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With Wednesday finally confirming their Championship safety, we can all kick back, relax and enjoy the penultimate home game of the season against Reading. Although this is Sheffield Wednesday we’re talking about so any (or a combination) of an injury-ravaged line-up, half asleep midfield, dreadful referee or downright boredom will probably spoil it, but you can’t appreciate the good times without living through the bad, right?
As we near the end of season, reflecting back on these articles makes me realise just how many of them seem to involve the ‘bad’ as the team constantly seem to be in some sort of struggle, and this edition is no different.

Before we get to that, a quick apology to those ardent fans of GWTP (hi Mum) that there wasn’t one for the Fulham game. Unfortunately I forgot that our inspirational leader, and publisher of all things that need to go on Owlsonline, Hoyland might have been rather busy with Lincoln City playing at Wembley and didn’t really give it to him in enough time to get it published. Sorry about that, I know thousands of you out there would have been losing valuable minutes at work constantly refreshing the site in the hope that it would appear, but you didn’t miss much to be perfectly honest.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand, and another time of real struggle for our glorious team, as we visit very dark times indeed in the midst of the 2002-03 season, and arrive at Saturday 11th January 2003. Our visitors Reading arrived as a surprise package of the Nationwide Division One season in their first season after promotion, whilst the hosts, in the third season since relegation from the Premiership, seemed to be stuck in a loop of underachieving players, annual managerial changes and financial struggles.

The Owls went into this game second from bottom of the table, with just four wins and a painful 15 defeats from 27 games, with only newly promoted Brighton below them. The Royals, meanwhile, were in 6th place and therefore very much in the play-off running. It was somewhat surprising to note that this was only Reading’s third ever visit to Hillsborough, which seems particularly hard to believe given the relatively frequent meetings since, but these were two teams whose paths just never seemed to cross in the 20th century.

Adorning the front cover of the programme was a young Tony Crane, resplendent in that season’s third strip (the previous season’s away strip), required due to the decision to have an away kit of dark blue for a team that played in blue and white stripes with black shorts. I think this kit was an attempt at a throwback to everyone’s favourite Wednesday change strip from the early nineties, with its pale blue trim and shorts. Whether it was due to the slightly dodgy pale blue round neck, or the fact that the team was absolute garbage for the two seasons it was used, it’s probably fair to say that this kit is not quite held in the same esteem as that old Umbro effort.

As for Crane, this was to be his last season at the club, having initially burst through with a crop of youngsters in the 2000-01 season. A bit of a ‘utility player’ (i.e. he never really pinned down his best position), he was at this time playing regularly as a centre back. Unfortunately, his somewhat cumbersome running and touch outweighed (and more on that in a minute) his aerial ability and strength, and he was released at the end of the season. A quick check on Wikipedia sums up neatly what happened to his career after that : “He left Grimsby in 2006 and dropped into playing Non-league football with Worksop Town and later Boston United before quitting football in 2008 due to personal reasons one of which being his weight.” In fact, it seems that Tony expanded quite rapidly after leaving Grimsby, and is now plodding around in local football. Shame really.
Crane had recently been partnering Garry Monk at the back, with the latter being one of four loan signings made by manager Chris Turner not only to try and improve the quality of squad, but also to get more players available in the middle of an injury crisis. As Chris said in his programme notes, “the squad seems to be getting smaller after each game and we’re running out of players fast. I’ve never known a situation like this……” Welcome to the world of managing Wednesday Chris.

Turner had, of course, replaced the hapless Terry Yorath earlier in the season, but had struggled initially to make his mark. It took eight games before he got his first win, a 2-0 success over Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day. This was followed by defeat at relegation rivals Stoke (3-2, last minute goal) and a decent 2-0 win at Rotherham on New Year’s Day. Chris’s previous connections had given him a bit of a free hit as far as this season was concerned – even though he was in charge for more than half of it, he was never really blamed for the eventual relegation that ensued.
Chris was keen to highlight the role of the fans in creating a good atmosphere at Hillsborough, but one set of fans in particular : “The Band play an important role for us as well – sometimes things go quiet but then they strike up a chord and away we go again.” Presumably by “strike a chord” Chris actually meant “make a noise like a seal being strangled by a set of bagpipes”. But I guess some people like them, and at this stage in their ‘career’ the novelty hadn’t quite worn off.

Apparently though, the atmosphere made by the fans and the Band had “played a major part in making our four loan signings feel welcome at Hillsborough”, those signings being the aforementioned Monk from Southampton, Adam Proudlock from Wolves, Lee Bradbury from Portsmouth and Allan Johnston from Middlesbrough. Proudlock had been called back by his parent club and Bradbury was injured, but the other two were continuing to play an important part in the team.

