Hello! My first blog of the season is a bit late, I know. There are many reasons for this and I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of it all. Normally, I’d blather on about what it’s like looking at everything from the bottom, up – in other words, what it’s like being a Wednesday fan down south, or daaahhhn saaaaaff here in Berkshire – looking from the south, up north to the greatest team in Yorkshire. The greatest team in the world, actually, Sheffield Wednesday.
So, instead of banging on about results and my interesting trip down to Brighton for the 3-0 tanking, (I’ll leave that until next month’s blog) I’ll be providing a book review instead - one, because I was given a book to review, and two, because the publishers asked Wednesdayite if they’d do a blog about it. The book is called ‘Sheffield Wednesday – 20 Legends’ by Tom Whitworth and Chris Olewicz, £14.99 published by Vertical (www.verticaleditions.com). I was delighted to give it a read and provide this review of it.
Now, what is a legend? When I was a kid a legend was a story or myth. As I grew up and entered my late teens I seem to remember the term took on new meaning – mainly, describing a person who perhaps had been loved by the public since day dot, or, someone who was perceived to be a bit past it, loved by your mum (although you’d always had a secret admiration for them). For example, I remember someone in our sixth form common room coming in one morning to announce that Tom Jones was a legend. Legend?! Tom Jones?! The dyed-haired, hairy-chested Welshman whom, yes, had indeed sold many records but now, in the late nineties, a legend? Well yes, if you’ve ever heard his ‘Reload’ album – what a legend! Glastonbury has since gone on to showcase such ‘Legends’– Rolf Harris, Neil Diamond, Chas and Dave to name a few. A gentle reminder to us all that even if you have a period of being naff, you can always end up with legendary status.
However, when it comes to football? What makes a legend? I’m sure you have your own view. Yes, a legend could be a player whose spell was through a successful period, or a player whose skill and commitment pleased the crowd week in, week out. A legend, to me, is all of those things and perhaps a player who’s still talked about. In Tom Whitworth and Chris Olewicz’s book, ‘Sheffield Wednesday – 20 Legends’ they include those worthy of being legends. In the book you’ll find sixteen players, including David Hirst, Ron Springett, Lee Bullen and Des Walker. Also included are the indispensable Roland Nilsson, Chris Waddle and the legend of legends, John Sheridan. There’s some managers thrown in, which makes a refreshing touch to a book like this including Howard Wilkinson, Derek Dooley (who’s playing career is covered too) and the other legend of legends, Jack Charlton.
There are also a few surprises such as Paolo Di Canio. There’s no doubt he scored some blinders, but his inconsistency will leave some pondering whether he’s a worthy inclusion. If comedy is your goal, then Di Canio will be remembered, in footballing legend for years to come pushing over theatrical referee Paul Alcock against Arsenal at Hillsborough. Tom Whitworth and Chris Olewicz note in the chapter on Di Canio that the over-acted falling of Alcock from the Italian’s push was the final straw in Wednesday’s decline at the time. The authors are not scared to remind us of how much money we’d shelled out on players (and on wages) and how Di Canio’s outburst was metaphorically the club going over the cliff, only to plunge into despair and increasing severe debt. Saying this, the authors are fair to Di Canio’s career and include what happened to him when he left Wednesday and his success at West Ham, including ‘that’ volley – regarded by some as one of the best goals the Premier League has seen in its twenty year history.
For me, reading about some of the legends before my time as a Wednesday supporter was interesting. With recent times under Gary Megson some fans will be pleased to know Megson’s old man, Don Megson, makes the list of twenty legends to ‘don’ the blue and white stripes. As I mentioned earlier, there are a few surprises. The North Stand makes it to the legends list and the chapter on it has some wonderful charm, picture-painting and loving affection. It’s brilliant to see Jack Charlton make the book, how could you leave him out? Though he wasn’t a player at Sheffield Wednesday he’ll certainly be remembered as a manager. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the 1979 Boxing Day Massacre Legends Dinner in February, earlier this year. Despite Wor Jack’s age, he was jovial, warm and incredibly respectful of his time at Sheffield Wednesday. I remember watching his face as we watched highlights of the 1979 Boxing Day match. Terry Curran’s curler, what a goal (!) and the smile on Wor Jack’s face!! He’s Wednesday through and through, believe me.
