September 29th, 1990 was when I first attended a Sheffield Wednesday match. I was seven years old and was taken by uncle (in all but name) who is the brother of one of our former players. It was an exciting time, as I had just started getting into football following the World Cup in Italy that summer. I know some people found that tournament to be dull, but for me it will always have a special place in my heart.
The 1990/1991 season was an incredible time to start my obsession with Wednesday. We had some incredible players, and we won promotion back to Division One (yes, football did exist before the Premier League), as well as beating Manchester United at Wembley to win the League Cup.
My interest in football would rise and fall over the years, but surprisingly there was little correlation with the success of the club. I can’t remember much of 1993-1995, for example, nor can I remember much of 2003-2005 as I was in an alcohol fuelled haze at university. I was obsessed in the late 90s though and hardly missed a home game, and had my first taste of travelling to see the Owls. My first away game was a win at Filbert Street, with goals from Wim Jonk and Benito Carbone.
The thing about Wednesday is that we should be a big club. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, or mean that we have an automatic right to be a big club. What I mean is, we have all the necessary ingredients to be a big club. Sheffield is the fourth largest city in England; bigger than Liverpool and Newcastle. In terms of population, Sheffield ranks fifth ahead of Leeds and Manchester (not the area of Greater Manchester though). We should be a big club sitting comfortably in the top half of the Premier League, occasionally flirting with Europe. If I take off my blue and white glasses, I have to admit that Sheffield United should also be a Premier League club. The thing is, Sheffield is not like other cities.
I’ve attended the University of Leicester and the University of Central Lancashire. I’ve mixed with people from all over the UK, and so many of them know nothing about Sheffield. Despite the size of the city, it’s almost hidden from public view, and we don’t do enough to capitalise on the rich history of the city, with the oldest independent football club in the world being Sheffield F.C., formed in 1857. Sheffield Wednesday followed just ten years later in 1867. We are an old club, steeped in history. To put this in historical context, Wednesday were formed just two years after the end of the US Civil War. All this history could very well be coming to an end in the next few weeks and months.
Sheffield Wednesday have been a state of steady decline, interrupted by the occasional good season, for almost thirty years. There is no single factor that led to this downturn, although some of the more commonly cited causes are the sacking of Trevor Francis as manager, to Dave Richards being more focused on his external career, to the club’s failure to stand by Paulo Di Canio, to the disastrous signings of the Scottish trio sometimes referred to as Phil O’Donnelly; Simon Donnelly, Phil O’Donnell and Phil Scott. If there is one thing that stands out at Wednesday, it is the ability to sign players on big wages and then let them go for nothing.
Over the years I have seen a number of quality players come to Hillsborough, perform well and then leave for an insultingly low price, or even nothing. Then, there are the players brought here on insane contracts who contributed little or nothing. I’m thinking of; Wim Jonk, Andy Hinchcliffe, Phil O’Donnelly, Emerson Thome, Dejan Stefanovic, Darko Kovacevic, Gilles de Bilde, Gerald Sibon, Benito Carbone, Paulo Di Canio, Glenn Whelan, Chris Brunt, Madjid Bougherra, Tom Lees, Adam Reach, Steven Fletcher, Gary Hooper, Jordan Rhodes, Fernando Forestieri, Almen Abdi… These are just off the top of my head, but when you dig deeper and look at some of the more recent loan signings, such as Will Buckley, Callum McManaman or Izzy Brown, it just blows your mind. I can’t even get started on the farcical way the club allowed George Hirst, Sean Clare and Liam Shaw to leave for almost nothing. Over the years, the amount of money the club has wasted on fees and wages is enough to make your eyes water.
As we approach the 2021/2022 season, The Owls will be starting in League One which is the third tier of English football. The club was relegated from the Championship by three points, after starting the season with a twelve point deduction (reduced to six on appeal). The penalty was applied because the club was deemed to have broken the financial fair play rules that are a complete fucking mystery (CFM) to myself and many other football supporters. This all related to the sale of the stadium by owner Dejphon Chansiri to *checks notes* Dejphon Chansiri. Although Wednesday are not the only club to have done this, and although the act of selling the stadium is not a breach of the rules in itself (so far as I understand) the issue related to how the sale was recorded in the accounts. I’m not going to go into detail about this side of things because it is another CFM to me.
