On the 5th May 2012, Sheffield Wednesday were promoted back to the Championship by finishing 2nd in League One and for the first time in years fans had a reason to be truly optimistic. In order to understand why, let me briefly explain the clubs recent history.
The last time the Owls were promoted to the Championship was in 2005 thanks to an extra time play-off victory against Hartlepool United. At the time we dared to dream that we were on the path back to the Premier League and that the good times were just around the corner. Two seasons in League One had given Wednesday the kick it needed to rise high once again! How wrong we all were. 5 years in the second tier saw the blue and white wizards float around the lower half of the table albeit peak with a 9th place finish in 2006/7, but numerous problems behind the scenes along with too many abject performances on the pitch eventually led to what felt like an almost inevitable relegation back to the wilderness of League One in 2010. A 15th place finish last term was joined by severe financial problems including trips to court, 2 winding up orders, investors showing interest then deciding against it, and being on the verge of administration. If I’m honest, how we never went into administration I’ll never know, but where Wednesday were felt like rock bottom. A decade on the slide had resulted in this.
During that tumultuous season something positive did happen. Milan Mandaric bought the club. The financial meltdown had been stopped by a man with an up and down reputation from the various clubs he had been involved with. He dismissed Alan Irvine and replaced him with the controversial Gary Megson. A man whose style of football had made him very unpopular in previous jobs had been given the task of raising our great club from its slump. The difference with Megson managing Wednesday rather than his other clubs however was that he was one of us. A Wednesdayite. He was a former player, playing over 200 times for the Owls and his dad is former captain. To use an old cliché, his blood was blue and white. He’s the only Owls manager I’ve ever seen wearing a ‘Wednesday till I die’ badge. Megson and Manderic may not necessarily be seen as a dream team to a neutral, but to fans of Sheffield Wednesday they have elements of hero status. Megson started to make us believe that promotion was possible. Hillsborough became a fortress, and Wednesday didn’t lose a home league game till table toppers Charlton came to town in the middle of January. But the Owls have always had a problem of conceding late goals. It was something I thought had stopped but a late late goal by Huddersfield (thanks to some dubious time keeping from the referee) meant a 4-4 draw, a late Hartlepool goal meant a 2-2 draw and a 1-0 lead with 1 minute to go resulted in a ludicrous 2-1 defeat on Boxing Day to Walsall. Games like those, reminded us all we were indeed still watching the Sheffield Wednesday we know and love.
A dreadful run of form leading up to the Steel City Derby at Hillsborough (which included defeats to Exeter and Chesterfield who were both eventually relegated) meant many Wednesday fans were fearing the worst. The idea of losing to the Blades at home really wasn’t bearable but in contrast to Wednesday, United were on the up having won 5 of their previous 6. The form guide made for terrifying reading. But just to prove form guides mean nothing in derbies, the blue half of Sheffield was left celebrating thanks to a Chris O’Grady goal in a 1-0 Owls triumph. Sadly, this proved to be Megsons last game in charge. The poor run leading up to the game had already cost him his job. It became known afterwards that he was aware he was losing his job before the game. Its the mark of a true man and demonstrates his passion for the club that he kept this quiet and went about his job so efficiently. Say what you will about Megson (and those fans at clubs such as Bolton certainly will) he did a good job for us in S6. He was clearly gutted to lose his position, and who wouldn’t be having led a team to 3rd in the league. A backlash or sorts did hit Milan Manderic. Many were not thrilled with his sacking with just 13 games left of the season. Manderic has revealed he was hurt by some peoples comments around this time. I have to admit I thought he’d got it wrong but how the season ended was remarkable and for that Milan, I apologise and thank you.
Dave Jones came in with a simple remit. Get us up. No play offs. But the play offs looked so likely. Sheffield United had 5 more points and a game in hand with 13 games left. The Steel City Derby win seemed to change everything. The next game had Jones in the stands and Wednesday limped to a 0-0 draw with Rochdale, but that was as bad as it got. In his 13 games, Jones’ Wednesday didn’t lose a single game, winning 10 and drawing 3. The Blades choked, taking just 2 points from their final 3 games and leaving the Owls to rise above them and take the final automatic promotion place. 38,082 packed out Hillsborough to witness the 2-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers that sent us up. The atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced and the feel good factor around the ground was plain for all to see.
So now we are back as a Championship side. Can we ‘do a Norwich and Southampton’ and go straight up again? Probably not, but whose to say we can’t. We have a strong Chairman who has money to spend. We have the momentum that goes with an automatic promotion and added to that an automatic promotion at the expense of biggest rivals in the game. The good times are being talked up again for this great club and finally it seems a justified opinion. Premier League football once again in Hillsborough? It may not to as far away as we once thought.