Andy Elliott hails originally from Todwick and is a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday fan. He was deputy sports editor of the Daily Express in London. Prior to that Andy was No2 on the sports desk at the Yorkshire Post. He learned his trade in the sports departments of the Hull Daily Mail and former Sheffield daily, the Morning Telegraph. Andy now runs his own sports media company, Sport Acuity, based in York.
I HATE derbies – well, Sheffield ones anyway.
Nervous anticipation for at least a week before; 90-odd minutes of gut-churning tension; then emotions ranging from delight, relief or just pain, usually for another week.
And that’s just during the good times when Sheffield Wednesday’s season is going well.
Currently, we are in disarray. After Saturday’s 0-4 capitulation at home to Norwich, angry fans confronted owner Dejphon Chansiri demanding the sacking of manager Jos Luhukay (pictured above). As it all fell apart during the match, supporters chanted the names of Sam Hutchinson and Keiren Westwood and Luhukay had to defend himself against accusations that certain players were being frozen out due to contractual issues. On top of that, we have the best medical-room line-up in the Championship with a string of top performers out.
The mood around Hillsborough is not going to lift quickly. Even if the Dutchman goes, fans will still be going to the Circus (sorry, Bramall Lane) full of trepidation while those of us watching Sky Sports will do so from behind the settee.
If we get a stuffing and Luhukay is still manager, then he could see his tenure end where it started when he managed a draw at the Lane at the beginning of this year.
Because of the gloom hanging over S6, Friday’s match could also go down as one of the most passionless derbies in the nearly 130 years since the clubs first met. That would be a shame as the two meetings are still those that fans look for first when the fixtures come out.
Having said that, if it dampens any aggro, that won’t be a bad thing either. I know we Wednesday fans are not meant to like United. But call me old-fashioned (or just old) but it’s never been that way for me or my brother in 50-plus years of going to Hillsborough.
We can remember fans of both clubs standing together, having shared a bus ride and a pint beforehand. Yes, it was rough at work on a Monday for whoever lost, but it always sparked some genuinely funny banter.
For some reason we are now meant to hate each other. Maybe it’s because Wednesday always saw themselves as the superior club and could point to trophies and league position over a century as reason why. But then after the 90s it all started to change and it’s chilling to think that the Blunts have been in the Premier League more recently than we have.
So maybe we can no longer stomach being possibly inferior to our neighbours. Or maybe it’s just because we are told by media that the ‘Steel City derby’ is one of football’s great rivalries. But is it?
There’s no religious divide (Celtic-Rangers); there is no political conflict (Lazio-Roma); it’s not tribal (Liverpool-United). We don’t tear-gas the opposing team (River Plate-Boca Juniors), we don’t throw pigs heads (Barcelona-Real Madrid). Apart from the tragedy in 1993 – a United fan died following the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley after being felled with a single punch thrown by a Wednesday supporter who was convicted of manslaughter – the match is not characterised by guns, knives and wholesale violence like those in Belgrade, Istanbul, Cairo and Athens.
We don’t even make the Daily Telegraph’s ‘20 biggest rivalries in world football’. (And by the way has anyone in Sheffield ever called it a Steel City derby? - “Ey up, are tha off t’ Steel City derby?” – “What the ‘ecker’s that then?!”)
But if we’re not Sky’s or the Telegraph’s view of a top class derby – it’s still our derby and we know what we want. We just like a good football match: full of blood and thunder (or as the late, great Peter Cooper of the Daily Mirror called it, “thud and blunder”), packed with incident, packed with goals (as long as we score them), and then a few beers afterwards.
Sadly, because we’re a crock of …. at the moment, it’s unlikely to be a vintage meeting of the clubs. At this stage of the week, I’d settle for that dull draw that dull Jos got last January. Then we can forget all about derbies and focus on trying to stay in the Championship. Except, we’ve got the so-and-sos in March when our season could be in a right state.
Anyway, while we’ve nothing much to get excited about at the moment, I’m sure that all Wednesday fans will still be pumped up come Friday teatime.
But if we needed a reminder to maintain a sense of perspective it will come with a brief ceremony before kick-off. Veterans will provide a guard of honour, wreaths will be laid at both ends, and a bugler will sound the Last Post. That should surely tell us all about football’s place in the real world.