Who are the worst fans in the country? If we are to measure “badness” in terms of having a reputation for enjoying a dust-up with rival fans, then most fingers would point at Millwall. And if it instead denotes a lack of geographical proximity to a team’s given region, or the suggestion that the fans have settled on a team in the same unimaginative way that one settles on the music of Coldplay and the meals of Pizza Express, then you’d argue in favour of Manchester United.
However, many people would argue that fans of my team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, are, in terms of constant moaning and delusions of grandeur, among the very very worst in football. What’s odd is that our fans don’t seem to recognise just how much the rest of football dislikes us. If you look at any end-of-season summary of recent seasons in The Observer, where a fan of each team nominates his best and worst players, games and fans, Wolves tend to feature heavily in the “worst fans” nominations. And yet the opprobrium never seems to register. It’s not water off a duck’s back, it’s a duck not even recognising that it is actually wet.
The Wolves support is that peculiar mixture of living off past glories, nursing absurd delusions as to where we ought to be in the football hierarchy (this wasn’t helped a couple of seasons back when the ownership started letting off absurd honkings about pushing on for Europe, in the season of the first of our record-breaking successive relegations) and complaining about every signing, dropped point, conceded goal and fluffy feelgood PR blather in online forums – there are Wolves forums users who would be able to find a downside if Lionel Messi took a 100% pay cut to turn out in the Old Gold. In these terms, we are perhaps second only to Newcastle United, but you at least get the impression that, although the Toon Army are guilty of all of the above, they would at least show you a good time afterwards. In Wolverhampton, we’d just take you to the Newhampton pub for a meat pie and a moan. Even if we won.
Factor in an unseemly obsession with how West Bromwich Albion are doing at any given time, and the Wolves fan becomes a bit of a tragic breed. And we’re incredibly easy to wind up too. I remember one game against Blackburn where one of the away fans, a tubby shirtless teenager who I tracked down via the gift of the interweb, was goading the Wolves fans something awful, simply via the medium of mime. He managed to enrage one man to a high froth simply by pointing at him, doing a “limp wrist” gesture and mouthing the words “Are you gay?” a few times. The man got so livid that he eventually picked up his son, who would have been about five years old, held the terrified toddler above his head, and roared, “How can I be a woofter? I’ve got us a f*****’ babby!” Priceless.
But I come here not to bury myself and my brethren for being hopeless and miserable and obsessed with the glories of a very distant past. I come to plead for understanding and indulgence. Things are not good at Wolves right now, and I mean that in reference to both the club and the city. Obviously, the team itself has been subjected to some spectacular top-down mismanagement, such that some of the candidates who were interviewed after the dismissal of Mick McCarthy had decided to not take up the vacant post in the time it took to stroll to their car after the interview ended. And the Molineux ground has become a massive white elephant in a city that simply can’t afford it, boasting a fancy luxury restaurant which apparently now only opens once a week due to a lack of people minted enough to dine in it, and ticket prices out of sync with the quality and level of football on show. Basically, the fans are still being expected to pay, in part, for the spectacular failings of the club and those who run it, and this is in a city with the worst unemployment levels and the highest percentage of out-of-use commercial premises in the UK. Wolves is basically the poster city for the recession. So yeah, we do bloody moan, but we have good reason to. We do look back with rose-tinted spectacles, because the present is pretty flaming grim. That just leaves the delusion and the obsession with West Brom, but I suspect no amount of therapy will rid us of either of those.
In a recent Lonely Planet Guide, Wolverhampton was voted the 7th worst city in the entire world. So if we are the country’s worst fans – and as I say, we’re right up there – then maybe we’re just products of our environment. And this maybe explains why we simply don’t notice when scorn is being heaped on us by fans of other clubs. In terrible times, a thick hide is a necessity.
Having said all this… We did come up with the nickname “Sylvan Elikes-Cake” for Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. So we can’t be all bad.