Wednesday Were Awesome...
Wednesday travel to Portman Road to take on Ipswich Town in their opening day clash of the 2007-08 campaign tomorrow...
Around 2500 Wednesday fans are expected to make the long journey down in what we hope will be blistering sunshine, and will be returning with three points in the bag.
We all have our fair share of footballing tales, and today Vital Sheffield Wednesday writes Jeff Gold reflects on a superb day out against the Tractor Boys in 1990 - both on and off the pitch...
The Start of a Great Season
It's August. The sun shines, the season begins and we head in the direction of Ipswich. All is well; Wednesday are great; we expect victory.
For this is not 2007, the summer of floods and cretinous scum bitches. It's 1990, a time of Gazza, a time of optimism.
Thanks to the efforts of Paul Gascoigne on the fields of Italy, football is once again fashionable and Wednesday are one of its finest exponents. They are artists. They are aesthetes. Their football is joyful and flamboyant. Every match is a festival, an exploration of everything football could and should be.
Behold how we play they scream. Marvel at our movement, our passing. Gaze in wonder as we tease the opposition, monopolise possession, control the game. See? Feast your eyes for we are awesome. We are splendid. We are supreme.
OK, so they were also relegated, but that was a mere detail, an inconvenience. The future was bright; the future was Wednesday...
Jim came to pick me up. 'You`re looking rough,' he said.
I thought that a bit rich coming from somebody with grey, sweating skin, pink slits for eyes and yesterday's clothes. But I had to admit he was right. I explained I'd not eaten for two days, felt drained, empty and feeble and had to remain a maximum of ten yards from a bathroom. Even such proximity didn't help, not with my house-mate Jo's passion for taking loud, giggly baths with her boyfriend.
'Sod that. You should steam in?' said Jim who knew our bathroom had no lock and found a simple solution to most problems. This I contemplated, struggling to decide who would be more embarrassed and appalled while fighting to drive from my mind the resultant, not altogether pleasant image. Thankfully, I was interrupted.
'Come on. We`re late.'
That seemed odd given there were hours till kick-off, but I was in no mood to argue, no mood to question, no mood, really, to speak.
'And tell me if you need to stop. Although I wouldn't worry, Bess is full of rubbish already.'
He wasn't wrong. I clambered into 'Bess', a rusty, 10 year old Fiat 127, and tentatively burrowed my feet into a jumble of rubbish: plastic drink bottles, packets of crisps, pizza boxes, not all of them empty; a mug with a dubious crust at the bottom; a single can of Stella, unopened. Once in, I remained motionless, wary of squashing something or disturbing a nesting animal. I sighed deeply, dropped my chin to my chest and settled down to sleep.
Summer had been good to Wednesday. Relegation meant players might leave. Most susceptible were John Sheridan - Wednesday's midfield choreographer, the heartbeat of the side - and Roland Nilsson - quite simply the best right back in the world. Both had contract clauses
allowing them to move. Both were chosen to go to the World Cup, the ultimate shop window.
Sheridan, fortunately, represented Jack Charlton's Ireland. Their tactics were simple but stunningly effective: some great lump launched the ball into the far corner and the whole team steamed forward. Within this master plan, the role of the central midfielder was to watch the ball sail over his head then hare after it to pick up the scraps, harry the opposition and generally make a nuisance of himself.
It was all a far cry from Sheridan's usual approach of passing. Along the ground. To a team-mate. As for his tackling, a Leeds fan claims to have seen it during a pre-season friendly against FC Griszt in 1986, but other witnesses maintain he just got in the way while signalling to the bench for a beer. All of which meant that Sheridan wasn't Charlton's favourite. As a result, Sheridan's only World Cup action followed David O'Leary's winner in the penalty shoot-out against Romania, the Wednesday player launching himself on to the summit of the ensuing monumental pile-on.
Nilsson, on the other hand, played in every game. Luckily, he was rubbish as Sweden lost to Brazil, Costa Rica and even Scotland. Wednesday fans watched with a smile as Nilsson's chances of a move to Juventus, Liverpool or even Luton diminished with each passing winger.
So Wednesday travelled to Ipswich with largely the same team that had so illuminated the first division. Gone was the talented but unpredictable Dalian Atkinson. In were experienced midfielder Danny Wilson and livewire striker Paul Williams. Things were looking good.
