I’m sitting here writing this with a smile on my face (and tears filling my eyes if truth be told.) It’s not something that Wolves fans have been too used to over the years. We’ve had moments of it in the past couple of decades; the play off final in 2003, a return to the Premiership in 2009, storming League 1 in 2014. However, for each of those moments of success we’ve had to endure much pain & frustration as fans. It’s not easy being a Wolves supporter, it’s not like it was in the heady days of the 60’s when we were the glory boys who won FA Cups & League titles with regularity & were feared by all. No, we’re often talked of as “sleeping giants” or the club that “should be in the upper echelons” of football. We haven’t been. To be honest we’ve been frustrating. At times dire. We’ve been run badly, had some terrible managers and players who just haven’t had the heart (save for some noted exceptions. Arise Sir Bull.)
Not today, however. Not this season, not anymore. Today we are going back to the Premiership as a force with a proper structure behind us. Players with heart. A manager who is a colossus. Owners with the financial clout of Croesus. There’s not a Wolves fan on the planet that isn’t smiling. But there’s another reason for my smiles. Wolves have carried me this season. Quite frankly, and I say this having duly considered it, they have stopped me slipping to a place where I could quite easily not be here anymore. I believe Wolves as a club, Wolves as a team, Wolves as a family, staff, supporters & reporters…have kept me alive this season. It’s a bold statement to make I know, but I was heading toward a destiny that would have seen my end and I needed something to cling onto. It’s as if without knowing it, Wolves have gathered me up in their collective arms and done enough to keep me standing, keep me breathing, give me enough strength to keep going. I’m not just talking to whichever collective of 11 players were on the pitch at any given game, no, this goes much deeper. I’ll start at my decision to get my season ticket to highlight how deep this goes.
Spending money on myself is something I find hard. It’s difficult to say which of my mental illnesses causes me to not feel deserving, but it’s irrelevant, I just find it hard. I like to have money in the bank, I feel secure if my savings are increasing, I don’t feel worthy of having anything of any significant value. I certainly don’t feel worthy of indulging in things that bring me pleasure. If I do anything that brings me pleasure I feel guilty about it. That hasn’t changed, and each match I go to I feel guilty about. If you see that I’ve been to a gig or that I’ve had a good day for another reason, yes, I feel guilty about it. I hate the way my brain is wired but there you go, it is what it is.
So, as I realised that Wolves were building something amazing over the summer, in terms of the appointment of Nuno as our manager and the signings we were making, the thought in my head that I would really quite like to get a season ticket and go to as many home games as my body would let me was met with very stiff opposition. I went through the motions of finding out if I qualified for a disabled ticket and this is where I first found out just how helpful and supportive people at the club are. Both Dominic at the ticket office, and ticket office manager James were superb, supportive and went above & beyond to give me as much information as possible. I had all the information I needed but, of course, was getting all this resistance from the beasts in my mind. Yet the desire grew stronger.
Tim Spiers & Nathan Judah were reporting from the Austria tour for the Express & Star. Their Twitter updates were just feeding my desire more & more and I began interacting with them. I’m pretty sure I said to Tim about how much I wanted to go to games, how I wanted to get a season ticket. Their reporting of the matches and the excitement they were generating throughout the fanbase at what they were witnessing on that tour was incredible. There was a war going on inside me, it was actually making me lose sleep. How mad does that sound? All my mental illnesses were working against me. Anorexia and all the weakness it causes me, the part of me that stops me deserving anything nice yet still…
I wanted something to cling onto, something to look forward to even if it was just once a fortnight (sometimes a little more concentrated) and something that looked as though it was going to be exciting. Tim & Nathan were being so good to me. They must have stacks of people tweet them all the time but they engaged with me, even followed me back and I felt like I was being included in the “buzz” of it all. I was so grateful to them for that, that sense of inclusion is something that has often felt lacking in my life. It’s something that has been a feature of this season and has constantly felt overwhelming in the best way.
Obviously the part of me that’s actually “me” won. I bought that season ticket.
Simon 1 Mental health shit 0.
Going back to Tim & Nathan, their support has carried on throughout the whole season. Tim has checked in on me via Twitter on a number of occasions and that has meant so much to me (as it does with anyone). But this was someone that, until this season, had never met me before. Now I truly hold him in the highest regard, not only as a reporter & journalist, but as a friend. Nathan too has been a great support and in him too I’ve found a true pal. I love his wit and his quirky style. His injection of humour and positivity has been brilliant. When little elements of doubt, even amongst the most positive of us has crept in, Nathan has been there to give us all a journalistic slap across the chops. He’s a breath of fresh air. I can’t remember now why I first baked them some cakes but at some point I did, and have gone on to do it a few times – both cakes & pies – and it’s been a pleasure to do it each time. It gives me chance to meet up with them and have a chat too. They’re great lads and I’ll say it properly now. Thank you both, thank you for being accepting of me, for being supportive, for being you, and for being the pro’s you are. Personally I think you serve the club & the media outlet you work for in an exemplary way, but above all you’ve been a pair of rocks for me.
