Result: Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 Fulham (SkyBet Championship)
Venue: Hillsborough (Saturday 19th September 2015, 3pm)
After weeks upon weeks of non-league action, it was time for something a little different. Yes, indeed. The trusty Manchopper Draw (which will likely be put away for a few weeks now) delivered an ending poles apart, either Daten of the Cheshire League 1 or Sheffield Wednesday of the Football League Championship. Needless to say, the price of one over the other was a fair amount more, but it was also far more attractive. So, I was off to Hillsborough.
Saturday morning arrived and I was duly on my way into Oxford Road station in Manchester, before heading onwards to Sheffield. Due to a slightly late running initial train, I had next to no wait for the Norwich service to pull in and I had arrived into Sheffield just an hour and 20 minutes after I’d initially set off. I’d certainly enjoyed such a problem-free journey over the Pennines and into South Yorkshire.
So, upon exiting Sheffield station, I was met with a sound of a tribal nature. Indeed, it was a marching group of women who, it appeared, were campaigning against rape. Whatever it was, it was an unexpected greeting to the city on a sunny and pleasantly warm early afternoon. I had previously decided to grab a bus from the city to Hillsborough, but then I decided that 3 and-a-half miles wasn’t too far to walk, so I set off under pretence that there would be somewhere to stop off on the way. Alas, when I did eventually come across a pub, I was only around 15 minutes from the ground, with just over an hour to kick-off. So, against my usual judgment, to Hillsborough it was.
After a quick cut through Hillsborough Park I was crossing the footbridge over the River Don, which provides access to the ground and Main Entrance, before purchasing the match programme for the game, priced at the usual £3. The issue was in memoriam of club legend Ron Springett, who’d sadly passed away during the week. So, with the purchases done, I headed for the Spion Kop which was to be my temporary home for the next few hours, mostly due to it being the cheapest part of the ground to get into, priced at only £33. Only £33. If I keep repeating it, I may just believe the phrase.
Yes, £33 lighter, I was into the home of the Owls, Hillsborough. After heading up the steps of the Kop stand, I took a few pre-match pics of the stands, with one in particular being well known. We all know to what ends this is the case, and I don’t wish to dwell upon the tragedy here. It is, however, impossible to ignore the fact you are looking at a place of such carnage and horror and you just can’t imagine it, having not been around when it transpired. RIP to all those lost.
As I say, I’m not dwelling upon this, as it isn’t the place to do so, and I have to agree with the few comments I received on twitter about the place. It is brilliant! There is something about each of the stands that stands out in their own right, be it the Cantilever-style Main Stand, the South stand with its uncovered corners, the Kop End, which was already decked out in preparation for the arrival of the club band, or the Leppings Lane End, with its dominant upper tier. Simply tremendous. So, with the remainder of Nottingham Forest vs Middlesbrough being shown on the big screen to entertain us early arrivals, it’s now time to delve into the history of the Owls of Sheffield Wednesday.
Sheffield Wednesday FC was formed in 1867, under the name of The Wednesday, but the club has origins harking back to the cricket club, formed in 1820. The name was gained from the day on which the cricket club played its games. However, the name Sheffield Wednesday has been in unofficial use since 1883, when the title was painted upon the stand roof at Olive Grove stadium. They also used to be known as the Blades, due to the city’s known trade, before the Owls came about after the club’s monkey mascot was replaced with a much luckier owl!
After a meeting at a local hotel, the idea of a football club came about, to keep the cricketers fit during the winter and thus the club that would become Sheffield Wednesday was born. The football club is the third oldest club currently competing within the English Football League. Their first ever piece of silverware was the Cromwell Cup, a four team local tournament, which was won at Bramall Lane, Wednesday’s home ground.
In their early years, the club had Charles Clegg, who went on to be chairman of both Wednesday and the FA after his playing career, which included the first ever international game (for England vs Scotland in 1872) and the man considered the first ever pro footballer in England, James Lang, joined in 1876.
After splitting with the now defunct cricket club in 1882, Wednesday turned pro in 1887 after pressure from players who threatened to move if this step wasn’t taken. The switch meant a move from Bramall Lane to the new Olive Grove ground. In 1889, Wednesday became founder members of the Football Alliance, which they became the first champions of in the Second Division. In addition, they were losing finalists in the FA Cup at the Kennington Oval. Remarkably, they finished the next season bottom, but were eventually elected to the bigger Football League upon its creation in 1892.
