Guest writer Andy Elliott is a lifelong fan of Sheffield Wednesday and a former national newspaper sports journalist. He now runs his own sports media organisation.
ANOTHER derby, another manager. But it feels like another world.
After not-so-jovial Jos, we’ve now got the Brucie Bounce. After the man with the well-trimmed ‘tache, we’ve now got the bruiser with the bashed-in mug. But don’t let looks fool you. At last, we have a proper football man who gets the club, who knows the Championship, and who has four promotions to the Premier League.
After months of angst, dross and plain dullness, there’s now a more optimistic feel around Hillsborough. Not that any of us really, really, REALLY believe we can get into the playoffs (do we?!). But win against the Blunts and suddenly sunshine will break out across S6.
For lifting our season out of the s…ter, Bruce can have all the plaudits. But he should share them with Lee Bullen. The Scotsman, reprising his role as caretaker, steadied the squad after Luhukay’s departure, put some fire in their bellies, and made them remember just who they were playing for. Bully has got to be one of the heroes of Hillsborough when it comes to a retrospective in years to come. He won’t be in the pantheon that includes Waddle and Hirst, Sheridan and Sterland, or even McCalliog and Megson [Don and Gary], but he’ll be worth a very honourable mention.
There haven’t been many players or coaches more committed to the cause than Bullen. He played in all 11 positions, he captained the club to that pivotal play-off promotion in 2005 and in his last game helped keep us in the second tier.
And in recent years, he’s been there to clean up the mess and tidy the place up for the next manager off the rank.
After the strange situation where the likes of Westwood and Hutchinson were marooned in the stiffs, Bullen reintroduced them and it’s no coincidence that form picked up, was carried on by Bruce’s assistants and then the man himself.
Barring an awful day at the KFC (surely, KCom? – Ed) Stadium in Hull, Wednesday have largely looked what they were meant to be at the start of the season: one of the better teams in the division.
Of course, that can all go out of the window against Sheffield Untidy. Hutch, as we all know, likes a scrap, and with Scots Bannan and Fletcher in the spine of the team, not to mention Forestieri, it could get feisty.
But what Wednesday do have in those players, and others, are hugely experienced characters who might be thinking there won’t be many more shots at getting back into the Premier League. We’ve also got the promise of Iorfa and the on-loan Hector and Aarons and they won’t be fazed by a bundle against the Blunts.
The remainder of this season and next will show us if Bruce can make it five promotions and earn a place in Hillsborough folklore.
Bruce has a remarkable record – twice going up with Birmingham and twice with Hull City – and all four times have come in the near 20 years since the Owls were in the Premier League. This is arguably his biggest task. There isn’t a fortune to spend, he’s got some big earners who have been at the club a while, and he needs to decide whether it’s time for them to shift – or allow them one last tilt at the promised land.
Bruce, because he’s been around the block (and looks carved from it) talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to derby matches. He’s been involved in Manchester, Tyne-Wear and Birmingham derbies and having played and managed our neighbours, knows what Monday night means (unlike the last two).
For a change though, it’s not simply bragging rights at stake. Win and we’ll all start dreaming of the play-offs. Lose and Untidy will be back in the automatic promotion spots and we’ll be left thinking of next season.
United are arguably in better shape now than last November. They’ve had some eye-catching results and we’re both at the s..t-or-bust part of the season.
As a Wednesday fan, would I really be upset if they went up? Would I take a victory for us on Monday in exchange for them getting promoted?
What would be horrible, would be to get stuffed and then see them go up as well. Of course, we could see the nightmare double and have both that United and the Damned lot from up the M1 going up together. That really would put the tin hat on it.
Footnote: Radio Sheffield, The Star and even this Blunts website are all referring to the ‘Steel City’ derby. FFS! Gi’oer!