Then, of course, there are my fellow fans. I didn’t know any other fans that regularly go to matches before the start of this season. I got to know a few during pre season through Twitter and, as the season has gone on, have got to know a LOT more. A fair number of them have now become, again, great sources of support and encouragement. People to talk Wolves with, to support the team with but also, as I found out more and more, are there to listen when I really am struggling. For that I can’t even begin to put into words my gratitude. It took until very recently for me to feel brave enough to meet up with any of them, such is my social awkwardness & fear. However, I did it at last & I wish I had done it sooner. What an amazing bunch! There are still a few I haven’t met yet but I know they will be just as awesome as the ones I HAVE met. There are far too many to name them all, and I’m grateful for every single person, so there’s no exclusivity here. However, a massive thank you to Kate & Neil Wright, Mark, Michael Petalengro (whose advice about learning to laugh at the world is something I’m trying to remember when things are difficult), Sophia Goldsmith, Rikky Roth, Stacey, Simon Layton, Dan Southall, Gareth Jones, Simon Spragg (who I sit next to and took AGES to speak to), Alan, and all the others who my brain is running out of steam to think of right now who have been so awesome. Without you all I wouldn’t feel as I do – that I’m part of one monumental family, a family bonded from the centre circle of Molineux then radiates around the world & is united & there for one another in good & bad. It’s a family I take enormous pride of being a member of. I don’t say that lightly.
Of course there’s where the success of the season came from. The players, the management, coaches, physios & staff that keep it all ticking over. Last but not least, those that run the club. Fosun. People like Jeff Shi & the staff employed by them. Laurie Dalrymple & Kevin Thelwell. What Fosun are building is nothing short of mindblowing. Exciting doesn’t even come close. There are still those amongst the fanbase who refuse to believe and I get that. Our history with owners is going to have left its mark, that pessimism is ingrained into some. But I believe. I believe that we can be as big as force as any of your Manchester teams, any of those London clubs. We can be giants of Europe again, we can be feared. We can stand in our shiny 50,000 capacity stadium and sing til our lungs are on fire and be proud. I believe. And I’ll be there, health willing.
I can’t end this without paying tribute to one man whose inspiration has 100% been a driving force to not just me, but to so many people throughout this season. When Carl Ikeme’s news came through we were all stunned but we rallied behind him. I am sure he took heart from it and it has helped him fight. I take that parallel. It’s like, people have got behind him and he has fought, just as I know he would have without it, such is his character. From that and the encouragement of the Wolves “pack” I too have fought to keep going. Our illnesses are very different, Carl’s is easier to understand for people and I get that. Both are serious in different ways though and both take a lot of fight. Carl’s bravery is a source of massive inspiration to all. It really has spurred me on to keep going, even if it’s just the days when there’s a match on and my own illness is trying hard to keep me home. Carl, keep fighting, if anyone can win it’s you. There’s only one Carl Ikeme.
There’s been some defining moments, and for me they came at the end of the season. I wasn’t at either match, away games weren’t something I felt secure enough to face. Those games at ‘Boro and Cardiff typified everything that Wolves have been. Fight, courage, determination. Everything I have needed to stay alive myself, everything I have needed to battle. The fans passion carrying the team, the team fuelling the fans passion, and so the cycle flowed. To borrow the word the brilliant Southbank Resistance used: kwan. Never more fitting and never more relevant to describe what has kept me going. The Wolves kwan has kept me alive.
It’s not been an unblemished record. I have missed 4 or 5 games. The illness did win over those times, but Wolves, and when I say that now you’ll understand that I mean it in the context I’ve written, have carried me through. Thank you isn’t enough. This club isn’t just a club. What is it Nuno says? “The strength of the wolf is in the pack. Together we are stronger.” Oh how true that is. Am I in any way better? No, but I’m still here and I’ll continue to be, because I’m one of the pack.
Tomorrow we play Blues, and courtesy of tonight’s Fulham result we are already promoted, obviously. It’ll be a celebration regardless of the result, however I’m confident we’ll do well, such is the way of things this season. I’m staying in Wolverhampton overnight, I want to soak up the jubilation of all that we have to celebrate, all that Wolves & those of us that love and understand what it is to be part of it have to be thankful for. I really want to capture memories and savour the sights and people who have kept me going, kept me alive, by keeping me a proud part of this glorious pack.
Wolves Ay We.
TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.