The first in a series of blogs as Wednesday Weekers look back at the very start of their love affair with The Owls. First up, it’s James Marriott…
It started out as a throwaway line on the podcast but became a recurring thread. It seemed to sum up neatly us fans of a certain age who have been through the ups and downs – many and plenty there have been over the years.
Except here’s the thing: I don’t really qualify. At 35, I’m a mere spring chicken compared to much of our fan base.
Furthermore, my first few years following Wednesday in the early 90s were, well, quite simply amazing.
Ok, ok, so actually it didn’t start all that well. My first game was Saturday 5 May, 1990. If you immediately cringe at the sight of that date, then you may want to skip over the next few lines to avoid some deep-rooted memory regression.
That was the day Sheffield Wednesday lost 3-0 at home to Nottingham Forest in the last game of the season. The sun was shining over Sheffield and it was a beautiful day. Not if you were a Wednesdayite. That defeat, coupled with an unlikely set of results elsewhere in Division One, saw the Owls drop into the second tier.
The day was personified by the infamous scoreboard debacle. I say scoreboard – older fans (sorry) will recall the numbers hung pitchside on the lettered pegs. The back of the programme revealed which letter represented which game, and the numbers displayed the latest score.
Younger readers will need to use some serious imagination. An actual man would actually walk along and actually remove, say, the number ‘1’, to replace it with an actual number ‘2’, usually to groans around Fortress Hillsborough.
On the hallowed day, he got it wrong. In the worst way possible. I forget the exact scenario but it went something along the lines of Wednesday needing Luton to draw or lose and we were safe. I think they were at 2 all when the numbers man rushed over, to an expectant rumble among the crowd, to reveal they had fallen 3-2 behind. Cue celebrations akin to “SSSSSSHHH T Exeter 1 Sheff U 0”.
Of course, the reality was the goal had gone the other way. Luton won, condemning Wednesday to the dreaded drop.
It wasn’t meant to be that way. It was generally accepted that Ron Atkinson’s team of that season – the bulk of whom went on to such success in the coming years – was too good to go down.
The set of results needed for our beloved Wednesday to be relegated was so unlikely, it was comparable only to the chance given to Donald Trump in the US election.
These were scenes no-one should experience in their first football game – grown men in tears, grown women in tears, other children in tears.
Sadness and heartbreak as far as the eye could see.
Except for one nine-year-old kid who’d just witnessed – and loved – his first ever football game. He was having a cracking time.
Of course the reality of what had just happened didn’t mean anything to me then. I didn’t understand relegation. I don’t think I particularly understood which team was which. It was all so new and daunting – and exciting.
One thing I did learn that faithful day in S6 – I was a Wednesdayite. I always had been to be honest; I just hadn’t been to a game and realised it yet.
It would take a summer obsessing over Italia 90 for me to learn about the beautiful game. But it didn’t matter that I didn’t pick up much about the rules of our national sport, or why it was OK to shout obscenities at the referee. What I did learn that day though was the single most important football lesson – that of belonging.
In the space of 90 minutes I had joined a family. I don’t care how sentimental it sounds, because it is the truth.
I had no idea at the time. If you’d have told 9 year old me that more than 25 years later I’d spend every weekend following that very same Sheffield Wednesday up and down the country, spending thousands of pounds in the process, I’d have dropped my Ninja Turtle lunchbox right there in front of you.
Bearing witness to the worst day the club would experience for a good decade set into motion a series of events that has never finished, and never will.
In that time I’ve had countless hairstyles (yeah ok, I know there’s not much left), jumped from friendship group to friendship group, discovered all the things a young man discovers, lived in ten different houses, gone from being a school leaver to a radio professional (stop laughing) running four stations, with but two constants – my family… and my other family.
Football has changed. A lot. How we consume football has changed. The cost of football has changed. But this is still the game I fell in love with on 5 May 1990, and this is still the club which was etched on my heart that day forever more.
AUTHOR: James Marriott