When Wolves reached the final of the UEFA Cup in 1972, the team had to play 10 matches to get to that stage – the current squad have already played 12 in this season's Europa League, and they’ve only just reached the ‘second round’.
In 1972, Wolves took down the likes of Portugal’s Academica, Dutch outfit Den Haag and even Italian giants Juventus on their way to a two-legged finale with Tottenham Hotspur. They were a force to be reckoned with during the inaugural staging of the UEFA’s secondary continental contest.
Fast forward to 2020, and Wolves have faced Portuguese and Italian opposition once again, as well as entering new territory in Armenia, Turkey and Slovakia. But there are many similarities between arguably the two best gold and black sides of the past 50 years.
Jim McCalliog, who was vice-captain in 1972, but led the team out in the latter stages of the UEFA Cup, including the final, due to regular captain Mike Bailey’s injury, was a key member of the old gold in the early 70s.
Snapped up from Sheffield Wednesday, the Scottish midfielder played in 77 consecutive matches following his Wolves debut, going on to represent Wolves 210 times, scoring 48 goals – one of which came infamously against Juventus in Turin.
“We were trying to emulate the great Wolves sides which had gone before us,” McCalliog told wolves.co.uk. “The Wolves teams of the 1950s and 60s were fantastic, full of England internationals, and the club had a great tradition which we were trying to revive.
“The Juventus game was key. We’d had a bit of trouble with Italian clubs the previous season in the Anglo-Italian Cup, but when we got drawn against Juventus, that was a tough quarter-final draw.
“All through the run to the final, we’d play all our games away from home in the first leg, so that was in keeping when we travelled to Turin. Bill McGarry pulled a great stroke in that first leg against Juventus by inviting John Charles – a great player for Wales, Leeds United and Juventus – and he was idolised in Italy, especially in Turin, but McGarry brought him along as a liaison officer.
“The most important goal of my Wolves career came in that game. I hit a volley with my left foot, so sweetly, and it was one of those that when you hit them, you know if they’re going in or not.
“As soon as it left my foot I was on my way to the side towards the crowd because I knew it was heading into the bottom corner. It was a fabulous moment.
“To get that goal in Turin against one of the biggest names in world football, and to come away with a draw, meant we could take them back to Molineux where we fancied our chances against anybody.”
To earn a draw on their travels in Turin gave Wolves the chance to reach the semi-finals if they could get a result at Molineux – and get a result they did. Goals from Danny Hegan and Derek Dougan were enough to earn a 2-1 victory under the lights back in Wolverhampton.
“It was great to know we were taking them back to Molineux and carrying on the traditions of Wolves because there is not enough talked about when it comes to Wolves,” McCalliog argues. “Wolves’ tradition is absolutely incredible, and this is something that the current Wolves team are emulating.
“They are absolutely putting the Wolves name back on the footballing map and back in the minds of people around Europe.
“We were a great attacking team, very similar to how Wolves play now – we were great at counter-attacking, and once we broke down an attack, we were so quick to getting back up the other end of the pitch and had the ability to score goals straight from the opposition’s attacks.
“I see a lot of similarities between the current Wolves team and our ’72 side and it’s great to see them doing so well once again.”
A regular watcher of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side from his home in Scotland – a bed and breakfast he runs with his wife Deborah about 20 minutes away from Glasgow – McCalliog is full of praise for the way the head coach and his players have reinstated the Wolves name back into the European footballing conscious.
“It is all credit to the manager and the players, because I watch Wolves whenever I can, and the way they play is brilliant.
“It would be nice now if they could meet Celtic in the final. That would be fantastic for me because, living up in Scotland, I watch Celtic quite a lot and my wife’s also a big Celtic fan, she loves going to the matches, and they also have a really good team. For me, a Celtic-Wolves final would be fantastic.”
A deputy captain in the centre of the park, who would spread the play, score spectacular goals and wasn’t scared to get stuck in. Despite the similarities, McCalliog might not consider himself the Ruben Neves of Wolves’ 72 side, but he does believe the success of the current team and the one he played a pivotal part of might resemble each other more than most people might think.
