Wednesday's Child (Sheffield Wednesday Soccer Club) - Poem by Margaret Kollmer
It eats soccer. It breathes soccer. It lives soccer. It fades when it's team fades and it blooms when it's team blooms. It has the letters S.W. permanently etched upon it's brain and it probably even arranges it's Monopoly money in S.W. formations. What is it, you ask? It's a soccer fan. You knew that, didn't you? But it isn't just any soccer fan. It is specifically a Sheffield Wednesday soccer fan. Or addict, for want of a better word.
Yes, of course, even I know about Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal and Man. United fans. They're the normal, run-of-the-mill type but Owls supporters are really Something Else!
I have had the somewhat dubious good fortune of becoming rather well acquainted with one of these strange 'animals' but until today, I'd managed to evade any one-to-one discourse on the merits or demerits of one man's passion for his team. On the face of it, you could say I asked for it. In a weak moment, I queried how his team had fared over the past week or so. It was like asking a hypochondriac the state of his health.
Well, there I was, supposedly having a cup of tea with his wife, my friend Sheila. But Sheila knew the signs and, together with two equally clued-up daughters, had opportunely beaten a hasty retreat into the garden. They had long since paid their dues. Now, it was my turn.
It was a reasonably tentative beginning. It is more than probable that Ken, the addict, suspected I would never stay the course but feeling somewhat emotionally trapped by the knowledge that he had no sons with whom to share his enthrallment of the game, what else could I do but don my interested-looking mask, take a deep breath and settle back to hear him out. By tacit consent, we both knew that I was a victim of sorts. Destiny rides again!
My heart sunk a little when I realised that he was starting from scratch. From the actual day when his team first started playing. His enthusiasm was boundless but somehow I found myself becoming absorbed in what he was saying. His eyes took on a bright, azure sparkle and his mouth was motoring at twice the speed of sound as it travelled back and forth in time. I stared in mute fascination. This was for real! This was the guy's life. Dear Lord, where was I when enthusiasm for anything was dished out? I raised my eyes Heavenwards and found myself looking straight into those of a grey, woolly owl who was peering down at me from a built-in show-case. The Sheffield Wednesday Football Club mascot. I knew I was a gonner when I found myself asking how the Club had come to be so named.
Sheffield Wednesday, as we know it today, Ken told me, came into being in 1867 as the football section of the Wednesday Cricket Club, which had been in existence since 1820. The cricket club had been the creation of a group of Sheffield craftsmen who gave it the name 'Wednesday' for the simple reason that that was the day when they took regular afternoons off to pursue their sporting enthusiasms.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the meeting at which the football section was formed took place on a Wednesday and this, at a local sporting pub, The Adelphi. Members of the cricket club called the meeting because they wanted a way of keeping everybody together during the winter months but the step was probably partly inspired by the dramatic increase in football's popularity in the town over the previous ten years.
Ken's eyes misted over somewhat as he proudly told me that it had been Sheffield who had led the way in organised football even before the birth of the national FA in 1863. So Wednesday no doubt felt it appropriate to have their own football section. At the very least, it would mean that their players would not be tempted to drift off to other clubs at the end of the summer and forget to return in the following spring.
The founders could not have imagined that the infant football section would become the dominant partner. So strong, in fact, that within sixteen years it would break free and Wednesday Football Club would become one of the most famous names in English football - and a force in the professional game to boot (no pun intended!) Would they also have believed that the Cricket Club would survive only until 1924 and then die through lack of support, so that today, it is all but forgotten.
By now, there was no doubt that Ken knew he had my attention for I was leaning forward in my chair, hanging onto every word. Vortex-like, my concentration was being pulled and drawn into the centre of what could only be described as the secret world of the soccer-addict; a passionate and breathtaking intensity which would encompass anything related thereto, from a humble soccer boot to a moth-eaten ticket to some long-ago and memorable match played.
'Look! ' he said, paging through a well-thumbed book, 'here's a picture of Wednesday's first match at Olive Grove. This site was bought from the Duke of Norfolk. Did you know that? ' As if I would! But no reply was necessary as he pressed on regardless to tell me about how officials at the time were unable to persuade either Preston or Aston Villa to provide the opposition for a match but Blackburn Rovers did decide to accept the invitation to play. Things weren't going too well but I wanted to fall off my chair to show him how thrilled I was too when Wednesday recovered from a three-goal deficit to draw 4-4 but he wouldn't have noticed. He was in another world.
