Stan Cullis’s Wolves team have been named the third most successful side in history, according to a new study.
And that’s a long overdue nod of acclaim for a team and a manager the wider football world stands accused of under-valuing in modern times.
Based on the period from 1951-61 when Wolves won the League three times and the FA Cup, Cullis’s great side comes out behind only Manchester United from 1992-2002 and Liverpool from 1979-89.
But it still sees Wolves finish ahead of some of English football’s most celebrated teams – Matt Busby’s United from 1946-56, Chelsea from 2001-11, Bill Nicholson’s push-and-run Tottenham from 1956-66, Arsenal under Arsene Wenger from 1996-2006, Don Revie’s Leeds from 1964-74, Arsenal’s post-War side from 1945-55 and Preston’s 1950-60 outfit.
The study was undertaken by Dr Ian McHale, director of the centre for sports business at Salford Business School, and chair of the Royal Statistical Society’s sports section, which he claims objectively determines the greatest English teams of all time.
And one of the players drawn to Wolves because of that famous floodlit era welcomes the findings.
“It’s long overdue,” said John Richards. “Most football people growing up post the Second World War, regardless of the club they supported, would recognise Wolves as being the leading team of that era.
“It was without doubt their time. They set so many standards and made so many breakthroughs. It surprises me that other teams have since been given a higher standing.
“There was always a theory that the Midlands was a neglected area and certainly, by the time we went into the 1970s, even after Forest and Villa won the European Cup, there was still a feeling the media spotlight was never as big here as it was in London or in the north.”
McHale, a Liverpool fan, decided to undertake the project after being teased that Manchester United were better than the Reds.
He looked at English domestic statistics from the foundation of the Football League in 1888 until the end of the 2011-12 season, taking in 206,843 games in which 601,039 goals were scored, and including any team which has played at least 250 matches.
His research uses methodology similar to that used by bookmakers to predict results but looks back into the past and takes account of varying team strength over time.
The study generated a top 10 for the strongest side over a single year/season and a top 10 for the most dominant team over a 10-year period.
During their stellar decade, Wolves won 220 out of their 420 League games, scoring 949 goals, including a never-to-be-matched 100-plus in four consecutive seasons from 1957-61.
What it doesn’t take into account were the famous floodlit friendlies pioneered by Cullis as a forerunner to the European Cup and Champions League.
Wolves took on and beat the cream of the continent’s best club sides, including Honved, Moscow Dynamo, Moscow Spartak, Red Star Belgrade and Real Madrid, and there’s also no accounting for the effect on the next domestic game after travelling from the different corners of Europe.
It’s impossible to give a true answer to how one great team would compare against one from a different era. But McHale believes he has come as close as possible.
“If you consider domestic championships and cups, many people would argue you can’t look beyond one of the great Liverpool sides of 1970s and 1980s, or Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United teams of the 1990s or the early part of this century, as the greatest English club team ever,” said McHale.
“Wolves is a great example from the 1950s, like Manchester City now, of a club who have had long lean spells, but you can see the trajectory and the lifespan of their best team.”