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GET WITH THE PROGRAMME - BIRMINGHAM

GET WITH THE PROGRAMME - BIRMINGHAM

Welcome back to Get With the Programme, and a visit from the team from the blue side of the second city. We haven’t actually played Birmingham City that much in the past 30 years (which is as far as my programmes go back), with more games against them in the past five seasons than there were in the 25 before that.

So, we visit the most recent game so far in GWTP as we land in the first home game of the 2012/13 season, and a midweek game on Tuesday August 21st 2012. The Owls were fresh from the inspired promotion from League One the season before, whilst the visitors had only been one season out of the Premiership, and were League Cup winners just over a year previously – probably one of the best periods of their entire history.
For those geeks like me who are programme aficionados, this season’s edition was, for the first time, a properly bound affair, strangely satisfying when compared to the old stapled versions that never seemed to sit flat.

Gracing the cover of this issue (which, for the eagle-eyed amongst you was actually number ‘02’ of the season following the pre-season friendly against West Brom) was Reda Johnson, at that stage a regular in the team and the hero of the opening game of the season at Derby. Reda, of course, needs no introduction to Wednesdayites, having only left the club three and a half years ago, but let’s reminisce a little anyway…..

After being signed by Alan Irvine in January 2011 – with the first injection of cash from Milan Mandaric – Reda had initially impressed with his enthusiasm and commitment before gradually becoming seen as one of those defenders constantly on the verge of a mistake – not to mention the odd silly tackle or two.
The change in Reda’s Wednesday career came under Gary Megson in the 2011-12 season when he was chosen at left back in an away game at Yeovil. At the time, this seemed a rather strange decision from Meggo, as the prospect of seeing Reda flying down the wing and delivering a searching cross from the left seemed about as likely as the manager re-growing his ginger afro. However, Reda acquitted himself reasonably well and went on to make a decent stab at that position in League One and the Championship. This, and the fact that he often had a goal in him (18 in 75 games for Wednesday, not bad for a defender) made him a key member of the squad for a couple of year.

In the first League game of the season, Reda had scored a last-minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Derby. Wednesday had been two down midway through the first half, but got back in the game with an absolute belter from Chris O’Grady. Manager Dave Jones admitted that it was a case of ‘welcome to the Championship’ early on, but had praise for the comeback for not just the team, but the 6,000 travelling Wednesdayites : “…I’m sure they will have had to check the foundations in the stadium for cracks after the game. When they were all bouncing, it was amazing. I have never seen anything like that in football. Never, ever. They sucked that ball in for Reda’s equaliser and I was so pleased for them, they deserved it”.

Nice words from our Dave, and no doubt there were ‘scenes’ when that goal went in, but reading his comments something slightly odd struck me. I’m sure that, normally, in their programme notes managers address directly to the fans, so would be talking about ‘you deserved it’, not ‘they deserved it’. A small thing maybe, but indicative of that slight distance that Jones always seemed to have, and possibly why he was never hugely popular with Wednesdayites despite his success early on in his reign.
Dave was also ambitiously considering the Owls’ promotion prospects that season, pointing out that most teams had a chance of promotion whilst pointing out that “this is the hardest division there is to get out of”. I know I’ve used this line before but, as we have proved, it’s not that difficult if you’re not too fussed about which direction you go in….

The plaudits for the fans at Derby were echoed not only in Jones’s programme notes but also those of chairman Milan and captain Jose Semedo. The latter was, of course, another hugely popular player at time, and reserved special praise for Rhys McCabe, who made his debut at Pride Park : “He is a top young player with a very bright future and I am sure he will be a very popular player here at Sheffield Wednesday”. Hmm, obviously Jose’s many qualities did not include amazing foresight.
Milan pointed out, amongst his usual motivational words, he was keen to continue strengthening the squad. In fact, the club’s latest signing was not even mentioned in the programme, forward Rodri on loan from Barcelona B.

This was one of those signings that Wednesday just didn’t seem to go in for; a promising young overseas player who could provide some flair and excitement. I recall at the time the rumour first surfaced on Owlsonline it was dismissed as somewhat ridiculous. At first, the most likely explanation was that it was a complete misunderstanding and we were actually signing some Welsh bloke from Bala Town.
But it turned out to be true and, before we knew it, the young Spanish Under-21 international was gracing the Hillsborough turf, and to good effect as we shall find out later.

