Wednesday ’til I die

 Sitting on the Kop at Sheffield Wednesday last week, one of the guys who I sit near to tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘read your blog the other day-too much religion, not enough football’. I couldn’t agree more my friend, so here it is…

I’ve been an on/off follower of the Owls all my life: when my mother went into a care home, I found a letter I wrote to her when she was in hospital having given birth to my younger brother (who also comes to the match with me) 45 years ago. I was ten, and it reads ‘I hope he’s a Wednesdayite!’  In the early 90s, my son wanted to go to the football regularly, and my brother used to take him. One fateful night, he couldn’t make it so I was drafted in to accompany the boy to the Wednesday playing Bolton Wanderers. We won 4-1, I was hooked again, and I’ve missed very few home games since.

It was Bill Shankly who was reported to have said (mistakenly actually) that ‘football isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s much more important than that’. What is it that makes, ordinarily sane and quite sensible, people follow this fickle game? True, there is a sense of comradeship, of sharing high emotion with like-minded people. There is the ‘Coronation Street’ factor: you keep going Saturday by Saturday because, if you miss and episode, you don’t know what’s happening. There’s the tradition: my grandfather and father were both Wednesdayites, and so, like the passing on of a baptismal shawl, we keep the tradition going today. And there’s the ecstasy: yes it’s true that 99% of football is disappointment (yes, even for Manchester United fans), but the 1% is pure living and joy: an excitement with which you can live for days, or even weeks. In the end, we also know that we rarely experience the height of human physical achievement at its most balletic as when David Hirst escaped the off-side trap, slipped past two defenders and slotted a pin-perfect shot into the bottom right hand corner. Sublime!

Make no mistake, we football fans are aware of the downside: we know how sad we look to others who simply can’t understand why our emotional life is ruled by whether our team wins or loses. We know that we have been corralled into that section of the public psyche marked ‘hooligan’, ‘cultureless moron’ and ‘foul mouthed idiot’, but we simply don’t care, for this collective foolishness is reserved for the stadium and we return to being the sensible, upright members of society we really are once we leave the ground. And when we count up what the tickets for the game, plus two for the kids, the hamburger, tea and programme have actually cost us, we wince a little and then shrug, knowing that in those two 45 minute halves of football we have experienced more human emotion in one week than most people manage in a year.

And then there’s ‘the crack’: there isn’t a man or woman in the ground who doesn’t believe they would be a better tactician than the present manager: substitutions; formations; set-pieces and player assessments all reverberate around the ground before, during and after the match: the intellectual input of the crowd. And,  you will rarely hear anything as side-splittingly funny as the casual comments of the people sitting by you. Classic cases in my memory are when the trumpeter in our Kop band imitated an ambulance siren as the St John Ambulance men waggled on to the pitch with a stretcher: the time when Ravenelli (the ‘white feather) missed a sitter and the guy behind shouted ‘Nar  then Ravenelli, tha’t a disgrace to all white-haired people’ or, funniest of all, at half time, when reading our programmes, David Hirst was knocking up and struck the ball onto the Kop, knocking a mobile ‘phone four rows out of someone’s hands. The same guy said ‘I knew they were mobile ‘phones, but I didn’t know they were that ****** mobile!’

And then there’s the derbies! My home town of Sheffield is divided into two halves: one blue and white (us!) and the other red and white (them). When we play each other, the ground seethes with partisan dislike and venom, and the winner gets ‘bragging rights’ until the next time. Then, after the passion, the blood and the spit, we all return quietly to work in our offices and factories, next door to the guy in red and white. It’s tribal but its fun, and it means a lot.

Last year, when he was a year old, I took my grandson to his first match. He was wearing the mini kit bought for him by his uncles, and he sat mesmerised throughout a chilly and boring encounter. It all starts again…

Up the Owls, mate!


~ by Tim Ellis on January 28, 2010.

2 Responses to “Wednesday ’til I die”

  1. Thanks for that, dont forget its not only at work the rivalry surfaces,some of us have to live with the “enemy” [roll on summer]at least thanks to Mr Strafford and his “get your season ticket early on easy terms” I wont have to justify forking out a large sum of money in the middle of the holiday season as usually happens.Just one other thing, as its not a regular occurance for us on row 13 to converse with a Bishop, what is the correct way to address yourself as it causes no end of debate, hope to see you Tuesday regards Dave. Up the Owls

  2. Sorry this is so long but it comes straight from the heart (and my blog Let their be no misunderstanding- I don’t like sport, it brings me out in a rash! Some people can’t understand this but I am not alone. Many people have no interest in sport but it only becomes apparent when they are asked about the test match score or what they thought about Chelsea’s new centre forward!! When this happens, and it tends to happen between men, they have a blank and faraway look and appear to have lapsed into a coma. They hav’nt, it just means that sport for them has no point. I am sure reasons can be found for this affliction, but everyone will have their own story to tell. Quite often, in men anyway, it is because their father was not interested in sport. I wonce (or once) suggested to my father that we go to a football match to see the local town team. He said surely you don’t want to spend Saturday afternoon in the freezing cold and rain for two hours to watch a bunch of lunatics kick an inflated pig’s bladder round a muddy field. Maybe it reminded him of Flanders where he lost a leg? I said “No Dad!”. The subject was never raised again.

    Anyway, in my case, any lingering interest in Sport was finally removed when at the age of 12 at Grammar School, I was forced to go and stand and freeze in some corner of a foreign rugby field in January or (as an alternative choice) swim in freezing cold swimming baths or get knocked unconscious in June by bouncing cricket balls (which happened to me – its the first and last time I remember seeing stars like in the comics!). I never saw the ball coming because as usual my mind was not on the game but somewhere else (probably girls in those days). And if that meant I couldn’t wear the special striped blazer only worn by pupils who played for the school then I wasn’t bothered because those gifted enough in sport to wear it were a bunch of arrogant bullies anyway (it also gave them ‘Prefect’ status).

    My house master became insistent that I did something for the house in the area of sport but like Groucho (or was it Karl?) I never did like belonging to any club that would accept me as a member. My house master’s threats of corporal punishment became so sinister, that I agreed I ought to join join something. So I joined the Chess club. My father played chess so that was OK. Ever sinceI have always done my sport sitting down ! Now, as an observer, I have to say that sport seems to bring out the worst in people, from standing on a tennis court yelling at the referee, or hurling beer cans at people who don’t support the same team as you. In many ways sport resembles a religion. You have to unfailingly support a particular team or player (in the case of religion, a belief), stand together with all those who believe the same thing as you, cheer in unison (in religion they call it a hymn) just to prove you are one with them. I was always amused at the Trade Union leaders who used to appear on the telly in the 1970s and say “we are solid” as it always made me think of brain cells. This sort of solidity goes against all my liberal (anarchist) beliefs that I won’t be corralled into other people’s categories because life seems to be neater that way (for them). This attitude has caused me difficulties all my life but that is the price of freedom as far as I am concerned.

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