Football / Countdown to the Kick-off: Wolves hold the key to filling house that Sir Jack built: Phil Shaw on the wealthy crusader whose sentimental trip to Molineux has cost him pounds 20m in three years

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The Independent Online
MOLINEUX is not all there, and those not committed to the cause of Wolverhampton Wanderers might well wonder whether the same is true of Sir Jack Hayward.

Historians may one day look on them as Hayward's Follies, these majestic, hugely expensive structures in stone and steel that reach for the sky on three sides of Wolves' ground. And the landscape crusader's work is not finished: the massive South Bank, where millions massed and worshipped, is no more, and in the void will soon rise the last piece in Sir Jack's jigsaw.

This summer he has also given Graham Turner, the manager he has declined to sack despite pressure few other clubs would have resisted, pounds 3m 'pocket money' to rebuild the team. All of which means that 'Union Jack', as their Bahamas-based owner is known because of his mega-patriotism, has ploughed a mind-boggling pounds 20m into Wolves in just three years.

It may sound like lunacy, for they have won neither the championship nor the FA Cup in more than three decades and finished only 11th in the First Division last season. The last stand they built all but broke them, and not long ago they were so hard up they could not pay the milk bill.

But Sir Jack is a traditionalist who wants to see Rutland and the Ridings restored; a philanthropist whose causes have included the old Liberal Party, women's cricket and the Wolverhampton Musical Comedy Company. He knows what he likes, likes what he knows, and is prepared to put his money where his heart is.

Elton John once suggested football club owners were on an ego trip. While Sir Jack plays the genial duffer with his crumpled suits and carrier bags, and calls his a 'sentimental trip', the businessman in him is aware that Wolves must sieze the initiative his wealth has handed them. Either they put bums on the sea of gold and black seats - which means a place in the Premiership - or Molineux could end up a nostalgia theme park.

Now 70 and the president of Wolves - his son Jonathan is chairman - he insists he will 'keep throwing money at it until we get it right, or until the men in white coats wheel me away'. No wonder his daughter, Sue, was dismayed in June when Geoff Thomas, of Crystal Palace and England, chose Wolves ahead of Manchester City in an pounds 800,000 deal. 'She can see her inheritance going down the drain,' Sir Jack said jovially.

Thomas's arrival was sandwiched between those of Newcastle's David Kelly ( pounds 750,000), West Ham's Kevin Keen ( pounds 600,000), plus Cyrille Regis (free) from Aston Villa. Sir Jack, who flies in for Saturday's opener at home to Bristol City, has never been so excited about a season. Quite a claim: he has been 'besotted' with Wolves since sneaking in to watch them at the age of five, having been born 'close enough to smell the embrocation'.

In the intervening years, the boy who failed the grammar school entrance exam has made his fortune and home 4,000 miles away in the Bahamas. There he owns the airport, the seaport and the tanker terminal, living in colonial-style splendour. Perversely, distance has deepened his love of the old country: in Who's Who he lists his recreation as 'promoting British endeavours . . . keeping all things bright, beautiful and British'.

None has benefited from his patronage like the Wolves. When he bought them for pounds 2.1m the club had just emerged from the dark 1980s, during which they plumbed the depths of the Fourth Division. After several false dawns, Wolverhampton understandably gave the new regime a guarded welcome. Molineux was derelict on two sides, with the pitch 50 yards from the only seats. The Haywards decided compliance with the Taylor Report was the priority, and embarked upon a pounds 14m rebuilding programme. Turner has borne the brunt of supporters' restlessness in the meantime, but Sir Jack feels he deserves the chance to restore the 'golden glory days'.

'The last invoice for the ground will be in by Christmas,' he said. 'Then we can concentrate on the team.' Being able to show seasoned internationals around a refurbished stadium had been 'a pleasure', his son chipped in, and helped to sway Thomas.

State-of-the-art it may be, but Sir Jack is keen for the past to have a presence at Molineux. Pleasingly, there are stands named after Wolves' legendary manager of the 1950s, Stan Cullis, and his captain, Billy Wright (now a director), with gates and enclosures similarly earmarked.

To his embarrassment, a restaurant suite has been renamed 'Sir Jack's', though another part of the ground might have been more appropriate. 'At one of Jonathan's supporters' meetings a chap stood up and said: 'Have you ever tried to get to the toilet at half-time? You can't get in or out'.

'So at one game I went to watch, like a voyeur in a raincoat, and discovered the congestion was caused by too many wash basins sticking out. No one was washing their hands, so I've had them taken out. Perhaps now they'll call them the Hayward Loos.'

On another undercover mission, he paid pounds 4 at the OAPs' gate to stand among the faithful. He recalled, too, the Wolves follower from Sussex he met on a train, who detailed the price of his passion. 'It was very humbling, especially as we'd just lost. He said he didn't want to be disrespectful, but proportionally he probably had a bigger stake in the club than me.'

Did he ever question the sagacity - sanity - of it all? 'Every match] Oh, except when we were 6-0 up on Newcastle and I said 'Well we can't lose this one'. They immediately scored twice. Most games I hate. There's too much at stake . . . it's hell.'

Yet ask why he does it and it is clear the pleasure outweighs the pressure. 'You feel you're doing something, leaving something behind. Except that I don't want to leave it behind - I'm enjoying it too much.'

The passage of time is a recurring theme. Wolves must get up soon because 'my time's running out', while his 'dying wish' is to see them recapture the FA Cup. He even knows the epitaph he would like: 'He did his best. He repaid the town the debt he owed them. He left a legacy.'

If this sounds morbid, there was a grin as he offered fatherly advice to his son about the limits of modernisation mania. 'Molineux is such an evocative name - change that and I'll come back and haunt you.'

(Photograph omitted)

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