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Here we go with yet another Sky game as we welcome – on the night a lot of people are probably at their works Christmas do – the league leaders Wolves. In this edition of Get With the Programme, we look back at another game where our lupine visitors were aiming for promotion.
We head to the last game of the 2001-02 Nationwide Division One campaign on Sunday 21st April 2002, with the season finishing a little earlier than usual due to the upcoming World Cup. The Owls had had a torrid season in their second year outside the Premiership and were not mathematically safe going into this game, although it would have taken a defeat coupled with a Crewe win and a goal difference swing of 9 to send them down.
Wolves, meanwhile, had been flying high for most of the season but had eventually been overtaken by already promoted Manchester City and fierce rivals West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies were managed at this time by a certain Gary Megson, meaning that most home fans were hoping for a Wolves defeat for more than one reason.

Wednesday were under the managerial guidance of the inspirational Terry Yorath, who had taken over in the autumn following the resignation of Peter Shreeves. Yorath had previously been acting as Shreeves’s assistant, so it was a relatively simple (and uninspired) appointment. With his florid complexion and shaggy hair that sprouted from a heavily receding pate, Terry always had the look of an evil fairy tale villain to me. Certainly the sight of him at the Hillsborough helm gave us all a few sleepless nights.
Terry was keen to accentuate the positives in his programme notes, and pointed out that “on the whole, we haven’t fared too badly against sides near the top of the table”. He had obviously blanked from his mind the home defeats to champions City (2-6) and play-off chasing Norwich (0-5), although to be fair I think the rest of us had too.

The Owls had looked relatively safe a few weeks before this game but, in true Wednesday style, had made life difficult for themselves with pretty dismal defeats at home to Forest (0-2 with a young David Prutton scoring for the visitors) and relegated Stockport (1-3). Terry was particularly frustrated with the sloppy defending : “It is extremely frustrating having spent hours on the training ground trying to address those problems, but once the players go out onto the pitch they have to take responsibility for themselves”. Hmmm, sounds familiar.
Club chairman Geoff Hulley was more concerned with financial matters, in particular whether it was really necessary to introduce that damn decimal currency. But in his article, he focussed on how much to charge for the following term’s season tickets. As Geoff pointed out “…we are obviously keen to bring as many people as possible to Hillsborough on a regular basis……and keeping ticket prices affordable is an important element in that”, but at the same time “….we have a business to run and, aside from any of our borrowings from the bank, the more money we bring in from the turnstiles, the more we can give to the manager to improve the squad”.

There was, of course, no Financial Fair Play to worry about in those days, not just because it didn’t exist, but, even if it had, the three shillings and handful of dust contributed by the Board would have been unlikely to breach the rules.
OK, that’s probably a bit unfair, as the nearest thing we had to a sugar daddy in those days, Dave Allen, had put his hand in his pocket to fund the purchase of Stockport’s Finnish international striker Shefki Kuqi. Shefki had arrived at Hillsborough in January for an advertised fee of £1m, which was pretty rich for the club at the time. In this early stage of his Wednesday career, he had endeared himself to the fans with some whole-hearted performances and a few goals. Maybe we had finally found a striker who could take the division by storm? Well, maybe not, and we were to learn a couple of things about Kuqi in this game as we’ll see later…..
Apparently, Shefki was a mere 25 when he joined the club. Now, I know he had probably had a fairly hard life growing up in Kosovo, but still, 25????? I can only assume that he was some sort of Benjamin Button character who had been born at the age of 80 and was working his way backwards. With his ability to run quickly with pumping arms in the vague direction of the ball, it was easy to see why the fans took to him, but as soon as the ball came into contact with any part of his body, who knew where it was going to go. Certainly his Kryten-like dodecahedron head was able to propel the ball at seemingly impossible angles.