With a manager who knows how to get the best out of his players, demands the utmost of respect and considered to be a tactical genius – Nuno and Bill McGarry share parallels. Even more so by the way they are supported by a dedicated team of backroom staff, each with a crucial role to play in orchestrating the machine that is Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“McGarry was a great football man,” McCalliog explained. “He was an excellent manager and I had nothing more than admiration for what he did for Wolves football-wise.
“But he also had Sammy Chung, his coach, there for the ‘man-management’ side of the game. Sammy made sure everything would be ticking over behind the scenes.”
Taking a look behind the scenes of the respective teams and their relationships off the pitch as well as on it, is where even more similarities lie.
Romain Saiss admits that travelling across Europe together has brought the current squad closer together and Wolves are reaping the reward on the pitch, with an exciting European adventure.
“We don’t have any different groups in the dressing room,” said the Moroccan. “Everybody talks to everybody and you can joke with anybody. We are from Africa, Europe and South America and the mix is really good. It’s a big strength of this team.
“That’s what the manager wants to create. He wants good unity between everyone, the staff and the team. For us to be like a family. A wolf pack.
“We spend so much time together with the travel, the hotels and everything that I think I see more of my teammates than I do of my wife and kids. So, can you imagine how things would be if we didn’t like each other?
“Outside the pitch we are very close to each other, and you can see that on it.”
McCalliog echoed those thoughts. “We had great comradery in our dressing room and there was good banter with everyone. Derek Dougan and Danny Hegan were great fun, as were the younger lads coming through at the time, who had good sense of humour – Stevie Daley and guys like that.
“A good dressing room makes the difference. If your dressing room is not great and you have cliques in it, it makes everything so much tougher.”
As well as off the pitch, on it is where comparisons also lie. With three sitting defenders, two players flying up and down the wings, a trio in the centre of the park and two forwards up top – you would be forgiven for not knowing which was the formation in 1972 and that of this season.
Legendary striker John Richards says the current Wolves team is one that he would love to be part of.
“We were all top players, as indeed the lads are now, and you look at this team and think I’d love to play alongside the talent they have now,” he admitted. “They’re quick, intelligent, and most of the players from my generation would be able to slot into one of the positions we play now, it’s just a case of who would you leave out.
“At the moment, you’d struggle to say anyone because they’re all that good, but it would be lovely to play in attack.
“We had a big lad up front in Dougan and I used to play off him, similarly to Jimenez and Jota now."
If the two teams were to play each other in their prime, McCalliog thinks Wolves’ 2020 offering, might just about take it.
“It would be so interesting. We were a counter-attacking team and we play quite similar styles to each other. You can also look at how the players match up.
“Traore and Waggy were quite similar, although Traore is quicker, Waggy was also very forceful in the way he got forward and was probably better on the ball than Traore, but he could beat people by knocking a good ball and running around them You could also get goals off Waggy and Traore is a bit similar.
“You’ve got Raul Jimenez and Derek Dougan, two big forwards who like getting the ball played into them before turning on it or passing it off to one of the other forwards and are also big target men who like to score.
“John Richards and Diogo Jota are both quick goalscoring forwards. ‘The Doog’ and John would link up really well and would give this current side a run for their money as they were both very fit and very quick off the mark.
“The midfield that we had – Danny Hegan, Peter Knowles, Mickey Bailey, Kenny Hibbitt and myself, but Wolves have now got Neves and Moutinho, who are both brilliant players. There were other young players coming through in our team, such as Alan Sunderland and Stevie Daley, but Wolves have also got great young players coming through now – I really like the look of Neto.
“The difference for me comes in the defence, maybe the Wolves defence of today is a bit better than what our defence was. I believe it would be a tight game, but the game might come down to which of the defences perform better.
“But Wolves have got some fabulous players now and I’ve no doubt if they can get a decent result on Thursday night then I’m sure they can go all the way.”
Read more of McCalliog's time at Wolves, including the run to the 1972 UEFA Cup final in Thursday’s matchday programme against RCD Espanyol.
This season’s Europa League programmes – priced at £5 – will be available around Molineux on matchday, as well as online by clicking here.