4644: Sheffield Wednesday Season Rev
by : Jeff Gold
It was a rough season for Yorkshire football. Sheffield United, Leeds United, Bradford City and Rotherham United were relegated. Leeds went into administration. Scarborough went bust. Now all 11 league clubs have a different manager from the one who started the season. And Yorkshire, home to three of the five most populous cities in England, is a Premiership-free zone.
Yet amid the wreckage, there were stories of success. Scunthorpe United steamed into the Championship, Barnsley’s survival at that level was something of a triumph and Sheffield Wednesday continued their slow and painful rehabilitation.
For Wednesday, the season promised stability. Mid-table was the target. Instead, they began as they usually do.
As usual, they had injuries: despite having played no competitive fixture for three months, seven players were unavailable for the opening-day trip to Preston.
As usual, they were rubbish: in the league they were bottom after 10 games, while in the League Cup they were spanked by Wrexham, who only survived the drop to non-league football on the final day of the season.
As usual, they sacked their manager: a series of torturous performances culminating in a 4-0 drubbing at Colchester United was enough for Paul Sturrock to be given his “do one” badge. Some people weren’t happy.
Then something unexpected happened. Wednesday began to play football of the bring-it-down, pass-it-round, progressive variety. Wednesday began to score goals, 30 in the next 14 games. And Wednesday began to win, first under the youth team coach, Sean McAuley, then under their new manager, Brian Laws.
By the turn of the year they were ninth, just three points from the play-off positions and facing an unfamiliar problem. After years of offering players for sale, after years of hawking them around to the highest, or indeed any, bidder, after years of trying and failing to give them away before harrying them out of the door at the end of their contract, suddenly Wednesday had a valuable player.
As soon as Madjid Bougherra, who cost three hundred thousand pounds just eight months previously, became the subject of a £2.5m bid from Charlton Athletic, his departure was inevitable. For Wednesday it was good business but the January transfer window coincided with a slump in form. The next seven games brought a single point. It looked as though the new manager’s influence would be fleeting.
Then, just as the season was drifting into nothing, Wednesday won again. And again. They went on a charge, a run of 11 games unbeaten meaning that, with two remaining, they had a chance of reaching the play-offs.
It wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, a season that threatened to be characterised by failure and recrimination became instead a riot of entertainment. Wednesday’s games contained 136 goals, the most in the Championship; nine were scored in injury time; six games finished 3-2 and one 3-3.
Some of the goals were quite good. At Leicester there were three long-range belters in the space of 20 minutes, and if Jermaine Johnson’s goal at Leeds was “a fair approximation of the one scored by Brazil's Carlos Alberto in 1970” (The Guardian), then Chris Brunt’s 45 yard chip from the touchline in the same game bore comparison with the one scored by David Beckham in 1996. Kinell, against Southampton, even the goalkeeper bagged.
It was also a season of accomplishment. Having four goalscorers reach double figures, selling a player to the Premiership and finishing as one of the top 30 clubs in the country are all moderate achievements. For Wednesday they are signs of progress.
Their three-year plan for the Championship – survival, consolidation, promotion – remains a possibility, and with Sheffield United descending into a period of post-traumatic self harm (the only possible explanation for the appointment of Bryan Robson as manager), Wednesday might just be Yorkshire’s best hope.