Elsewhere in the programme we find the ‘social media’ section known as “Owls Networking”. This appears to be a definite programme-filler article if ever there was one, and included a section on the 2012 Olympics, particularly how it became known as the ‘Twitter Olympics’ due to the number of tweets that were sent about the unfolding action. Somewhat surprisingly, the article claims that the most ‘tweeted about; sport in the competition was the football, with the most popular single event, perhaps less surprisingly, involving Usain Bolt (who trained by trying to catch Jermaine Johnson of course). Somewhat depressingly though, apparently the most tweeted bit of the entire event was the Spice Girls performing at the closing ceremony, with over 116,000 tweets per minute. How many of these were complimentary, and how many were of the ‘where have the dragged this lot up from?’ variety remains a mystery.
Another more light-hearted section of the programme was the Q&A with a player which, as you will have seen from previous editions of GWTP, is always good value for a nugget or two of amusement. The subject in this issue was Mark Beevers, who keen readers of GWTP may recall has cropped up in this area before as a 16-year old academy starlet. True to form, Mark was again keen to invite an attractive actress (Michelle Keegan) to a dinner party as his ideal guest (“…my girlfriend will kill me….”). If he had to invite “a bloke” round, though, Mark said he would plump for David Beckham. Ah, the hours would fly by……
One suspects that Michelle and David would be somewhat disappointed with the food on offer though, as Mark suggested he could “…rustle up some chicken or salmon or a ready meal with veg”. This is sounding like one hell of a do.

In opposition

Having not been too long out of the Premiership, Birmingham still had some quality players (certainly more so than they do at the moment). Established players such as Marlon King, Nikola Zigic, Stephen Carr and Peter Lovenkrands competed for places with promising youngsters like Ravel Morrison, Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland.
I must confess I was surprised to see Butland at number 1 in the Blues’ squad, as I had completely forgotten he started his career at Birmingham. At just 19, Butland was already an England international and had played for Team GB at the Olympics. Unfortunately for Jack, he now plays for Stoke, but you can’t have everything I suppose.

The visitors were managed by Lee Clark, at that stage still seen as something of a rising star after his spell with Huddersfield in the previous season and their remarkable, but surprisingly seldom mentioned, 50-odd game unbeaten run. Clark never seemed to be the sharpest tool in the box for a manager and now seems to have found his natural level i.e. unemployment.
Sneaking in at number 26 in the Birmingham squad list was a certain David Lucas, who was starting out on the early stages of coaching, the only Owls connection to be found in the visitors’ roster.

The game

Wednesday were still carrying the momentum of promotion, and of coming back from two goals down not only at Derby, but in the previous game at Oldham in the League Cup.

In a typical air of early-season optimism, Wednesday played with confidence, commitment and pace (I had to look that last word up, apparently it’s something to do with having fast players). Within a quarter of an hour, big Reda got on the scoresheet again, to be followed by probably the moment of the match six minutes before half-time as debutant Rodri skipped past his marker before firing across Butland (who should have saved it to be honest) at the Leppings Lane end. It seemed that we had found ourselves a gem, and surely nothing could stop our new exotic loan signing from rampaging through the Championship and firing the Owls to a surprise promotion.
Well, that’s early season optimism for you I suppose as Rodri turned out to be less of a Carbone-esque signing and more of a Francesco Sanetti as he failed to find the net again in a Wednesday shirt, and ended up being such a disappointment that he was bombed back to Spain half way through his loan spell in January.

14 minutes from time Zigic got one back for the Blues, before a typically swashbuckling run and finish from JJ a minute from time sealed the game. There was still time for a hilariously clumsy challenge from Reda to concede a penalty in injury time, which was converted by King with literally the last kick of the game, but it mattered not.
A good win for the Owls, but as the early part of the season wore on, it became apparent that the Championship would not be quite the breeze it first appeared, and in the end Wednesday were glad to have maintained their place in the division at the end of the season.
Next up
Well, I was all set up for Derby next, but the team have, rather inconsiderately, messed that up by getting through to the next round of the FA Cup. So, will it be an ‘Up for the Cup’ special featuring Swansea City or Notts County? Or will I just decide I can’t be arsed? You’ll find out in a couple of weeks’ time……  

Unread article 02/02/2018 at 20:28

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