We stopped. We'd been going for less than a minute. I heard the driver's door open, a scrambling, then nothing. A minute later the door closed again. I raised my head with a wince, turned it slightly and opened my eyes to see Jim coughing and wiping from the corner of his mouth what looked suspiciously like vomit.
'Kinell,' he said. 'You might have to help with the driving.'
Fantastic. That really wasn't what I had planned. My best policy, I decided, was to ignore him and go back to sleep.
The folly of this approach became apparent some time later. Woken by an odd swaying motion, I opened my eyes and stared blankly through the windscreen. Something wasn't right but I wasn't sure what. Flashing lights and a blaring horn soon made it clear enough: we were trundling merrily along the wrong side of what turned out to be the A15 straight into oncoming traffic.
Jim sat beside me, hands on the wheel, head bobbing and eyes closed. I made a strangled scream and grabbed his arm. He immediately awoke. With impressive speed he wrenched the car right across the road and, after a bumpy few seconds, to a scruffy halt on a grass verge. It was at this point that nature didn't so much call as come charging up the garden path, steam through the door and shout 'This is a raid.'
As I traipsed out of the nearby field, wiping my hands and chancing a sly sniff of my fingers, Jim rubbed his eyes and tossed me the keys.
'Bess would've taken 'em. Easy,' he said, confident that in a head-on collision with a Mini we would have emerged unscathed, crushing the traffic in our wake.
'Easy,' I said and started to drive. 'Why aren`t we on the A1?' I asked.
'She can only manage 50.'
I didn`t ask for further explanation. At least I now knew why we set off so early and, besides, this way offered many more opportunities for sudden stops if the need arose.
It didn't and we rolled into Ipswich with time to spare. The sun beat down. The streets around Portman Road were filled with people, milling, joking, brightly dressed in the blue of both teams, the appropriately Brazilianesque yellow of Wednesday or the new, bright orange away shirt of Ipswich. People alone, people in pairs, people in groups. Parents with sons, parents with daughters, parents with parents, all happy and carefree, their hopes for the new season yet to be crushed.
'Fancy a pie?' said Jim, grinning as we entered the ground.
But the holiday atmosphere had forced a spring to my step and I had begun to feel something vaguely like hunger.
'Why not?' I replied.
I found out why not just before half-time. Peter Shirtliff went down under a heavy challenge.
'Oi,' shouted Jim. 'He followed through there.'
'He`s not the only one,' I said, and dashed off to the back of the Kop.
Once there I discovered that Ipswich Town's legendary hospitality didn't extend to the away end. Or to a toilet seat. Or, for that matter, to a lock. That was OK until the first half ended. Then happy Wednesday fans began to bustle past the single cubicle in both directions: laughing, shouting and, much to my alarm, periodically attempting to gain entry. As every fibre of my being drained away, I was forced to hover with one foot jammed as hard as possible against the door. And that's no mean feat when you've got your keks round your ankles.
It was all worth it. In those days statistics weren't such a big thing, but the video of the match has since been Prozoned. Wednesday, it confirmed, enjoyed 99 per cent of the possession - which to me seemed a little low - Carlton Palmer ran the equivalent of twice around the world and John Sheridan completed 467 out of 468 passes, the one exception being a through ball of such craft and beauty that David Hirst stopped to compose a poem in its honour rather than lashing it into the net.
Wednesday's goalkeeper that day is yet to be formally identified as he never appeared on screen. The rumour, however, that he spent the whole game in a hammock rigged up between his posts, swinging gently, sipping on a tall glass of Pimms and reading a copy of Harpers & Queen is a dead giveaway for Kevin Pressman.
Wednesday were awesome. Wednesday were splendid. Wednesday were supreme. And, on this occasion, they even won. I felt great. Tired, but great.
Jim was buoyant, his hangover quite forgotten. We sped home as fast as Bess would carry us, Jim anxious to demonstrate his appreciation with beer, me to spend the rest of my life in bed. I slept peacefully the whole way back. Only as we turned into my street did I awake to that familiar feeling, the one strongly advising me to find a toilet within the next 30 seconds.
I jumped from the car, flung the back door open and raced up the stairs. As I reached the top my heart sank. I stopped and listened. A splash and a giggle. A man`s voice, then a woman`s. I looked around, desperate. Then remembering Jim`s advice, I strode boldly towards the bathroom door.