Guest blogger Jim Capel shares his memories of becoming a Wednesdayite in the 90s…
IT’S FA Cup 4th Round weekend, Wednesday have the weekend off, and I’m doing odd jobs preparing the house for what lies ahead. And then it dawns on me…I am about to become a father in two weeks’ time!
I’ve pondered all the usual stuff; will it be a boy or girl? Will it actually like me? Will I be a good dad? All this I’m sure everybody asks themselves in these final few weeks before due date. It’s also got me thinking about bygone years, and how my relationship was with my dad during my early childhood years.
Dad was the one to introduce me to football and to the club which has given me such massive higs – and extreme lows – during my lifetime. He kicked a ball around with me on the back garden, where I stood in my goal net, in my £2 Sondico gloves with the padding peeling off. I was Chris Turner, he was Johnny Fantham – Fantham usually came out on top!
Catching the bug
Saturday 31 March 1990 was the day, when 3 generations of Capels went across the city for my first Hillsborough experience. Maybe I should have seen then, as a naïve 6 year old, what I was letting myself in for, as 2 Gary Lineker goals helped Tottenham Hotspur to a 4-2 victory. This coupled with my next trip just over a month later, coincidentally the 3-0 defeat to Forest which James recalled in his piece, did not deter me. I had the bug. I belonged. I was a Wednesdayite!
No sooner had Gazza’s tears dried after Italia 90, then the season began again. Wednesday were in Division 2 and having won their first game at Ipswich, it was time for us to head back to S6. It was here, against Hull City, that I saw my first Owls’ win, 5-1 no less, with a goal from Paul Williams and four from David Hirst. That day he was simply unplayable, with both his flying volley first and his hat trick goal, a 50-60 yard run and finish a sight to behold!
This was also the first time I found a new hero. Now before I go on, I feel I need to set the scene for any younger readers. In 1990, football was different. Players wore shirts numbered one to eleven, match programmes cost £1 and the vast majority of players were British. So one of the names which stood out to me was Roland Nilsson, our Swedish right back. Dad’s analysis on this was clear from the start “watch him son – he’s a good ‘un”. How right he was. While some marvelled at the firepower of Hirsty or the accuracy of John Sheridan, I idolised the work rate and professionalism of Nilsson.
Many an opposition left winger was left with their tail between their legs after 90 minutes of trying, and failing to get past Helsingborg’s finest and his “thou shalt not pass” attitude (just ask Lee Sharpe).
So much was my admiration for my new found idol, that my parents, seeing just how much being a Wednesday fan was engrossing me, set me up for the best day of my young life – leading the team as as mascot at the Plymouth Argyle game on 13 October 1990.
It will live with me for the rest of my days. I remember getting ready in my new full home kit, not thinking I was the mascot, but in my head, I was playing that day, in the starting 11 (and I would re-create the match later on the garden of course). We were given a great welcome by the Wednesday staff, chairman Dave Richards and randomly Labour MP Roy Hattersley both came to say hello, before I was escorted to the Manager’s office. Ron Atkinson had the aura of a great world leader when you met him. This was his club and there was no doubt who was in charge. I treasure the picture of myself and Big Ron from that day and when I met him recently at a book-signing, he was just as friendly, and remembered the Plymouth game (even if he didn’t quite remember me 26 years later!)
This has continued into my adult life too, only this season at the Ipswich game, I bumped into Ross Wallace and could only manage a smile – the bloke is two years younger than me for goodness sake, but just because he was one of our players, I turned into a quivering wreck!
After numerous pictures and autographs, I finally got to meet Roland Nilsson. Our tour guide for the day introduced me to him and I will always remember the conversation:
“Roland, you’re the favourite player for today”
We were then told that this was one of the more unusual situations in the dressing room, as the players were so used to the mascot heading straight for David Hirst when it was time for the favourite player to be introduced. Nilsson’s face was a picture, as he clearly looked like he had no idea what he was meant to do at this point.
As the teams lined up in the tunnel, the captain Nigel Pearson threw away the ball he was carrying and scooped me up to carry me out onto the field with the rest of the team. This part was a blur, the noise was deafening and being on the pitch was surreal.
