As one of English football’s true fallen giants, Sheffield Wednesday have spent over a decade now trying to awaken themselves from their stupor, with clichés galore thrown into the mix at their demise’s every mention (even in this article it would appear).
Since Premier League status was lost in 2000 it has been a fairly steady stream of disappointment for the masses of magnificently loyal Owls fans. It appeared that the club was finally dragged from its knees when the team led by manager Paul Sturrock secured promotion via the League One play-off final in May 2005, after an extra-time win over Hartlepool United. The live Sky commentary of the game exclaiming ‘this was the day the decline stopped’, Wednesdayites had every reason to believe too. After four seasons of consolidation in the second tier under Sturrock and later Brian Laws, things quickly obliterated in the winter of 2009.
Under Laws, Wednesday had typically gone on good runs before struggling with sequences of the contrary, although this time there would be no salvation and the former Forest defender lost his job in December of that year. Former Preston North End gaffer Alan Irvine took the so-called poisoned chalice of the Hillsborough reigns in January 2010 but despite early promise the team under his management weakly surrendered Championship status, failing to win any of their final seven league games.
Despite Irvine’s summer 2010 squad overhaul, a lot of the old problems remained and batterings at the likes of Exeter City and Leyton Orient saw Wednesday slip from promotion contention to mid-table by the time of his sacking in February 2011. Of course a certain Milan Mandaric had taken over the club at the crucial time in late 2010 with the proud South Yorkshire giants on the brink of ruin after years of mismanagement at all levels. Known as a bit of a ‘hirer and firer’ from his time at Portsmouth and Leicester City, Mandaric stuck with Irvine as results waned, even backing him with over £1million in the January transfer window. As it was, a 5-3 defeat to Peterborough United tipped the Scot over the edge and it was former Owls midfielder Gary Megson, son of ex-Wednesday hero Don, who picked up the vacant manager’s position.
Initial results were not great for Megson with a relegation battle seeming very likely until the team finally managed to find that results formula, a simple one in principle but not always quite as easy in practice. A home win over Colchester in April was crucial and three more successes at Hillsborough dispelled any demotion anxieties. This summer the club have been named as many people’s favourites for promotion, seemingly on the basis of Mandaric being prepared to spend the money. However, it has not been an indulgent summer at S6 with many leaving and only striker Chris O’Grady from Rochdale and Bristol Rovers midfielder Chris Lines joining for fees with a further four free signings and three loans. The tightening of the purse strings has been applauded by many relieved at seeing the club using business sense at long last, while some others have decided to bemoan the approach, fearing an adverse effect on the team’s firepower.
What is abundantly clear is that the process of turning a club around which has suffered troubles from top to bottom for so many years is a gradual one.
It is even more evident on the field that to go from 15th to promotion winners the next campaign is no mean feat, but hope is there. Wednesday have kicked off the season with three home wins in the league, although the optimism was dampened significantly by away defeats to Bournemouth and Bury earlier in the month. The club has signalled that there is more business to be done in the transfer market before the window closes in the coming days, although long-time striking target Adam Le Fondre has now signed for Reading from South Yorkshire rivals Rotherham United. There is so much to do to eradicate the club’s problems but with Mandaric at the helm and a true Wednesday man in charge with the clearest no-nonsense approach around, fans can rest assured knowing that the steps to progress are here.
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