Talking of wholehearted players, the programme was proud to announce the player of the season as Derek Geary. The diminutive Irishman (© every single article about Derek ever written) had been player of the month an impressive four times and, on that basis, seemed fully deserving of the award. Apparently the fans’ love if Geary had cemented itself in the final game of the previous season “with some supporters sporting Geary masks”. I was at that game and have no recollection of this spectacle, but hopefully the masks met a suitable end when Derek joined our dear neighbours a couple of years later.

As previously mentioned, the previous game had seen a very disappointing 3-1 defeat at Stockport. With the hosts already relegated, this seemed an ideal opportunity for Wednesday to confirm their safety with a win over a beleaguered County (managed by Carlton Palmer). In fact, only a win could prevent Stockport from collecting two unwanted records : becoming the first Football League side in history to go through a complete season without winning a single game played on a Saturday, and equalling a league record for the fewest home wins in a season.

On a bad run? Got a couple of pesky unwanted records you want to avoid? Never fear, because here come Sheffield Wednesday to solve all your problems! Some things never change…….
As well as carrying an interview with Geary, further pieces in the programme were:
-a piece with loanee Jon McCarthy, another battling gamely against a seriously retreating hairline
-the Owls squad predicting their winners of the World Cup, with only Owen Morrison choosing the eventual winners Brazil (a rare sign of intelligence from our Owen)
-the release of the 2002-03 dark blue away kit for pre order, modelled by the chiselled form of Kuqi and frankly looking suspiciously like a Diadora training kit
-the final of that season’s ‘It’s a Knockout’ squad quiz, with Ian Hendon coming out on top against Andy Hinchcliffe (who had to pull out at question 6 after feeling a bit of a twinge in his knee)
-an appeal for any CLEAN cuddly toys from the away fans at Stockport to be sent to the club to “find them a good home”. I suspect most of them had already been deposited somewhere to be honest……
Finally, one slightly sad snippet could be found in ‘First Glance – Nationwide review’, as it transpired that Coventry City’s two Swedish internationals, goalkeeper Magnus Hedman and Lord Sir Roland Nilsson, had been physically assaulted by an irate Sky Blues supporter in what was Roly’s final game before retirement. I like to think that the footballing gods are continuing to exact punishment for such a heinous act…….

In opposition

Opponents Wolves were third in the table, just a point behind fierce rivals West Brom, and arrived with a horde of supporters hoping for a famous win to overtake the Baggies.
Wolves were managed by Dave Jones, who at stage maybe even took training every now and again. In their squad were a few players who were pretty decent at that level, including future England international Joleon Lescott, Dean Sturridge, Kenny Miller, George Ndah and Mark Kennedy.
Owls connections in the visitors’ squad were Adam Proudlock, Andy Sinton and the not very memorable Carl Robinson (now doing rather well as a coach in the US as it happens).
To be honest, I have always had a bit of a dislike of Wolves, probably going back to the time one of their fans vomited on me in the South Stand. Not a pleasant experience to be honest, at first I thought somebody had spilled their Bovril until I realised it had lumps in it……

The game

This was certainly an exciting one. Wolves were to take the lead in the first minute through the experienced Colin Cameron, and their fans at this point were understandably giddy.
Gradually, though, Wednesday got themselves back into the game and levelled just before the break through Simon Donnelly.
Into the second half, and a burst through the visitors’ rearguard from Paul McLaren saw him past the keeper before squaring the ball back for Kuqi to tap home into an empty net.

An inevitable equaliser appeared just 2 minutes later as Lescott nodded home from a free kick. The Owls then had the chance to seal the game with a penalty, which Kuqi insisted on taking – with the predictable result of him sidefooting the ball low straight down the middle into the waiting arms of Michael Oakes. But a draw wasn’t enough for the visitors, who would have been denied in any case by a Baggies win.

Next up

After Hull and Wolves, it’s yet another team from a cultural hotbed as Middlesbrough roll into town for a festive fixture. Back to the 90s again then?

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Unread article 15/12/2017 at 06:36


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