LIKE most people, my Dad is my hero.
From being a tiny baby, he took me to Hillsborough (babysitters are few when the entire family goes to the game). Every week, he talked me through tactics on the drive from Dronfield to S6. He taught me the offside rule using condiments. He taught me how to curl a free kick in across our back garden. He taught me to love the beautiful game.
He used to nick the ball off me (a la Hutchinson after the Fulham game) and stand for ages doing tricks until my Mum told him off and made him share the ball. I used to stand watching him in awe. He once played in the reserves for a [very very mediocre, somewhat-tin pot] Sheffield club before a bad injury that meant he gave it in. I tell you what though, my God, did he have skills!
As a small child, albeit not much taller than I am now, I used to watch him doing keep-ups, flicks and skills on our back garden. I didn’t care that I didn’t have the ball; just wanted to watch him. He was, and still is, my idol.
When my parents did their garden, it just so happened that the steps aligned as two goals and there was a stepping stone bang-centre (nice work!). My Dad and I played for hours together. And when we weren’t playing together, I played for hours with the wall as company. I was an only child, living what seemed like ages away from my school-friends, so that was my best option. The wall to my left was Carbone; right was Andy Pearce.
Even though we weren’t playing together, my Dad always watched me. I could see him critiquing every move I made, every ball I kicked.
My Mum, to give her credit, also played to a really high level of women’s football and equally would come out and play. She was more generous with the ball than my Dad though and wanted to have fun rather than teach me a lesson, at ten years old, for losing possession.
Both of my parents have had the same seats in Hillsborough since the 70s. They live and breathe Sheffield Wednesday and everything she encompasses. They’ve got so many away-day stories about having coach windows bricked in and following home fans to their homes instead of the ground. They’ve seen it all.
They imprinted Sheffield Wednesday into my soul. They told me this was the only club I’d ever love; no other club would come close. They encouraged me to put every ounce of prayer and wish into every game and every player’s performance. They taught me never to boo and never to curse our own. They taught me that Sheffield Wednesday is life; it’s the two hours every weekend that we spend as a family, all as invested as each other.
That’s all well and good, but they also left me behind for 1991 and 1993.
They left me at home with my Grandad, who hung all my Wednesday shirts around the front room whilst we watched on the telly. I always moaned about it but now I realise they were just a 30 odd year old couple who wanted to party. Hell, I’d do the same.
Last season, however, they got to keep their promise that they’d take me to Wembley. Sure, I was 28 but it was still as exciting. Let’s not go into that. We all have memories from that weekend, good and bad, and you know what? I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
This year, we have the chance to do it again.
Carlos, lads… by now you have an idea of what this means. What it means to my parents, my friends and their kids and every damn Wednesdayite there is.
One more game for the chance to go back to Wembley. Two more games between us and greatness.
You can do this.