We’re going up!
So it’s final, after several months of some of the best and most committed football I have seen from a Sheffield Wednesday team for several years, we have finished second in League One and earned automatic promotion. The final day match with Wycombe Wanderers was something of a foregone conclusion and, after a reasonable few minutes of Wednesday besieging the already relegated opposition, our winger, Antonio, broke through and scored one of the tightest and classiest goals we have seen for some time. In the second half, Nile Ranger found the net with his head and sealed the deal that we would triumph over the Blades and climb into the Championship without having to go through the tension of the playoffs. It was a suitably special and exciting occasion, and thousands of blue and white clad fans stormed the pitch and carried the triumphant team on their shoulders. I for one, am delighted that we are going up and confidently predict that we will not remain the second tier too long before we reach, once again, the promised land of the Premiership. As exciting as it all was, I was not left as exhilarated at this promotion as I was at our last one when we won the playoff final in Cardiff.It’s worth examining why…
On reflection, my slight ‘doubts’ about Saturday’s occasion were borne out of the reality that both our goals were scored by on-loan players from top class clubs. These were players who had been brought to the Club with our Chairman’s money-the millionaire, Milan Manderic. At one point in the midst of Saturday’s dizzy excitement, the crowd of some 38,000 people began to sing his name, clearly hailing him as the saviour of our historic and venerable club with its roots deep in the working class community of Sheffield. Threatened with extinction just a few months ago because of crippling debts which, to my mind, an incompetent former directorship had recklessly accrued, Milan had come to a deal with the lenders and bought Sheffield Wednesday, as he had done Leicester and Portsmouth before, for a mere 10 million pounds-less than the cost of a lesser Premiership player. On Saturday, the crowd invested Mandaric with all sorts of emotions and fine principles that they hoped he acted out of: surely he poured money into the club because he loved it as much as we fans? He must have saved Wednesday because he felt sympathy and respect for a venerable institution? Did he not feel the same pain and pleasure at the Club’s fortunes? Was he not truly one of us?
The reality is that, as badly run as the Club was at that time,when we last gained promotion we did it through the craft of an excellent manager, Paul Sturrock, who used to the full and with strategic genius, the limited ability of the players we could then afford. This time, players capable of playing two leagues higher have seen us promoted. There was something noble about the former as opposed to the uneasy feeling that this time promotion has been bought, and bought at the expense of other worthy clubs who do not enjoy the attentions of the sugar daddy. There is a whiff of unfairness in the air. And what of Milan’s higher motives in all this? Well, when he sacked Gary Megson and received the approbation of the fans, his immediate response was to the effect that it was his money and his business and he would do what he liked and the fans could like it or lump it. In truth, Milan is only at Hillsborough because it represents a significant financial opportunity, and when it stops being a putative cash cow he will sell the club, just as he has elsewhere. In fairness to him, I don’t think he has ever claimed otherwise. In the meantime, those 38,000 fans, all of whom had paid high prices to attend the match and who lauded Milan as a saviour, should enjoy the new, and I hope continued, success of the club in the full knowledge that they are also contributing to certain individual’s personal fortunes and are willing collaborators in this and that, for some, the only success that is of any consequence is financial and not the higher sporting achievements of humanity.
In the meantime, I too will enjoy our climb up the League and the prospect of a higher standard of football and the consequent pride in our club and team, but it will be with the uneasy feeling that all this will be achieved, not for the general good and welfare of Sheffield Wednesday and its fans and the creation of a true ‘club’, but for the personal gain of the few who will then take their capital elsewhere when the Owls no longer represent a good investment-or not as good as the next one.