After winning their first FA Cup in 1896, the club were forced to move grounds again, due to the expansion of the railway line. They eventually sourced land in Owlerton,which would become Hillsborough. Here, the club won the League twice, in 1902-’03 & ’03-’04, as well as a second FA Cup in 1907. This was to be the club’s last major success for a long while, indeed their penultimate one as The Wednesday, before the name change to the one we know today. Their success under their original name came in the form of a third title, in 1928-’29.
The club’s first cup as Sheffield Wednesday came in the form of another FA Cup, in 1935, before the breakout of WWII meant major shake-ups and following the war, Wednesday began a period of struggle and yo-yo years. After being promoted back to the top-flight in 1950, they went on a sequence of three relegations followed by three immediate Second Division wins on each occasion. After a run to the 1966 FA Cup final, in which Wednesday played all their ties away from Hillsborough. The Owls also beat an all-star Manchester United side, featuring the likes of Charlton, Best and Law, 5-4 in 1968.
After a trio of players were banned for life and imprisoned for match fixing, they were reprieved soon after, with two returning to the Owls for their twilight playing years. After a drop which almost saw the club go into Division 4, Jack Charlton and Howard Wilkinson saw the club back to Division 1. Of course, the ground was also the main reason for the introduction of all seater stadia in England after the Hillsborough tragedy.
During the ’90’s Wednesday became a strong side, featuring in the top-fight for the most part and reached the final of the ’92-’93 FA and League Cups. Unfortunately for Weds, they lost on both occasions to Arsenal. In 2000, Wednesday’s tight tenure ended, and this was followed with relegation to Division 2 in 2003. They eventually returned to the Division 1, now the Chanpionship, in 2005 via the play-offs, where the club, more of then than not, flirted with relegation. They wee eventually condemned again in 2010 and after a number of off-field changes and money issues, the club re-stabilized somewhat and, eventually, were promoted again in 2012 via automatic means.
Under new ownership, the club had a decent season last time out, finishing up in a solid, if unspectacular, 13th place. The owner has stated his intention to return Premier League football to Hillsborough by 2017, the club’s 150th anniversary.
Back to the present day again, and after being entertained by a group of Cheerleaders prior to kick-off, who weren’t actually that bad a group, we were soon all set for the off. The teams were greeted by a guard of honour, provided by said cheerleaders and flag wielding kids in club shirts, as they made their way out for the customary pre-match handshakes. This was followed by a minutes silence for Ron Springett, which turned into an impromptu applause, which all joined in with heartily. I do always think the applause is much more fitting for those who have passed after providing entertainment and ensuring history in the past.
It was the visitors from London who got us underway, but it was the Owls who quickly established themselves first in the contest. First, the Cottagers’ goalkeeper Andy Lonergan pulled off a superb stop to deny Wednesday’s recent addition, Barry Bannan, but he was helpless to stop Fernando Forestieri’s headed opener. Forestieri climbed highest before heading downwards and into the vacant side of the net. This seemed to spur on Fulham and wake the visitors from their slumber and they began to pressurise the home goal on a frequent basis and this eventually proved fruitful.
The equaliser came when a ball in wasn’t sufficiently dealt with by the home back line and it fell to Jamie O’Hara, 20-yards out, whose drive took a big deflection off a defender and crept inside the wrong-footed Keiren Westwood’s left-hand post. 1-a-piece, and all to play for.
Lonergan repeated his early heroics to deny Alex Lopez as the Owls looked to respond quickly and they achieved this goal just minutes after the equaliser, when a right wing corner was met at the back post by Owls’ skipper Tom Lees, whose header crept under Lonergan for 2-1. With Wednesday looking dominant in aerial combat, it was no surprise that their giant frontman, Atdhe Nuhiu, was a focal point for them in attack. Despite failing to really glean any real chances from this game, he provided a constant threat and presence for others to feed off.
