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It’s the first game of the football festive season and we welcome Middlesbrough to Hillsborough for what promises to be a Christmas cracker (not really, but just wanted to get that stock phrase out of the way). The less said about the Wednesday of Christmas present the better, so let’s go back to a more comfortable time………

We join the Owls in the 1998-99 season, it’s Saturday 27th February 1999 and the team are comfortably wedged in the mid-table zone of the Premiership, in 12th place with 32 points. After a volatile season the year before, and the Di Canio affair early in this season, Danny Wilson’s side had settled down to a season of what I believe they call ‘consolidation’.

On the front cover of the programme was Norwegian midfielder Petter Rudi. Petter was certainly a strange footballer if ever you saw one, and attracted a number of adjectives that only really seem to apply to footballers : rangy, gangly, enigmatic and possibly some others that may have been less complimentary. Rudi was David Pleat’s final signing, arriving from FC Molde just before Pleat got the sack, and I’m not sure Wednesday fans really knew what to make of him.

Occasionally, there were comparisons to Chris Waddle, but whether it was the Waddler’s footballing or singing skills that were being talked about was never clear. As the front cover noted, Rudi had been struggling to score goals, but in the previous game had scored two as Wednesday comfortably swatted aside a relegation-bound Blackburn 4-1 at Ewood Park (Danny Sonner and Andy Booth getting the other two). Whether, as the front cover announces, Rudi could ever be described as ‘dangerous’ is somewhat open to question to say the least – as dangerous as a man who was not only mop-headed but mop-bodied as well could ever be.

This was Danny Wilson’s only full season at the helm (with things going seriously sour the season after) and, after early problems with the Italian pair of Di Canio and Carbone – with the infamous ‘fancy dans’ comment following a dire home defeat to Cambridge in the Worthington Cup – he was beginning to settle into the role.

In his programme notes, Danny was bemoaning a problem that seems to have bothered Wednesday managers for time immemorial – the feeling that the team were better off playing away than home. In particular he noted the tendency for “visiting teams to hold what they’ve got, try to get the crowd agitated and look for any odd chances that come along”. It’s interesting how this notion of turning the crowd at Hillsoborough has reared its head, I’m never quite sure whether it’s a genuine issue or an easy excuse to be honest.

Wilson was also keen to point out that it was important to bolster the squad with the need to “bring in the quality of players who can take us even further”. After commenting on how frustrating it was to bring in the right quality of player, Danny wanted the fans to rest assured that “we do, however, have quite a few irons in the fire, and I’m very hopeful that a couple of things will have been sorted out before the transfer deadline at the end of March”. Those couple of things turned out to be Richard Cresswell and Philip Scott. These were the kind of signings who did take us ‘even further’ but possibly not in the direction that Danny was intending.

The main feature interview in the programme ‘Men at Work’ saw the focus on Argentinian right-back Juan Cobian. Juan had been missing from the first team for a while before the Blackburn game, having been a regular in the first few games of the season. I recall seeing Cobian get ripped a new one by David Ginola early in the season before being replaced by the somewhat more steady Earl Barrett. As Juan admitted in the interview, he was still very much learning the English game : “The manager told me I did OK in the first few games of the season, even though I was still getting used to how quickly the game is played over here”. Unfortunately for Juan, Wilson obviously thought he never did quite settle in. Despite having a two-year contract – and the player himself admitting that “….I would like to play well enough in that time to be given the chance to stay even longer” – he was released after just the one season.

I cannot let this section pass without mentioning the joke at the end of the interview – commenting on Cobian’s modesty and signing off with “Juan doesn’t like to blow Juan’s own trumpet”. You wouldn’t see me stooping to such poor material……..

In this season, the programme also included a page at the back entitled ‘Side Netting’, which was an early version of the online forum, with various comments being extracted from the club’s official website. Lots off mentions for the ‘simply brilliant’ Wim Jonk, and his midfield partner Danny Sonner, who had scored the first goal in that Blackburn game. According to poster Mustn’t Grumble, the announcer at Ewood Park had declared the scorer as ‘Donna Summer’. Who knows if this really happened, but Summer-t was obviously up. Ahem.

In opposition

Before I talk about Middlesbrough, there’s something we need to clear up here. The place is called Middlesbrough, not Middlesborough, and yet their nickname is ‘the Boro’. Surely it should be ‘the Bro’. Or are they happy deliberately mis-pronouncing the name of their own city? I don’t know, maybe I should stop worrying about these things……

Boro (twitch) had been promoted the previous summer after a single season in the First Division, and undoubtedly the star of their squad was a certain Paul Gascoigne. This season was probably about the last time that Gazza really produced in England, and he had scored a cracking free-kick in the reverse fixture, a dismal 4-0 defeat for the Owls at the Riverside.

Plenty of other familiar names were in the visitors’ squad, including Gary Pallister, Andy Townsend, Colin Cooper and Mark Schwarzer. Their squad also contains more than a handful of top names to play in a game of ‘Name the random 90s footballer’ such as Steve Vickers, Mikkel Beck, Vladimir Kinder and Hamilton Ricard. And not forgetting, the man who seems to be following GWTP round like a bad spell, the asinine Brian Deane.
Finally, there were a few Owls links as well in Robbie Mustoe, Marlon Beresford and Robbie Stockdale.

The match

This was to prove a good afternoon for the Owls, and in particular Andy Booth, who scored the first goal early on from a low Andy Hinchcliffe cross.
Jonk and Sonner were continuing to prove effective, and keeping Gazza pretty quiet, with Sonner heading home Wednesday’s second with 13 minutes to go.
Unfortunately, the midfield duo couldn’t keep Gazza’s midfield partner Mustoe quiet as he slotted home two minutes later. No matter though, as Booth headed home a Hinchcliffe free kick just a minute later to seal the game.
The win was enough to take Wednesday into 10th place but, in true Wednesday style, just when it looked like good things were round the corner, the team hit a bad patch and in the end were happy with 12th place after nearly ending up in a relegation fight. The less said about the following season the better…..

Next up

It’s time for a bit of a Christmas rest for Get With the Programme. With only one last season’s game to look back on, we’ll give Burton a miss on New Year’s Day and return refreshed and rejuvenated for Cardiff in a few weeks’ time.
Hope you’ve all been enjoying this so far, if anyone has any requests from info from these programmes, just give me a shout through the forum and I’ll see what I can do.

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Unread article 22/12/2017 at 10:44


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