For much of last season the question was: how do you solve a problem like Dave Edwards? Here was a man who was our second-top scorer last season, provider of many moments of recovery and a player who had become synonymous with the club over a 10-year spell. Here was also a player that seemed to do very little with regards to playing actual football and made a Wolves career out of getting on the end of things and generally covering a large surface area of the pitch over the course of 90 minutes. He was also Mr Nice Guy. How can you possibly treat him with any disdain? He probably walks old dears across the road, drops a tenner in the lap of a homeless person – even picks up his tray when he’s finished his McDonalds. What’s not to love guys? We thought we’d come up with the solution – sell him. No Dave, no problem. And still he has dominated the pre-match discourse as we approached our return to league action.
Wolves fans have developed a complex. Most football fans probably have it. But for us it’s justified – Ex-Player Syndrome. It’s a horrible condition. The fear of the past. Symptoms include flashbacks of woeful Wolves players entering your head and all of their lowlights: misplaced passes, missed chances and awful results that should be buried deep in the memory – a side effect is excellent long-term memory. Other symptoms include random fits of clapping and booing, often at the same time, as your cognitive thought processes struggle to cope with the idea of said ex-player. You wake up in a cold sweat the night before the match with visions of Dave Edwards permanent grin wheeling away after he dispatches another near-post flick past John Ruddy. Not again, you think. Not this time. Not Our Dave. An Icelandic Thunder Clap punctuates the air and frightens your wife into waking up as you bellow ‘HOOOOO!’ into the distance. Jon Dadi’s in town as well. You see us Wolves fans have every right to complain of Ex-Player Syndrome based on last season, as we saw it all come to fruition. But this is Nuno’s Wolves.
This is Wolves 2.0. The Saville and Wallace double act was comfortably dispatched. Why not Dadi and Dave? Because us Wolves fans are out of our comfort zone. We’ve been wallowing in our Championship misery for virtually the entirety of my life. I think a few of us like it there. We watch our lads toil away from the comfort of our fold-down seat, bellowing out bollocks and scratching our arses. We’re not quite ready for what’s about to come. We’re still settling into our brand-new designer boxers that we don’t need to pull out of our arse-crack. Our smooth leather jacket just doesn’t quite sit right on our shoulders – bring back my 97/98 replica wind-cheater. Some of us are getting there but some of us are still lagging on the journey a bit. My brother regaled me with a story of a fan he had heard say they can’t wait to see Karl Henry next week. Andy Lonergan’s coming back midweek too, let’s go for a pint post-match Lonners old pal. So when they go over their rendition of boo-claps for Dangerous Dave just think: they’ll come round eventually. It’s impossible not to. We’re living in the age of Nuno.
Reading by all accounts is a bland-ish place. There was a niceness about the people, a lack of hostility just not conducive to building a fortress of a home patch. Even the rain felt a little bit timid as it wafted towards us away fans. We set up camp in a stand that will evoke many great memories in those fortunate enough to witness Alex Rae’s winner in the 2003 play-offs. It was clear from the outset that it would be up to us to create any kind of atmosphere, although in defence of the Reading fans, if you’re going to come dressed as a chair you may as well behave like one too.
We actually started the game as if we’d had 2 weeks off. Like that first day back at work, when you spend the first couple of hours addressing emails, re-adjusting your chair and just getting used to your surroundings. But John Ruddy had an urgent task slapped on his desk early on in his day, which he dealt with, albeit in a fussy manner. The forward players took rather less time to get into their stride though and were soon strutting their stuff around the ‘Mad Stad’ – the most ironic nickname in football stadia in England.
The first goal encapsulated the swagger and confidence exuded by Wolves as a club at the moment. There was no reason for Ivan Cavaleiro to do what he did to Vito Mannone. He could have simply rolled the ball into the net, or side-stepped the keeper before applying the requisite finish. But, given the time and space available to him Cav decided to roll his foot over the ball, sit the keeper down and put the ball in the net. It was the finish of a man who wanted to put on a show. It was Davor Suker in the quarter final of Euro 96-esque. It was a ‘Salt Bae’ of a finish, so needlessly embellished but devoured by us Wolves fans who revelled in this display of near-arrogance.
Generally speaking, goals define performances and seasons. People will always remember goals that win tight games and shift the balance in their favour. On occasion a season-defining moment doesn’t always end up with the ball in the back of the net. Sometimes it’s a Kevin Muscat elbow. Or a magical John Ruddy save. I’d near enough turned away in disgust, thinking Mo Barrow had delivered a killer blow when the ball approached his left foot, only for Ruddy to pull out one of the best saves I’ve seen a Wolves keeper make. This, amongst a succession of heroic blocks from Coady, Bennett and Willy Boly – a Wolves cult hero in the making – proved decisive in our victory.
Much has been made of the personnel that make up our back three, but we may have settled on our preferred trio. Coady and Boly pick themselves but a word on Ryan Bennett, who continues to put in performances that belie the underwhelming nature of his arrival. Norwich fans ridiculed us for taking a punt on him, but he’s shown himself to be a top-class centre back, with a nod to his very tidy distribution as well. He certainly offers more than Batth in that sense, while I had a lot of time for him cleaning out Barrow in the second half to truly ‘earn’ a booking and take one for the team as Reading countered. Well played Sir.
Some of the brighter moments of last season were also on display in the second goal. Helder Costa all of a sudden rekindles some of his dancing feet to make some yardage before working the ball to Matt Doherty who found himself on the scoresheet for the first time this season. The biggest positive of this weekend was seeing different players taking responsibility to ensure we got a result. The second goal caused even more Reading fans to don their chair costumes. Part of the away-day experience is usually the tit-for-tat you get with the home team’s fans. This was virtually non-existent throughout the 90 minutes, as if the Reading fans were more bothered about watching the game itself. I have a cousin, who when taunted with banterous remarks simply responds ‘fair enough’. This lack of commitment to the to and fro of an exchange sucks all of the fun out of it. This is what Reading fans did. Lucky for them the Old Gold was there to illuminate the field of play.
They did their best, old Dadi and Dave. They almost got their own back. But Nuno’s Wolves have an irrepressible quality about them, a nothing-will-bring-us-down nature that overwhelms our opponents. You have your chances. We will have ours and take them. We weren’t at our best but Nuno will make the boys aware. Leeds on Wednesday will be addressed appropriately, rest assured.
And so we celebrated our victory on the final whistle. We danced in the rain, we sung our songs. As I turned to take my leave from the Madejski, a fellow Wulfrunian came screaming down the stairs past me, right to the front of the stand. Despite what our boys had done, despite the three points being in the bag, this is what he was singing:
‘One Dave Edwards, there’s only one Dave Edwards…’
Never change Wolves fans. Never change.