Anybody old enough to have attended matches at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Molineux Stadium in or before the 1970s, or at least have seen Wolves on Match of the Day then, will be familiar with what was one of the most eccentric-looking stadia in the top flight.
(photo credits: unknown)
Molineux Stadium is named for the former Molineux Grounds pleasure park, on which it was built. The park in turn was named for the 18th century businessman Benjamin Molineux, who built a mansion there. The mansion was later converted to a hotel and is now a Grade II* listed building.
The gabled Molineux Street stand owes its trapezoidal shape to the constraints of the site. Designed by Archibald Leitch, the stand was opened in 1932 and closely resembled Leitch’s East Stand at Highbury built almost two decades earlier. Proceeding clockwise, the other stands are: South Bank, Waterloo Road stand, and North Bank.
The present-day counterparts of these stands are, respectively, the Steve Bull Stand (formerly the John Ireland Stand), the Sir Jack Hayward Stand (formerly the Jack Harris Stand), the Billy Wright Stand, and the Stan Cullis Stand.
The ground might have looked very different if Wolves had been able to proceed with an ambitious masterplan unveiled in 1958, when they were one of the country’s leading sides under the management of former player Stan Cullis.
(photo credit: unknown)
But the plans were rejected by the local authorities and the football club went into a decline, culminating in Cullis’ dismissal and relegation just six years later. Wolves underwent a renaissance in the 1970s, and a second masterplan was commenced in 1979 beginning with the replacement of the Molineux Road stand. Unfortunately, it all but bankrupted the club. In four disastrous years between 1982 and 1986, Wolves plummeted from the First Division to the Fourth (equivalent to falling from the Premier League to League Two in successive seasons).
Wolves were eventually rescued by the late Sir Jack Hayward, who took over in 1990 and oversaw the completion of the 1979 master plan. By 1993, the stadium had been completely revamped, but a return to the top flight eluded the club until 2003. Since then, Wolves have been something of a yo-yo side, and they even dropped into the third tier for a season in 2013-14. However, ambitious new owners took over in 2016 and Wolves returned to the Premier League for the 2018-19 season.
The attention to detail is obvious, and Molineux is very different to the characterless ‘Legoland’ design of so many modern football stadia.
An aerial view of the transformed stadium.
(photo credit: Express & Star)
The development of Molineux looks set to continue. The Hayward masterplan left the stadium with a capacity of 28,000, which was adequate at the start of the all-seater era when few stadia exceeded 35,000. But even the present capacity of 32,000 is small by today’s standards for a Premier League club, and there are plans to increase the capacity to 50,000.