Newly revived football capital of the 1950s

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Wool, coal and bicycles built Wolverhampton, a town of honest toil best known for its heavy-metal heritage and historic football club. High-scoring winners of the Championship in 2018, Wolverhampton Wanderers then claimed a European berth in the Premier League – but this is only a recent phenomenon, driven by huge Chinese investment.

For a certain time, in that grey era between the end of rationing and the switch from radio to television, Wolverhampton was at the centre of football world. In fact, the game has this Black Country manufacturing hub to thank for the European Cup, forerunner of the Champions League.

A founder member of the Football League in 1888, Wolves lit up the domestic game in the 1950s. When Wolves, champions of England, took on the mighty Honvéd of Hungary in December 1954, it was one of a string of floodlit fixtures against exotic international opposition – Real Madrid, Spartak Moscow, Racing Club of Argentina – that ushered in the European era.

In this way, Wolverhampton can be considered a pioneer. On Waterloo Road, just north of a town centre remarkably spared the worst of the Blitz, the club’s long-term home of Molineux was the setting for live match broadcasts on the BBC that captured the public imagination.

The Honvéd match was also seen as a showdown. A year earlier, half the side, including Ferenc Puskás and Sándor Kocsis, had taken England apart at Wembley, 6-3. Now they were back, beamed live to the nation – and 2-0 up on the quarter-hour. Fearing another rout, at half-time Wolves manager Stan Cullis had his staff soak the rainy Molineux turf with even more water.

On a quagmire, toil triumphed over artistry, Wolves ran out 3-2 winners and Cullis declared his team ‘champions of the world’. Journalists at influential French sports daily L’Équipe, incensed by such an arrogant claim, duly proposed an organised international competition to prove it. The European Cup was born.

Cullis was still in charge when his club eventually took part in 1958, falling at the first hurdle, and getting stomped year later by Barcelona 9-2, former Honvéd forward Kocsis getting three at Molineux.

The era was capped by the wedding of Billy Wright, upstanding captain of the Cullis team, and pop singer Joy Beverley of the pre-Elvis Beverley Sisters. Two generations later, Posh and Becks hired their own castle in Ireland and flew in Elton John – Joy and Billy faced the cameras at Poole registry office before heading off to their two-up-two-down after their one night of honeymoon in the Midlands.

They had met, of course, at Molineux. Wolverhampton, setting for Britain’s first pedestrian crossing, destination for the country’s first motorway, became the UK’s first flash-bulb popping hive of football celebrity hullabaloo.

Wright retired a year later, after 500-plus games for his only club and a then record 105 caps for England, 90 of them (still a record) as captain. He and Puskás remained lifelong friends, despite the much-used film clip of the Hungarian’s drag back outwitting the errantly skidding England captain in the 6-3 game. Today Wright’s statue stands outside Molineux.

Also honoured in bronze, Cullis was sacked in 1964 after decades of loyal service to Wolverhampton as both player and manager. He never really got over the shock.

Eternal sleeping giants, Wolves occasionally ventured into the top flight, most memorably in the early 1970s. More recently, a barnstorming side under Nuno Espírito Santo, filled with his stellar compatriots, swept into the Premier League with 99 points. Molineux attracted close to its 32,000 capacity and a buzz returned to the West Midlands.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

The nearest airport to Wolverhampton is Birmingham International, 45km (28 miles) away. From the airport, three direct trains an hour take around 40mins to reach Wolverhampton, tickets around £5 single. From London Euston, there’s one direct train an hour (2hr journey time, online singles £30), otherwise change at Birmingham International. Two trains an hour run from Manchester (1hr journey time, online singles £15).

Wolverhampton train station is walking distance to Molineux and the city centre. The bus station is close by.

From Birmingham Grand Central, via Snow Hill/St Chad’s, the Midland Metro takes 40min to reach Wolverhampton St George’s (every 7-15mins, £4 single/£6.30 day return) by the city centre, further but still walkable to Molineux.

Several bus companies serve Wolverhampton and area – Transport for West Midlands has all details of routes, tickets and times. An off-peak nbus day pass is £4.20, valid on all services from 9.30am weekdays and all day weekends, by using a free Swift card available at the bus station or on your mobile. There’s also a Bus & Metro Daysaver (£5.60) for the tram as well.

Go Carz Wolverhampton (01902 717273) can be booked online and offer transfers to all nearby airports.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Traditional pubs and contemporary bars are found in a small hub along Princes Square/Princess Street. Given the proximity to Molineux, the more prominent places become pre-game pit stops – with entrance strictly home fans only on match days.

By the train station, part of the Hungry Horse chain, The Sunbeam, named after the vintage car once made here, is handy for TV football and family-friendly meals.

The excellent and ever-lively Hogshead offers big-screen football, real ales on a rotating basis and a decent menu. An imaginative décor and buzzy clientele do the rest.

Nearby, the Royal London is also a major live-sport hub, with two giant screens, as well as providing meal deals and student-friendly drinks promotions. Equally central, The Goose has eight big screens and a huge 3D projector with surround sound – plus craft beers from around the world.

The themed Billy Wright is a must, though it’s Wolves fans only on match days. There’s TV football – and ferocious karaoke on Thursday nights. Wall-to-wall memorabilia includes match programmes from the England-Hungary and Wolves-Honvéd games, and rare photographs. 

On the other side of the street, the Duke of York is a much quieter experience, a friendly, traditional hostelry that serves its own house bitter, Exmoor Fox ale and Old Rosie cider. There’s sport on TV and vintage Wolves photos on display, including a team line-up from 1912-13 and Stan Cullis in jovial mood. The same management also runs The Old Still Inn across the road, where the sports screen and karaoke machine rule.

In this same small bar zone, The Bohemian is more contemporary and cocktail-oriented – there’s a TV screen but this more a place to mingle than watch sport. A few doors down, the Moon Under Water is the local Wetherspoon, with a display of Wolves worship on one wall.

In the heart of town, with its DJs and late closing at weekends, The George Wallis is more party-oriented but live sport isn’t forgotten. Shots and shooters are necked, rather than craft ales sipped.

In the shadow of St Peter’s Church, the Lych Gate Tavern goes big on board games and literary evenings but its main attraction remains its Black Country Ales (BFG, Pig on the Wall, Fireside Bitter).

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Enjoy Wolverhampton has a hotel database.

The nearest hotel to Molineux is the affordable if dowdy Redwings Lodge, a former Travelodge right on Waterloo Road.

A nicer, convenient and only slightly dearer alternative, A Park View Hotel fills a grand Victorian property with 21 elegant rooms, the superior Hamiltons restaurant and a cocktail bar. Older Wolves fans are catered for on match days with afternoon teas involving scotch eggs and fried black pudding.

Just across West Park from Molineux, a more individual and independent type of hotel and guesthouse can be found on and off Tettenhall Road. Ely House is in a converted 18th-century girls’ school, with 18 refurbished, en-suite rooms over three floors. It’s only a 15min walk to Molineux.

Slightly further out, the Queen Victoria Hotel, set in a leafy area of town, offers a reasonable level of comfort. It’s a 20min walk to Molineux or take the frequent 1 bus from Tettenhall Road to the ring road.

Handy for the train station, stadium and nearby bar hub, the Britannia Wolverhampton is defiantly old-school and cheap as chips.

Nestled directly behind the station on Broad Gauge Way, the Premier Inn Wolverhampton City Centre is a modern, budget chain with a bar/restaurant alongside. It’s a 10min walk to Molineux, via the ring road.

Further round the ring road via paths and underpasses, the Novotel Wolverhampton is a large and reliable three-star, with an extensive restaurant and bar.