Team Spirit? Aye, Make Mine A Double
Is it necessary to wear a flat cap to be a Sheffield Wednesday supporter? Do I need to smoke forty Woodbines a day in order to be accepted as a fan of the Owls? Or do I need to buy a pair of shiny black lace up boots in order to watch the team I love?
The answer is obviously 'No', even though my grandfather met these criteria during his lifetime of devotion to the club.
So, do I need to drive to the ground in a new Audi TT, wear designer clothing, or earn over £60,000 a year in order to see the same club I and my grandfather spent a lifetime supporting?
The answer again is 'No'.
However, in the 100 years me and my grandfather have supported Sheffield Wednesday, being a devoted football supporter has changed dramatically. These changes have been extremely radical in terms of who can and who cannot dedicate time and money to a football club they love.
When I was much younger I mixed with friends from both camps in Sheffield and, because gate prices to both Sheffield clubs was so affordable then, alternate Saturdays were spent visiting each other's club. There was no violence, just the usual rivalry banter and I always made the excuse that I went to the 'Lane' just to see the cricket scoreboard. Likewise, my friends from the other camp said they only came to Hillsborough to see our electronic scoreboard.
What is also strikingly true though, is that whatever ground or match my friends and I went to, there was always a common bond between us all. We loved our clubs passionately and, more importantly, we respected and expected that of each other too. Regardless of age, creed, race, sex or even status, you could always guarantee that the person standing next to you was equally devoted to his football team, even if they wore different colours to those of your own team.
The crazy transfer fees demanded from gifted players cascaded the changes in how we watch football. Newspaper media moguls pioneered the exclusion of free TV viewing of the popular football clubs. And, it's a tragic irony that a Russian man would exploit the collapse of the Soviet Union and squander his new found wealth in one English football club.
This is not excusing all the radical changes in how we continue to support our respective football clubs; it's how we understand how such changes have affected our views and expectations for the future - in so much that Sheffield Wednesday supporters now pray that a similar wealthy individual invests money into their club too.
And yet, the recent events (and non-events) at Hillsborough have made me stop and think - about my role in this ever changing scheme of things related to Sheffield Wednesday. Am I going to abandon my 50 years support for the club and its team? Shall I give up that undeniable love I have held so long? The short answer is 'Never' and furthermore, neither shall I shun the belief shown by legends such as the likes of Megson, Springett, Craig, Waddle, Hirst (who still come to Hillsborough) and the players who didn't become legends but still gave their never ending allegiance to the club.
So, the next time you are at Hillsborough, share a thought for the players who are now warming up for the next match. Close your eyes and shut out the surrounding sound until there is apparent silence. Permit your spirit to wander down to the pitch - amongst the players wearing the same blue and white shirts you idolize. You don't care that none of the players are worth £20m - you set your spirit free with a demand that they give 100% effort.
You clench your fists and with a tingling sensation that ripples from your toes to top of your scalp, you then realise how lucky you are to love a club like Sheffield Wednesday.
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