I think it was in 2002 when I first spotted it: a bright yellow flag off to the side of Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage, emblazoned with a wolf face – the emblem of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC. Whenever it was, it was definitely ahead of its time. Back then, that lone wolf cut a unique dash. Now, it’s a miracle the Beeb can film through the billowing throng of flaggage. Still, as mates have attested over the years, watch closely through any headline set and you’ll still see the wolf in amongst the pack.
As Glastonbury approached this year, I had to get to the bottom of this, well, flagpole. The only clues online were a few football fan forums, from Wolves supporters who rightly regarded the self-styled ‘GlastoWolf’ as a bit of a legend. I left messages on blogs and tweeted the @Glastowolf account. But as it hadn’t posted anything since 2015, I wasn’t hopeful. That was until, months later, a project manager from Bristol called – wait for it – John Holding wrote back...
So how did you get into this flag-holding game?
‘It was 1997, so before mobile phones. If someone went for a beer or needed the loo, how would everyone meet up again? Even now, people’s phone batteries run out – then you’re stood with 80,000 other people and can’t find anyone. So, flag technology has stood the test of time!’
How did the crowd respond that first time?
‘Everybody and anybody was meeting under the flag. If we wanted to move, a stream of people would protest – they had also made plans according to the flag! We were trapped in front of the stage the whole day.’
How do you feel about the fame?
‘I’ve felt a bit daft about the flag over the years, but it’s become famous. It was never meant to be for the telly, it was always just there for my mates to see.’
So you’re a bit of a celebrity now?
‘Yeah, people want to come and meet the person waving the flag. After a band plays and the crowd shifts, we get four or five people waiting to say hello. This is the most famous thing I’ll ever do, my one claim to fame. Famous for waving a flag – what’s all that about?’
John (top left) at Glastonbury with his crew, who all take turns holding the flag.
Do you feel responsible for the ensuing flag madness at Glastonbury?
‘Up until 2000 there weren’t any other flags. I would like to think I inspired it. If you check out the old footage, it’s clear the Wolves flag is the only one. It was a bit of a landmark back then.’
Do you make a new flag every year?
‘No, it’s the same one since 1997! It was made from a piece of yellow cloth from the local market and my one and only time with a sewing machine. The ‘pole technology’ involves two 8ft long bamboo sticks but it ends up about 11ft high.’
What about upkeep, how do you get it festival-ready?
‘It gets washed after the festival, ironed and folded. We then put it in the back of the drawer waiting for next year.’
How do your family feel about it?
‘My wife watches the coverage and spots the flag. That way she knows I’m safe and exactly which bands I’m watching. I tried to hand the mantle to my son, Jack, who is 17 now. But he supports Bath City. He and his mates have made their own flag for Glastonbury.’
Is it possible to drink a beer and hold the flag?
‘Only if it’s planted it in the ground. It’s usually wet but if it’s a hot day we sacrifice a bit of beer to soften up the ground.’
Have any of the bands mentioned the flag?
‘Billy Bragg and Robert Plant [a fellow Wolves season ticket holder and club vice president] have in the past. Our friend Eddie died of leukaemia in 2005, just weeks before the festival, and he was a really big fan of The Enemy. So we got word to them and asked if they could do a track in honour of Eddie. They played “You’re Not Alone” and said “This goes out to Eddie and his friends with the Wolves flag.” It was an emotional day, that.’
This is your twenty-eighth Glastonbury. Can you imagine not taking the flag to Glastonbury?
‘We can’t not do it after so many years. Hopefully it never ends. Maybe, one day, my son will have to take the flag for me but he will have to push me about in a wheelchair first and I’ll still be holding that flag.’
Glastonbury Festival runs Wed Jun 21-Mon Jun 25.
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