The highlight of my day came when I got to have a kick about with Roland Nilsson during the warm-up. I made a couple of heavy touches and yes, I’m still waiting for the call from the chief scout! In my defence, at that time, I was used to playing with fly-away balls you get from the local garage – that was my problem, and I’m sticking to that story!
After the official photos and meeting the referee, I was led away to the stands, where my family were allowed to watch the game in “the posh seats” in the south stand – complete with cushions, the works! The game itself seemed to be over in a flash, with Wednesday dominating. Trevor Francis, in for Hirsty who was injured (that was unusual in the early 90s eh!) running Plymouth ragged. A diving header from Danny Wilson and a brace from Sheridan wrapped up a comprehensive 3-0 win and propelled us to the top of Division 2. At the full-time whistle, sat a couple of rows behind me, David Hirst looked at me and said “That were you that!”.
Perfect end to a perfect day.
Up for the cup
In many ways, my first ‘full’ season supporting the Owls was the perfect season. We had our ups and downs in the league, never quite doing enough to catch Oldham Athletic at the top of the table.
Most Wednesday fans however will remember the 90-91 season for our exploits in the League Cup.
School-night fixtures meant that my Rumbelows (as it was called) exploits didn’t begin until the semi-final 2nd leg against top flight Chelsea. We had already gone through Brentford, Swindon, Derby and Coventry on the road to Wembley and were 2-0 up after the first leg after a superb performance at Stamford Bridge.
The second leg was an incredible night, a 3-1 victory, 5-1 on aggregate and Wednesday totally outclassing their supposedly superior opponents – we were going to Wembley!
It was in the weeks leading up to the final when I was told that, despite the fact I had barely missed a home game all season, I had to watch the game on TV. Dad had only managed to get the one ticket, and this time, a trip to London wasn’t to be. In fairness, this worked to my advantage in future years – the rare disagreements between us have often been won by myself playing my joker ‘Wembley ticket’ card…argument over!
April 21 1991 will live on in Wednesdayites’ memories for eternity. The media and non-Owls just assumed Manchester United would turn up at the final and take the trophy. Eleven men wearing blue and white proved everybody wrong!
John Sheridan’s thunderbolt in the 37th minute was the difference and this was the first time I ever cried at a win! I’ve shed tears since, most recently at the final whistle of a certain game this last May, but as a 7 year-old, I had no idea that you could shed tears of joy. My team had upset the odds and won the Rumbelows Cup!
Watching the coverage back even now, it still gets me and I’m transported back to the final whistle, and the coverage of the after-match celebrations (minus the Monster Trucks of course!)
On our way
Cup success was all well and good but the priority was getting back to the big time. A cup and promotion double would be assured as long as we could turn over Bristol City at Hillsborough on what I remember to be a warm summer’s evening in the last home game of the season. The atmosphere was incredible. It seemed like everyone was there an age before kick-off throwing their teddies around the stand. Throwing teddies had become somewhat of a tradition on the Kop – and to this day I still have no idea why!
Thanks to a Hirsty double to make it 31 goals for the season (he would make it 32 in the final game at Oldham) and one from Trevor Francis, we coasted to a 3-1 victory. The scenes at the final whistle mirrored that of the Chelsea success three months earlier. Thousands flocked onto the pitch as fans and players celebrated together. After a season away, Wednesday were back at the top-table of English football – we really were “on our way!”
The 1990-91 season was when I fell in love with my club. It will be the season I will always think back to during the dark times and when I need a lift. Most of all, I will remember it as the first season of following the Owls with my dad – my partner in crime.
These days my main subject of conversation with my dad is still that of Sheffield Wednesday, usually over a real ale. We still disagree on team selection, manager choices and the price of the scarves in the club shop. We still celebrate every goal together like we’ve just won the FA Cup, and at least 5 or 6 times a season we utter the words “that’s me done with em” after a disappointing result. But thanks to one man introducing me to this life of blue and white, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cheers dad, you’ve played a blinder!
So for all the nerves I’m feeling right now, for all the apprehension and worry that fatherhood brings, I know for certain that, should my child catch the Wednesday bug, sharing the trials and tribulations of our team will be the greatest adventure we could ever share together, be that in the doldrums or up Wembley Way.
And this time there’ll be two tickets!