Wolves' FA Cup defeat to Chorley was the low point in the club's long history

Wolves face Chorley in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday but the two clubs have history - it was an FA Cup tie against Chorley in 1986 that marks the low point in Wolves' history. Adam Bate speaks to Jon Purdie, who played that day, to find out more...

Wolves legend Steve Bull
Image: New signing Steve Bull was watching on as Wolves lost to Chorley in the FA Cup in 1986

If defeat to rivals West Bromwich Albion on Saturday marked the low point in Wolves' season, the identity of their opponents on Friday night in the fourth round of the FA Cup offers a reminder of the lowest point in the club's 144-year history. The name Chorley still sends shudders down supporters' spines.

Then in the sixth tier of English football, they beat Wolves at the third attempt in an FA Cup first-round replay on the night of the 25th of November 1986. The 3-0 loss at Burnden Park was the final humiliation for a club that had been in the top division as recently as 1984 before going on to suffer an extraordinary triple relegation.

There have been more remarkable victories for non-League teams in this competition. This one was not even much of a shock. But Sutton United's victory over Coventry City in 1989, say, is more memorable to fans of the non-League side than the famous club they conquered. It was an embarrassment, but the Sky Blues spent another dozen years in the top division. Wolves' defeat to Chorley is different. This was the nadir. Rock bottom.

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Perversely, the game that club legend Billy Wright described as the worst in their history has become the one every Wolves supporter wants to claim they were at. A result that has gone on to resonate through the ages at the club because of what came before - and because of what came after thanks to the recent signing from West Brom who was watching on from the stands.

Ineligible for that game, Steve Bull would go on to score 306 goals for the club, firing Wolves back through the divisions, kickstarting the journey back to the top. It is poetic now to think that the saviour was watching on among the crowd of 5,421 people that evening.

"It was sort of the catalyst for it all getting better," Jon Purdie tells Sky Sports. It did not feel that way at the time.

Purdie was one of the Wolves team who had the dubious honour of playing in the game. Born in Corby, he has since settled in the West Midlands, and is on the committee of the Wolves all-star team that helps raise money for charitable causes. He has had to become familiar with the jokes. Mentions of Chorley are never too far away.

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"It happens every year when FA Cup time comes around," he says. "It is OK. It is one of those things. It is a long time ago now and they were very different times for the club."

Purdie should not even have played.

"I had been injured for the two previous games, the initial one and then the replay. I got begged really to play in the final game. I was struggling with my knee. I was probably a week away from being well enough to play but it was different back then.

"If I had been 26 or 27 I would have refused the cortisone but I was young and daft and wanted to play. My appearance money matched my basic wage so you always wanted to play even if you were injured. My money trebled if I played and we won.

"I thought I was doing the right thing but it obviously didn't work."

Purdie was just a teenage winger at the time but he wasn't the youngest. Wolves manager Graham Turner, only weeks into the job, described it as men against boys and the absence of hardened professionals was clearly an issue against capable opponents.

"They were only two leagues below us. It was not that big a jump. A lot of our lads were fresh out of reserve-team football, even the experienced ones, of which there weren't many.

"Ally Robertson had not played first-team football for a long time because he had been frozen out by Ron Saunders at Albion and was playing in the reserves. He was not on top of his game. Dave Barnes was a very good player but he really did not like the manager.

"The rest of us were just kids really. The goalkeeper Vince Bartram went on to Arsenal and had a good career but he was 18 and learning the game. He got thrown in at the deep end.

"It is daft looking back but I would imagine the Chorley boys were being paid semi-pro and had jobs as well so I would have thought they were earning more than the Wolves team.

"I just remember it was a very dark time for the football club and many of us were uncertain about our futures.

"Let's put it this way - it was a good time for them to play us."

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It is difficult to overstate the mess in which Wolves found themselves the time. The Bhatti brothers, Mahmud and Mohammad, had left the club on the brink of collapse. Dwindling attendances, not helped by the forced closure of two of the stands, added to the gloom and the receivers had been called in during that summer.

Only a deal to sell Molineux to the council saved the club.

Purdie would go on to join Oxford after leaving Wolves in 1988 and even then the contrast was stark. "It was a smaller club but it was also a far more professional outfit."

It is easy to see why when he describes some of the scenes. "Wolves were so skint," he recalls, "that we used to have a whip round to pay the milkman. It really was on its knees.

"We used to have the training ground at Castlecroft but they could not afford to keep that. So we trained in the middle of the racecourse which was bitterly freezing in winter. The wind was so bad that a goal-kick could fly back over your head for a corner.

"They could not even have that on a Friday so we had nowhere to go. We just played over the back of Molineux on the car park behind the North Bank. It was not tarmac, it was shale, pebbles and stones. We had to bounce cars. A few of us would get together and move them to make a pitch. People would come back looking for their car."

These tales have become part of Wolves' folklore because, despite the lack of facilities, Turner was able to take the club back up the divisions. They went on to reach the playoffs that season and proceeded to storm to back-to-back league titles after that.

Wolves legend Steve Bull
Image: Wolves legend Steve Bull scored over 100 goals in back-to-back seasons

As for Bull, he scored 52 goals in the first promotion and 50 in the second. Never has Wolverhampton's motto - Out Of Darkness Cometh Light - been more appropriate.

Purdie was there for the first part of that journey but did not stick around for long.

"A lot of players left shortly afterwards either by their own choice or Turner's. I was one of them. I lasted to the end of the following season but I was never one of his favourites. It was good to be part of but I could not play the style of football that he wanted to play.

"We had been doing quite well under Brian Little but he was a different character. He would talk to you and try to explain things. He was much more of a man-manager. Turner came in with a rod of iron and laid down the law. It was successful in the lower leagues.

"But the honest truth is that if Steve Bull had been signed by Brian Little we would still have won the fourth and third divisions because Bully was raw and hungry, just unstoppable. I think he would have scored 50 goals whoever he had played with.

"He was a joy to behold for the time that I was lucky enough to play with him and see him score so many goals. I am sure Graham Turner would admit he never expected him to do as well as he did.

"Bully was the catalyst for it all really. We went from having three or four thousand watching us to there being 20,000 there when we made the playoffs so it was a really quick turnaround. It shows you how success breeds success. It all mushroomed."

Wolves are unrecognisable today, having finished seventh in the Premier League for each of the past two seasons. But the club is not without its problems and the injury to Raul Jimenez has sparked a dramatic dip in form that means that pressure is on manager Nuno Espirito Santo as they prepare to face Chorley again.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo during the FA Cup third round match at Molineux stadium, Wolverhampton. 0:20
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"Jimenez is hard to replace," says Purdie.

"He was the one who finished things off. They have missed him but what top-class centre-forward was going to sit on the bench when he was fit? Unless you pay them a fortune to sit on their backside but you do not really want that sort of character at the club anyway.

"Nuno doesn't look the happiest bunny at the moment, does he? His body language isn't great but I am sure he is missing home and his family. I know people are very critical of football managers these days on social media but he is only a human being.

"Fans should be careful what they wish for because who is going to come in and be better? I am sure it is just a blip and when he gets his best players back from injury it will be different.

"I do think they will be fine on Friday but I don't think it will be easy for them. They will have to take it seriously otherwise they could get turned over. It won't be somewhere they are used to going with all the comforts of the Premier League.

"I just hope they don't play the young kids, but I don't think Nuno will. He tends to put a strong team out in every competition. I am sure the quality will see them through."

And Wolves could then add some happier memories of Chorley.

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