So the Mick McCarthy era at Wolves has come to an end. After five and a half years he has been shown the door at Molineux, in a season where we have barely been in the bottom three, compared to the year before when we spent almost all season in the drop zone.
How the McCarthy years are viewed retrospectively we will only know with the passing of time, a large part of that will depend on whether the club survives in the Premier League; after the 13 remaining games are finished and improves from what he has achieved, or we go down and embark on another period in the lower divisions.
Hopefully once the dust has settled on his dismissal, his tenure will be fondly remembered and appreciated as a major stepping stone in the transformation of Wolves. But for the moment I want to look back over this period not just as a tribute, but in an attempt to tell it as it was from a fans perspective.
Personally speaking I was thrilled when he got the job. Why? Because at the very first Wolves Fans Parliament meeting, which I was lucky enough to be involved in, I stood up and suggested Mick as our next manager. We had been asked by Jez Moxey who we wanted as the next Manager following Glenn Hoddle’s unforeseen departure, and Mick was the man for me.
I had been impressed by the way while at Sunderland he had got them promoted while they were £33m in debt, and even though he was given no money to spend in the Premier League they were playing good football and he was largely considered unlucky to get the sack from the Stadium of Light.
So the fact that my suggestion had been the one appointed, gave me an affinity with him from that day on. With Richard Skirrow’s support we then got him along to our next Dinner, which he admitted in his blunt Yorkshire style he didn’t want to attend, but he came along and quite enjoyed himself during the evening. He took particular delight in the pea shooters, almost causing one of the waiters to drop a huge pile of plates he was collecting from the tables when he scored a direct hit on the side of his face, causing him to roar with laughter.
On the pitch things were tough. Hoddle had left a squad that was threadbare to say the least. The Premier League parachute payments had run out, Kenny Miller had walked out, and Jo Lescott had been sold. Hoddle had not brought anyone in and we were left with either players that no one else wanted or prospects from the youth team.
One aspect of his management style became apparent early on, and became known as ‘Mick’s favourites’. Over the years several players never seemed to be given a chance in the team when the fans thought that the ones left out were better than those we were watching. The first example of this was Denis Rosa, who had looked worthy of a place during the last few months of Hoddle’s reign, and the first friendly against Villa too. But under Mick he wasn’t given opportunity in the first team for the fans to see if he could do it for Mick.
One early development that started to transformation into Mick’s team from that first friendly game was Karl Henry being given a trial. Having left Stoke on a free he was looking for a club, and Mick put him on the bench for that very first game. Mark Davies got injured very early in the game, Karl came on, and the rest as they say is history…
Jay Bothroyd was an early signing, not what you would call a Mick signing, as he had been around the leagues and always attracting the wrong kind of publicity. With untold levels of skill and ability, but not one to ‘put a shift in’ it was not surprising that he and Mick clashed several times. That said he did score some wonderful goals at Wolves at home to Ipswich and away at Leeds and a crucial goal at home to Albion that secured wins and built confidence that lifted us up the table. Mick had to dabble in the nether reaches of the transfer market and people like Jermal Johnson were brought in, showed great enthusiasm and scored a few goals along the way.
There are lots of examples of little things in that first season which contributed to the overall picture, and that overall picture was a fantastic over achievement and a place in the play offs. Those Play Offs saw Wayne Hennessey drafted into the team unexpectedly after Matt Murray stood on the frame of a goal in training the day before the first leg, and started a run of injuries that would end in his eventual retirement.
There were other blows too, when Mark Davies walked to Bolton rather than stay at Wolves. Mick had given him too limited opportunities in the first team, but he was a talent that arguably was never replaced. On the positive side, there were several good deals that have paid off handsomely. Over the years Michael Kightly, Stephen Ward, Matt Jarvis to name but three have been picked up seemingly from nowhere, and established themselves in the team and their place in Wolves’ history.
Others such as Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Steven Fletcher have become heroes for a generation of fans for their goal scoring exploits in the Championship and the Premier League respectively. Many such as Kevin Foley, Stephen Ward, Sam Vokes have become full international for their respective countries under Mick’s stewardship and would be the first to acknowledge the fact, and the influence he had on their careers.
