Birmingham-based Villans will choke at the thought but our biggest rivals might not be the delightful souls from St Andrews.
Hard to take in, I admit.
Historically, the Blues never have, and never will be, any competition for us. Granted, they’re great for a hate-fest twice a season, on the odd occasion we’re in the same division. They also help our morale no end. It’s wonderfully heartening when we’re having a bad time to glance over at Small Heath and realise things could be much, much worse.
Perhaps it’s Blues’ destiny to exist for this purpose, there isn’t much point to them otherwise.
Regardless of my obvious feelings towards our friends in blue, factually speaking there’s only one club that could (and is) challenging our status as the Midland’s greatest.
Situated just 20 miles north-east of Villa Park, our near neighbours have made some massive strides recently.
I can hear the reaction now. Way too far away for a proper rivalry! Blues and Albion are far closer!
Then get this. It’s 12 miles from The Hawthorns to Molineux, and no one would deny that’s a big rivalry.
There are even better examples. It’s 21 miles from Southampton to Portsmouth, 32 from Anfield to Old Trafford and a whopping 45 miles from Norwich to ‘local’ rivals Ipswich.
Of course, closer geographically are West Bromwich Albion. Just 4 miles away, they have 7 trophies to their name, and have a long history of rivalry with Villa. That said, the size of their stadium and fan base has more in common with Southampton and Leicester than Villa and Wolves.
Birmingham City? 2-3 miles geographically, fanbase and history-wise more like Fulham and Coventry.
So, how do Wolves compare historically with the Villa?
Well, Wolves have 9 major trophies, including 3 League Championships, 4 FA Cups and 2 League Cups. We at Villa have 21.
So far so good.
But before we lurch into complacency, this doesn’t tell the full story.
Wolves have a very rich history.
They were formed just 3 years after us, also as a church team. They were founder members of William McGregor’s Football League (couldn’t resist) and drew 1-1 in their first match.
Against Aston Villa.
In that inaugural season, they finished 3rd behind Preston and Villa, and reached the FA Cup final, losing only to Preston‘s invincibles. They relocated to Molineux at the end of that season, and have consequently played there longer than we have at Villa Park. Without winning much (1 FA Cup in 1893) Wolves were still one of the country’s best supported teams.
Fast forward to the 1930s, when both Villa and Wolves were unlucky not to claim League Championships.
Villa scored 128 goals in 1930-31, including 86 (yes 86) at Villa Park. Sadly, we still finished 7 points behind Arsenal. We were runners up to the Gunners again in 1932-33, 4 points behind this time.
Wolves, under the innovative Major Frank Buckley, took Herbert Chapman’s all conquering Arsenal to the wire in 1937-38, losing in their last game to hand the Gunners the title. A season later they finished 4 points behind champions Everton. Wolves’ status as nearly men was further enhanced when they suffered a shock 4-1 defeat to Portsmouth in the last pre-war FA Cup final.
Wolves’ greatest days were of course the 1950’s, they were Champions in 1953-54 and again in 1957-58 and 1958-59. In 1959-60, They also came within a whisker of the first domestic double since Villa’s in 1896-97, losing the League title on the last weekend (again) before beating Blackburn 3-0 in the FA Cup final.
In the days before European club competition, friendly games against foreign giants were taken very seriously. Wolves played several of these. In 1954 they beat a Honved side containing 7 Hungary players who’d finished runners-up in the World Cup the previous summer. The huge interest in this game led to UEFA creating the European Cup in 1955.
So, whereas Aston Villa were undoubtedly the force behind the formation of the Football League, Wolves have a legitimate claim to be behind the creation of the European Cup.
Quite a boast.
Additionally, Wolves claimed ‘friendly’ wins over Celtic, Racing Club and Spartak Moscow. They also beat reigning European Champions Real Madrid 5-4 over 2 friendly games in 1957-58.
It’s stats like these that leave you wondering why our rivalry with Wolves isn’t more intense.
Perhaps part of the reason is that both clubs have largely been successful at different times. Wolves were pretty average during our dominant spell in the Victorian era, then we were ordinary during their heyday in the 1950’s. Wolves were UEFA Cup finalists in 1971, while we were in Division Three.
Then at the same time we were winning the League and European Cup in 80-82, Wolves were starting to creak under massive debt, which would see them end up in Division Four.
If Wolves are about to enter a second golden age, it’s important we break this pattern.
So, I hear you say, Wolves have a rich history, and more trophies than Albion, but surely they can’t match our support base?
Well, maybe not yet, but if you venture north of Lichfield, to towns such as Rugeley, Hednesford, Cannock and Stafford, Blues and Albion fans are few and far between.
But there’s a lot of Wolves.
There’s also a lot of Villa fans, which generates a passionate rivalry. Wolves fans have always resented being second best to us, and now the tables are turned they’re wasting no time rubbing recent successes in our claret and blue faces.
And remember these places are 20 miles or so from Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
I bet it’s a similar story in parts of Shropshire and North Worcestershire. With a spell of success even remotely like that of the 1950’s, Wolves could definitely demand crowds of 40,000 plus.
Especially with the huge international and corporate interest in today’s top tournaments.
In a recent article I explained how Chelsea, (who in 1996 had 5 fewer trophies than Wolves) managed to catch up and overtake us. Let’s not be complacent that this won’t be done again.
And it’ll hurt a lot more being superseded by a club only a few miles down the road.
Make no mistake, this cocky lot from Wolverhampton are well aware they have the history, fanbase and team to challenge us in every way. If we at Villa don’t get our act together and have a modicum of success pretty soon, this bunch will not hesitate to take our crown as the Midland’s premier club.
Let’s not let them have it.
By Rob Smith