Owls Blog - Club Versus Country: A Wednesday Fan's Pride

posted 23 Jun 2012, 07:33 by Richard Brook   [ updated 23 Jun 2012, 07:37 ]
Please bear in mind that this is a heavily partisan piece for the Wednesdayite Blog - Wednesdayite are the Sheffield Wednesday Supporters Society. As such there is no attempt at professional impartiality in this piece!

Originally posted here: bit.ly/M3gUZs

Top-level football players and managers often find themselves caught in what the popular media term “club versus country rows”, but what of those of us whose role in the beautiful game is confined to the terraces? When push comes to shove, what matters more to the ordinary fan; his national side or his local team?

With England’s Euro 2012 off to a sound start with a draw against France and a win against Sweden, it seems as good a time as any to look at this question. I was present, at Wembley Stadium, on June 2nd 2012 for the match between England and Belgium. I am a seasoned Wednesday supporter, just about old enough to fully appreciate The Owls greatest achievement since 1935, the League Cup win in 1991, as well as to bear witness to the mystifying decline that has befallen our 145 year old club since then. Suffice to say I have seen enough football matches to know what it’s all about. Or so I thought.

Given that I have entered my third decade of attending football matches, I didn’t expect any surprises, from my first international match. I expected to be full of awe at attending Wembley Stadium, I expected my heart to swell with pride as the finest English footballers of the day emerged from the tunnel, lined up and the crowd belted out the national anthem. The day started well enough, as we drove closer to Wembley and the magnificent arch, the signature of the stadium, rose on the horizon. It might lack the character of the twin towers of its predecessor, but as modern grounds go Wembley Stadium is certainly an impressive one. From there on in the day fell a little flat. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the day, the atmosphere or the match itself it just lacked that ineffable spark for me, when compared to my previous experience of watching football. There were flashes of good play from England, who were to run out one-nil winners, thanks to a Danny Welbeck goal close to midway point of the first half that I dutifully stood and cheered, but England just couldn’t capture my imagination that way that a trip to Hillsborough has never failed to.

Why were my expectations so high? Why did I anticipate of an overwhelming wave of patriotism? Simply because that is what I feel when I watch Wednesday: Patriotism. It is the only word for it. It is a word unique in sufficiently encompassing the love, the concern, the passion, the pride and the devotion that I feel for Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Patriotism maybe specific to national pride but for those few hours on a Saturday afternoon S6 might as well have declared itself an independent state, for my loyalty lies there at the expense of almost everything else.

My expectations are borne of the emotions each and every home match brings me. The pride when I first lay eyes on the ground, the lump in my throat when the team walk out and ‘Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday’ takes over the ground, the unbridled joy and release of each Wednesday goal, without exception, and the desperation with which I kick every ball, from my seat, in hope of a Wednesday win. It has always been the same for me regardless of the standard of our players, the opposition, the importance of the match or anything else. How could England compare to that?
As I write this I don’t actually know whether, when I watched England a couple of weeks back, I was just watching a football match, as the rest of the world watches their team, wanting them to win very much but without the obsessive rollercoaster of emotions, that accompanies my support for Wednesday.

It could be because my childhood was spent in the midlands, in a small town without a football team of any note. My Grandpa had me in a Wednesday shirt at the age of two, that scratchy Bukta home shirt that had more in common with a Brillo pad than a modern sport shirt and a life-long allegiance was formed. It wasn’t many years before I had been trained to sit in front of the TV from about 4:45pm on a Saturday afternoon, watching the flashing white curser, of the BBC’s old Vidi-printer, crossing the screen, accompanied by that peculiar bleating noise, revealing the incoming results, and to dash into the kitchen, where my Mum would be cooking Saturday tea, and tell her how Wednesday had done. I eventually got a proper grasp on League Tables just in time for an unlikely set of final day results to relegate us from the top tier in the 1989/90 season, and attended my first match the following year, a 3-0 home win against Plymouth Argyle. Spending my childhood away from my family’s roots in S6 meant as a child I got to nowhere near the number of games I wanted to, maybe this explains my quickening pulse and broad smile whenever our famous old stadium is in my sight.

That said it was England that really piqued my interest in football, with their best tournament performance since winning the World Cup. Italia 90 was filled with moments that taught me of the drama and tension that football could create. Peter Shilton inspired me to play in goal, and love facing penalties, although he was soon replaced as my hero by Wednesday legend Kevin Pressman.

Growing up in a town without a major team of its own meant growing up surrounded by people who ‘supported’ teams that played in cities they couldn’t have pointed to on a map. A lone Wednesdayite, mocked, in good humour, by my games teacher for my football strip, surrounded by Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal fans. There was nowhere to hide on the Monday morning after the televised 6-1 capitulation to Leeds, for example. One of my childhood tormentors, of questionable intelligence decided that “FC” of SWFC must have stood for two expletives until I pointed out to him it was on his own team’s badge as well. Moments such as this might be responsible for the ferocity of my support, and my desire to see Wednesday win every game, as it always felt like me against the world.

Don’t take this blog the wrong way, I love England, I wouldn’t have been at Wembley if I didn’t, I want them to do well and I will be cheering them on in Poland and Ukraine this summer. I just miss the tribalism and the raw emotion of following Wednesday. Nothing can replace it. As I have acknowledged it might just be my personality, or my upbringing, but I suspect everyone has their Wednesday stories, their family histories and their special reasons to support our great club. All these stories are the reason that day’s like April 21st 1991, May 5th 2012 and all the rest gone before, and those still to come mean so very much. Days I wouldn’t swap for anything, not even a World Cup.

Good luck Roy Hodgson and England and even better luck to Milan Mandaric, Dave Jones and Sheffield Wednesday.

Do other Wednesday fans, or football fans generally, feel the same?

Let me know on Twitter @rjb81media1