Others were brought in to do a particular job at a particular time, and then moved on again. Some were not popular with the fans but they ‘put a shift in’ and helped move the club forward. I’m thinking here of the likes of Neill Collins, Mickey Gray (who won our POTY) Marlon Harewood, Andy Keogh (another POTY winner) Marcus Hahnemann, Chris Iwelumo, Dave Jones, Gary Breen and many others.
As with any manager as well as the successful signings there have been the flops. Freddy Eastwood was one, Stephen Elliott another, as were Darren Ward, Darren Potter, Michael McIndoe, Eggert Jonnson and dare I say Roger Johnson!
Some players hung around too long some were shipped out too quickly, but that’s football. It is a game of opinions and Mick had his, and it was never always going to be the same as the fans.
In the Championship winning season, Mick really got it right. Open expansive free flowing attacking football was a joy to watch. The passion was shared with players, fans and management alike. That season you saw the best of Wolves as a club as a whole and after so many years of disappointments and crushing defeats under many different regimes it was very welcome.
But then we saw a different side to Mick in the Premier League. This is the area I’d be most critical of him, we were giving too many sides too much respect and rather than trying to win games we were happy far too often to sit back and maybe get a draw or scrape a win. Usually this strategy failed and points were lost.
The Manchester United fiasco was when he nearly lost all the fans for good. Dropping ten of the team after winning at Tottenham the previous weekend did not go down well. Particularly as United had a reserve back four out that night and could have been their for the taking along, with a huge boost to confidence that would have come with an Old Trafford win. But Mick said they were tired, and dropped 10 of them! Ah bless.
I remember well that first season up in the January we played a shockingly poor Liverpool followed 4 days later with a six pointer away at Hull. At home to Liverpool was a classic case of showing them too much respect, they were there for the taking, but we did nothing and walked away with a single point from a 0 – 0 draw.
Then at Hull we were very fortunate to get anything from a game where we didn’t have our first shot on target till there was just 12 minutes to go, although we had previously scored when a cross was deflected into the net for us by a defender. A Jarvis inspired late rally saved the day for us and we got a 2 – 2 draw. But 2 points out of an easy six, was not good enough.
By contrast last season (the second season up) Mick declared that we’d have a right good go at Chelsea at Molineux, and what happened we got a win. Last season he was more positive and results against the big boys were testimony to that. But this season there have been some horrible turgid performances where we have deserved and got nothing. I’m thinking of Everton away when the only shot on goal was for the penalty we were awarded. There have been other examples of the over cautious approach, but also the opposite when we were magnificent away at Tottenham and should have come home with 3 points.
This showed that we could do it against the better teams, but by and large we weren’t doing it often enough. No consistency in our approach to games or consistency in how well we played.
There have been many great wins in the Premier League where Mick deserves credit too. 2 games against Spurs the first season, away at West Ham, beating Albion last season followed a week later by winning at Sunderland. Also home wins against Manchester City, and United plus Chelsea showed that we could do it, we could compete and we did belong.
But it was that inconsistency that was probably his undoing. Some fans always saw and fed off the positive performances, while others the negative ones. So the Mick out culture was never far away, just bubbling under the surface of many fans.
One thing he didn’t have was luck. How many penalties have we had during his tenure? How many should we have had? How many despicably poor refereeing decisions were we on the end of? Mark Halsey can fill this category on his own! Injuries too have never gone away, yes it’s part and parcel of the game but did we ever have a fully fit squad in the five and a half years?
For all these negative points there are many, many positive ones. He was good for the Football Club, he took us forward, he took us up. He bought some heroes and a few donkeys – Halford anyone? – but the trend was always up. Whether he’d have kept us up we’ll never know. I met him on 6 or 7 occasions and liked him. He is a good manager, he will be again, and I hope in the future to bump into him and have the opportunity to thank him personally for all the things he did for our football club. Hopefully in retrospect of his full five and a half years you do too….
Chris Cox is co founder and chairman of the DDCWWFCSC.
All posts by Chris Cox