I also met David Hirst that night at Hillsborough. The feeling of waiting ages to meet Hirst was over in a moment, sharing a chat outside, we spoke about commentating on the radio. It was a brilliant five minute chat, just enough to avoid outstaying my welcome and we both went back in to the Hillsborough Suite in the South Stand. That particular evening, Hirst was fairly modest about his achievements (as he was hosting the dinner) and respectfully focussed attention on the players who’d gathered for the 1979 Legends Dinner. However, Hirst gets his shining write up here in the book and it’s rightfully worded and reflected. Some players, including Hirst were interviewed whilst the authors, Tom Whitworth and Chris Olewicz researched the book. Reading the chapter on David Hirst reminds you of his pace, power and pin-point goal-scoring accuracy. He was lethal on his day. Then, there were the injuries. We’re left to wonder what else Hirst could’ve achieved, let alone if he’d made a decent England International career (which I believe he was certainly worthy of in my opinion).
As Wednesday fans, we can all look back with silver lining. Perhaps we remember things slightly better than they were in the good ol’ days? This book certainly helps! As a Wednesday fan for twenty years I certainly have experienced the rough with the smooth. Younger fans may only have the 5th May this year as a highlight, or the derby win earlier in the season at Hillsborough, or perhaps the day at Cardiff in 2005. The Cardiff win, as pictured in the middle of the book is the only mistake I spotted, not that I was purposely trying to spot them. The photo with Lee Bullen says it was 2004, but we all know it was 2005. Thing is, it doesn’t matter, we went up, won 4-2 and THAT’S all that matters! UTO!
What I loved about this book is that each legend’s career either side of their time at Wednesday has been covered. There’s a fair reflection on any politics that were involved at the time, some of which, is blood-boiling, but that’s all in the past and the (saviour) days of Milan Mandaric are here. It’s clichéd to say but young or old, if you’re a Wednesday fan, you’ll love this book. Regular readers to my blog will know I’m a huge fan of Chris Waddle and it’d been easy of me to bang on about ‘Le Magicien’ (as the Marseille fans tagged him) – but it’s all here in the book for you to read for yourself. Waddle, brilliant as he was, plagued by injury in his latter career at Wednesday is given a good sounding. Other players of that ‘generation’ such as Roland Nilsson and John Sheridan are also given worthy accounts.
My only criticism of the book is the photo of the ‘legendary’ South Stand on the back cover, it’s part-full and in the snap of John Sheridan, with the league cup aloft, he looks slightly disinterested. I also stopped to wonder if Sheridan had an old T18 Ericsson in his hand, then I remembered it was 1991 and the item in his right palm is a cup winner’s medal.
The back photos aside, ‘Sheffield Wednesday – 20 Legends’ is a brilliant account of each player, manager (and stand). You can tell it’s been a labour of love and the effort to reminisce is unbiased and balanced. If you’re a Wednesday fan and you’re looking for a gift, be it for Christmas or a birthday, or simply looking to treat yourself, here’s £15 quid of hardback you won’t regret shelling out for. Its lasting brilliance is that you don’t have to read it in order, you can simply look up the legend you wish to read about and off you go! What more could you want from the greatest football team ever to exist, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club.
See you next month, folks!
The Southern Owl
Follow me on Twitter @rory_mcallister
‘Sheffield Wednesday – 20 Legends’ by Tom Whitworth and Chris Olewicz is published by Vertical and priced at £14.99. To purchase your copy visit the Owls online shop by clicking here.
Or for your chance to win a copy for yourself simply answer the following question;
Which team did Owls legend David Hirst score his one and only full international goal against ?
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