The subject of the programme’s feature interview was defender Ashley Westwood, who it’s probably fair to say was not exactly every Wednesdayite’s cup of tea. Ashley at least had an element of self-awareness though : “I’m honest and I’m committed. If that’s not good enough for some people, there’s not much else I can do to change their opinion”. Even Westwood’s harshest critics would have to admit that the first bit of that quote is true – there was no doubting his commitment to the cause, but his aptitude was perhaps another matter.
Which brings me to an interesting point about the attitude of many Wednesday fans at around this time. In our latter days in the Premiership some legitimate questions were being raised around the commitment of players (think De Bilde, Jonk, Rudi etc) and many fans at the time were saying things along the lines of “I wouldn’t mind if all the players were rubbish, just so long as they put in 100%”. Yet, a few years later when he had more limited players who put a shift in, they were slagged off as well for not being good enough.

Anyway, back to Ashley, he was acutely aware that his contract was up at the end of the season, and was very keen to extend his stay for quite touching reasons : “My little lad…..he’s four now so he’s growing up as a Wednesdayite. He’s got the kit, he comes to all of the games and all he talks about is Sheffield Wednesday. I don’t want to have to sit him down in the summer and explain why daddy doesn’t play for Wednesday any more”. Unfortunately for Ashley and Callum, that conversation was to take place in the summer of 2003 as Westwood was released at the end of his contract. Does Callum still support the Owls?
One other player who was to depart even sooner was the mercurial Gerald Sibon, as this was to prove his last game for the Owls before departing to his native Netherlands to sign for Heerenveen. There’s been a lot of debate about Gerald over the years but I dread to think what those years of 2000 to 2003 would have been like without him as at least he gave you some hope that there was someone on the pitch who might be able to magic a goal out of somewhere (or indeed a shot from a free-kick that somehow went sideways, but that was Gerald for you). Gerald signed off with a narrow defeat to Paul McLaren in the player quiz ‘S.W.F.C.I.Q.’. He looked to be cruising to victory until he answered the question “On the Muppet Show, what kind of animal was Fozzie?” with “A dog”. No wonder he left after that.

In opposition

As previously mentioned, Reading were doing well after being promoted the previous season and were in contention for the play-offs. Strangely, despite this, they were actually the third lowest scorers in the division.
Their manager at the time was a rising star amongst English coaches by the name of Alan Pardew. Things have, of course, changed a bit for Pardew in the intervening 15 years, but at this time he was garnering quite a reputation for himself.
Some of the Reading squad were to continue and form the nucleus of their Premier League squad a few years later, such as James Harper, Nicky Shorey and current Rangers manager Graeme Murty. Also in the Royals’ roster were the experienced John Salako and Phil Parkinson.
In terms of Owls connections, the only player with any claim at all was American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who had played a handful of games for Wednesday’s reserve team as a trialist a few years earlier.

The game

After just 16 minutes it looked like it was going to be another grim day for Wednesday, as Reading’s strike pair of Nicky Forster and Martin Butler scored a goal each and the visitors continued to press forward. Kevin Pressman had to be at his best to keep the Royals at bay for the rest of the half and Wednesday were probably lucky to be only 2-0 down at the break.
Not even the most optimistic Wednesdayite would have expected what was to come though, as the Owls roared back into the game.
Seven minutes into the half Alan Quinn scored his first goal of the season to start the fightback. Minutes later Butler missed a glorious chance to restore Reading’s two-goal lead by heading wide of a virtually open goal.

On 69 minutes Sibon scored his last ever goal for Wednesday with a long distance daisycutter struck in a way in which only he seemed able, and which Hahnemann watched past as if his mind was on something else entirely. Two minutes a long kick from Pressman found its way via a Kuqi-Sibon-Quinn combination to the onrushing Johnston, who lifted a glorious lob over Hahnemann to spark wild (and non-Band initiated) celebrations on the Kop.
Wednesday saw the game through to record their first comeback from a 2-0 home deficit in almost 50 years.
Sadly, another poor run was to follow (including a particularly depressing Proudlock inspired 4-0 win for Wolves at Hillsborough), and, despite some improving form towards the end of the season, Wednesday had left themselves too much to do and were to suffer relegation to the Second Division.

Next up
It’s the last game of the season as we entertain Norwich. After what has been a particularly taxing season, I thought it would be nice to sign off with a reminder of much better times……  

Unread article 20/04/2018 at 07:42


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