the main stand. Only after several serious financial crises and the arrival of Sir Jack Hayward was the ground at last revamped with new stands built on three sides to complement the Molineux Stand, which by then had been renamed the John Ireland Stand

The old Molineux staged several FA Cup semi-finals and four full internationals, the last being in 1956 when the England team, who beat Denmark 5–2 in a World Cup qualifier, included legends Stanley Matthews, Duncan Edwards, Tom Finney and Billy Wright.

With the arrival of Steve Morgan came yet more plans for the ground. The new owner wanted to see a ground with stands closer to the pitch to make Molineux more intimidating for visiting teams and that is the ultimate aim.

So far, only the Stan Cullis Stand has been replaced, housing also a superb museum. But the ultimate rebuild of the Steve Bull and Jack Harris Stands has been shelved only for the time being. By the time the 150th anniversary arrives, a new-look Molineux should be well established.

What are your best memories of Molineux and what was your favourite game you saw there? Write to us at Bugle House, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, or email editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or log on to www.black countrybugle.co.uk

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