And then he was down in the depths again as he showed me pictures of headlines proclaiming how Dooley had broken his leg at Deepdale way back in 1953. It was to be the end of the big centre-forward's career. Oh, shame, Ken, I said. And I really meant it.
1954-55 proved to be a disastrous season with Wednesday finishing bottom of the table, nine points below relegation companions Leicester City. The Owls won only 8 games, losing 24 and conceding 100 goals. However, Ken assured me, they won the Second Division Championship in 1955-56 with three points to spare and in the following season they finished mid-table. But, oh dear, by 1957-58 they were down again. The Addict's voice faded and I thought he had been called by the angels.
'And then....? ' I encouraged. Momentarily, he seemed to surface.
'Go on, get along with you, ' he said with a half-smile, 'you're not really interested.'
'Oh, I am, I am, ' I protested gamely, whereupon he went on to tell me all about the so-called bribes scandal or betting-coup revelations which broke in the Sunday newspapers of 1964. Not only did Wednesday suffer in terms of its reputation but it also lost two of its best players.
The situation sounded sufficiently grave for me to try my mournful-look but no, it wasn't necessary as The Addict changed course and went on to tell me the good news about how in 1971, that bloke Dooley, (who'd broken his leg 18 years or so earlier and subsequently had to have it amputated) had been made manager of the club. He was still an idol in the city and the folk-hero of Hillsborough. But his magic was limited and he proved that he was as human as anyone else in his lack of anticipated performance.
But Sheila was rattling crockery in the kitchen and the thought of a nice cup of tea was becoming more and more enticing. Escape was out of the question. We still had about twenty years more to work through! There's a limit to a body's endurance and a feminine mind's appreciation of a predominantly masculine interest.
So, a little less stoically now, I went 'up' with the Owls and 'down' with the Owls as we travelled through from one Division to another over a timespan of many years. But much of their pain was to dissolve in relief when in 1985, they reached their highest position for 25 years by coming fifth in the FA Cup semi-Final. Even if they did lose to Everton.
In that same year, Wednesday were to equalise in the dying seconds of the match with Chelsea. They were 3-O up at half-time and I can well imagine how Ken had nearly fallen off his chair when hearing on the BBC World Service later that evening that the game had ended at 4-4. He still hasn't got over the sheer horror of it all.
There was no stopping him now and I just had to give in and hear about how the next time round, Chelsea lost the toss with the Owls' Chairman tossing the coin and the replay going to Stamford Bridge. Wednesday lost 2-1 proving that the Chelsea bogey had struck again. 'We can't even beat a bunch of pensioners, ' the Addict grinned. I was impressed by his ability not to take himself and his beloved team too seriously.
'And last year, you actually visited the Club, didn't you? ' I asked, determined to hastily gobble up the few remaining years so that I could go and have my tea. I knew of course that the highlight of his addicthood had been when Wednesday were promoted to First Division by beating Man. United in the Rumbelows League Cup Final at Wembley and didn't want to go into all that lot again. Like I said, there's a limit........
'Ah yes, ' he replied dreamily. Even he was beginning to tire. But no, not yet. I had a feeling we were about to move into extra time. More like injury-time, one would say.
'Come, ' he said, leading me towards a cupboard filled with everything and anything that could have any association whatsoever with his team. I'd seen it all before and I would see it again, but there's an indisputable thrill of sharing both old-time and current mementoes and memorabilia of a soccer club, some six thousand miles away, right here in the living room of one of its most ardent supporters.
T-shirts, windcheaters, scarves, video tapes, mugs, knick-knacks too numerous to mention plus a crumpled Olympic Gallery Wembley Ticket which held pride of place amongst his souvenirs. He had them all and each one had its own special significance. Photographs, too, of his own personal stars, newspaper cuttings... the list is unending. But here is happiness. The room exudes the real, intrinsic essence of an out-and-out Wednesday-Addict.
I don't think he even noticed when I quietly left the room. His thoughts were in another country. In another city. Far away, on the playing fields of a soccer-fan's own and very special Eden.
It is now mid-February in the year of 1992 and last week Arsenal nearly brought about the demise of The Addict. Wednesday were trounced 7-1 in what was to be one of their biggest defeats in the history of the club. I need say no more, save that 'Wednesday's Child' is recovering slowly. His colour has returned to a pinker shade of pale and he still lies very quietly in his little wooden cot with his arms tightly wrapped around a furry, woolly owl in a blue and white striped shirt.
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