Nights Under The Lights

EnglandThe advent of the floodlight age saw one English club in particular – Wolves – take fullest advantage of this innovation by arranging regular evening games against mostly foreign clubs, a series that became known as the ‘floodlight friendlies’.

Wolves became champions of England for the first time in 1954 and in these pre-European cup days such exotic matches gave them the chance to test themselves against the continent’s best. The matches were great successes and the highest profile of them were even broadcasted by a BBC that rarely dabbled in live football outside of the FA Cup Final. Showing a natural inclination for glamour not often apparent in their style of play, the Wolves players wore special satin shirts so their colours could be better picked out by the powerful floodlight beams.

The crack army club Honvéd would be the most famous opponent in the series. The Hungarians arrived in Wolverhampton for a friendly in December 1954 with a team containing six of the players who had played in both humiliating defeats the ‘Magical Magyars’ had recently handed out to England. With Wolves barely able to get a kick of the ball, the Hungarian visitors dominated first-half play and led through strikes by Sándor Kocsis and Machos.

Conditions deteriorated during the second half of what was a filthy evening and, as the pitch became increasingly waterlogged, so Honvéd’s intricate passing became bogged down in the mud. Wolves started hitting long balls into space behind the visitor’s defence with some success and roared back to grab a famous 3-2 victory.

The media seized on this result as evidence the supposed natural order of English supremacy had been restored. Along with other Wolves wins against Spartak Moscow and Racing Club, the Honvéd success was definitive proof to their minds that the Midlands side could not be matched for quality anywhere on the continent. Across the channel in France, L’Équipe editor Gabriel Hanot felt these boasts to be exaggerated and it was the final spur he needed to push UEFA towards starting the competition that would truly decide Europe’s best club side. The European Cup was born the following season and within three years the floodlight matches at Molyneux became a mix of both competitive and friendly encounters.

Sandor KocsisAfter a series that ran for nine years, in December 1962 a friendly rematch against Honvéd squared the circle. By now both clubs were much diminished forces and the low-key match sank under the weight of the memories of what had been eight years earlier. It finished 1-1, a late Alan Hinton goal preserving Wolves’ proud record of suffering just a single defeat during their 23 ‘nights under the lights’ – a heavy mauling by Helenio Herrera’s Barcelona in the 1959/60 European Cup.

Appropriately a Hungarian was the  torturer-in-chief that night; Sándor Kocsis scoring a hat trick and gaining revenge after having been a member of the defeated 1954 Honvéd side.

Here is the full list of Wolves floodlight matches played between 1953 and 1962.

30th Sep ’53 Wolves 3 South Africa 1 Friendly
14th Oct ’53 Wolves 2 Celtic 0 Friendly
10th Mar ’54 Wolves 3 Racing Club Avell. 1 Friendly
29th Sep ’54 Wolves 4 West Brom 4 FA Charity Shield
13th Oct ’54 Wolves 0 First Vienna 0 Friendly
28th Oct ’54 Wolves 10 Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0 Friendly
16th Nov ’54 Wolves 4 Spartak Moscow 0 Friendly
13th Dec ’54 Wolves 3 Honved 2 Friendly
9th Nov ’55 Wolves 2 Moscow Dynamo 1 Friendly
29th Oct ’56 Wolves 5 CCA Rumania 0 Friendly
12th Dec ’56 Wolves 1 Red Banner Budapest 1 Friendly
27th Mar ’57 Wolves 4 Borussia Dortmund 3 Friendly
10th Apr ’57 Wolves 3 Valencia 0 Friendly
17th Oct ’57 Wolves 3 Real Madrid 2 Friendly
29th Sep ’58 Wolves 1 South Africa 0 Friendly
12th Nov ’58 Wolves 2 Schalke 04 2 European Cup
7th Oct ’59 Wolves 2 Vorwärts Berlin 0 European Cup
24th Nov ’59 Wolves 3 Red Star Belgrade 0 European Cup
2nd Mar ’60 Wolves 2 Barcelona 5 European Cup
10th Nov ’60 Wolves 5 Dynamo Tblisi 5 Friendly
30th Nov ’60 Wolves 5 FK Austria Vienna 0 Cup Winners Cup
19th Apr ’61 Wolves 1 Rangers 1 Cup Winners Cup
13th Dec ’62 Wolves 1 Honved 1 Friendly

See the goals and action from some of these memorable games at Wolverhampton Wanderers On Film. Click the link below:

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