Half-Time arrived, the score remaining at 2-1. I set off behind the stand for a pie, getting one of the last remaining Meat and Potato Pukka Pies for a further £3. After carefully navigating the crowds with the precious cargo of pastry in hand, I made it back to my seat with all in one piece, though it didn’t remain this way for long. After watching some, rather ordinary, penalties from Wednesday fan “Andy”, who was getting ripped to pieces by the half-time announcer, it was time to leave it to the pro’s for the second half.
The last time I’d seen Fulham’s Ben Pringle was at Boundary Park, when he was wearing the red of Rotherham and after some comments attributed to him about Wednesday, needless to say there wasn’t a lot of love abounding around Hillsborough for the blond-haired winger. At the Oldham game, he was outstanding, therefore it was a huge disappointment to see him hardly have a sniff during the first period, and therefore be pulled at the break. I’m sure my sentiments weren’t echoed by many in the ground.
Despite the change and the introduction of another man mountain in Dan Burn. Wednesday increased their lead just a few minutes after the restart. Another set piece was delivered and another headed goal sufficed, Michael Turner this time, being presented with a free header, that he dispatched well. 3-1.
But, back came Fulham, and they grabbed one back when Tom Cairney nodded home an O’Hara delivery from close range to set up a nervous finish. This wasn’t aided by some questionable refereeing, none more so when he decided to add six minutes of added time on to the game at the climax of the contest, from absolutely nowhere.
After Barry Bannan, who could’ve had a hat-trick on another day, smashed wastefully into the side netting, Fulham won a late corner and up went Lonergan, who got his head tot he delivery at the near post, but it was cleared away, before Fulham’s late, late chance fell to centre-back Burn, who’d been pushed into service up front. A knock through the defence of the hosts saw Burn one-on-one with Westwood. Hillsbororugh fell silent for a split second, before the ball rebounded to safety off the underside of Westwood’s body, to sighs from three stands and groans from the other. Full-time, 3-2. What a game!
As I joined the droves of happy Yorkshire folk exiting the Hillsborough floodgates, I had decided that I wasn’t to repeat the walk back to the City Centre and instead was to grab a bus back. But, after missing one, I wasn’t to see another pass me until I had reached Sheffield again, about 45 minutes later. So, with my plans for a pre-match drink now joined on the scrapheap by that of having one post-match across from the station, I headed straight for Sheffield’s station, dwelling on the fact that I had been denied much time in the city, bar the short time walking past places like the Crucible Theatre. After picking up an Irn-Bru for my parched self, I quickly headed over to the far side platform where the Manchester-bound train was sitting, flanked by the police for some reason. Possibly due to the expected fights between the bitter rivals of the Oldham fans already on board.
As soon as I set myself down next to a much needed plug socket, I realised that my earphones had been claimed by Yorkshire. They were gone. So, as I reflected soon after on twitter, bar from the ground and the game itself, pretty much everything else went, well, pretty shit really. Which was a real shame, as Sheffield seems a great place. Luckily, I’m returning to these shores soon enough, when I head to nearby Dronfield for Sheffield FC in a couple of weeks, so I think a brief stop here is due. As with Crewe, I think the best is yet to be discovered…
On the way back, though, there was a guy sat on the opposite side of the train and the guy couldn’t stay awake. So much so, that a Northern employee got on and he requested he wake him up on arrival at Piccadilly. This was ok, but take into account this request was made when leaving Stockport which is no more than a 10-minute ride away. Surely, he could have stayed conscious for this long?! Then again, maybe he’d had the better of Sheffield that I missed out on!
In addition, there was also a moment where a guy headed into the toilet I was sat opposite. No less than a minute later, a woman came walking in and without warning pressed the open button to reveal the poor guy in all his glory. Needless to say, there was some embarrassment and humour within the carriage, depending on how much you were involved in this situation, with most of the embarrassment radiating from, perhaps surprisingly, the woman rather than the guy doing his best David Cameron impression. Thankfully, there was no pig in sight…
Game: 8- End to end contest, which wasn’t the usual I was assured.
Ground: 9- Really great ground, both in atmosphere and in build.
Fans: 8- The band kept going throughout, and most were great, but a couple were needlessly negative to Nuhiu.
Programme: 6- Decent, with some different articles, but nothing brilliant.
Food: 7- Pukka Pie, decent as always.
Value For Money: 6- £33 ticket was always going to bring this down, but much else was standard to good.