I’m sure that you are probably wondering why the sale was necessary. The answer is that the club spent way too much money on transfers and wages for players that were not required. The club failed to sell when the time was right, and so players who could have brought the club a healthy profit such as Forestieri (signed for £3M and we rejected offers of over £10M) were allowed to walk away for nothing. The one signing that really sticks in the craw of many Owls fans is that of Jordan Rhodes. Figures quoted for the transfer vary anywhere from £8M to £10M, with wages of £25k-£50k per week reported. I’ll be conservative and assume the reality was at the lower end of that range. Jordan Rhodes will have cost the club, over his four-year contract, somewhere in the region of £13M. Now, I used to be a huge fan of Jordan Rhodes and was excited when we signed him, but this was before I knew the full extent of our crazy transfer strategy. Having left Wednesday, Rhodes will be remembered mostly for, allegedly, refusing to take a penalty in the play-off semi-final against his former (and now current) club Huddersfield. Wednesday lost that penalty shoot out.
A Glitch in the Matrix
Does Almen Abdi exist? I’m sure I’ve seen him play, so he must do. According to the archives, Abdi was at the club from the 2016/2017 season until the end of the 2018/2019 season. In that time, he made twenty appearances. He was signed for a reported £4M from Watford and would have been on a decent contract at the club. If we assume he was on £15k per week, then he would have cost the club approximately £6.34M. Then, there are the examples of Joost van Aken, David Jones, Will Buckley and Urby Emanuelson.
When you start crunching the numbers you see a depressing pattern of signing players and then hardly using them. You see a pattern of unnecessary signings that unbalanced the squad, and a failure to address the problems that all Wednesday fans saw when leaving Wembley in 2016. We needed a midfield monster. We needed pace. We got neither.
Followed the play-off final defeat in the 2015/2016 season, and the semi-final defeat in 2016/2017, the club needed change. The manager, Carlos Carvalhal, should have been replaced. It was nothing personal, it was simply the right time. Instead, we had one of the worst seasons in recent years. We had over a dozen first team players injured at the same time. We went game after game without a shot on target. We were humiliated at home by Sheffield United, who demonstrated that an effective team could be crafted with pace, power and hard work. We eventually replaced Carvalhal with Jos Luhukay. Don’t worry, I’ll wait whilst you look him up.
Right, you back? Great. I didn’t mind Jos that much, to be honest. At this point it was becoming obvious to many fans that the problems at the club ran deeper than who was manager. The players seemed too complacent and, depending on who you asked, were wielding too much power behind the scenes. Jos tried to forge a new, younger, side. It didn’t work. Jos left the club after almost a year in charge.
Our next manager seemed like a return to sanity as we appointed Steve Bruce, but not before giving him a few weeks to watch cricket. No, really. We let him delay starting his job because he wanted to watch cricket. Bruce had just come off the back of an awful year where he had health issues and lost both parents. I didn’t have too much of an issue with him taking some time. What really angered a lot of people was when he walked away from Wednesday to take the Newcastle job just weeks after being appointed. It was disrespectful. We then endured Garry Monk and Tony Pulis before ending up with Darren Moore. The calibre of manager appointed has not exactly been stellar.
Throughout all these managerial changes, there has been one man at the top, the owner of the club Dejphon Chansiri. If there is one thing his ownership has brought, it is some quality memes with Owlstalk boasting a 37 page thread dedicated to SWFC memes, of which there are some examples below:
Sheffield is a working class city with people that are, by and large, friendly and welcoming. Chansiri was welcomed to the city and the fans went out of their way to show respect to his Thai culture, such as when the stadium held a two minute silence before a match to honour the death of the Thai King in October 2016. The timeline of Chansiri’s ownership is
batshit crazy interesting and there is a 19 page thread on this issue on the fans forum Owlstalk. A few highlights include
- Having Buddhist monks bless the ground in April 2015.
- Sale of replica kits being delayed weeks into the season in 2016/2017 and 2017/2018.
- Cakeball which is exactly what it sounds like.
- Club 1867; a promotion so bad it failed twice.
- The banning of BBC Radio Sheffield for a time in 2018.
- Multiple transfer embargoes.
- Several reported instances of players being paid late and/or reduced amounts.
- Membership and ticket prices rising several times, despite fans being told their money does not make a difference.
The list is pretty long and embarrassing. Despite the fans showing respect to Chansiri’s background and culture, I’ve met several fans who think that has not been reciprocated.
I don’t doubt that Chansiri had the best of intentions when he took over the club, but I look at his time as owner and cannot see it as anything other than an abject failure. The club is in a perilous financial state and has gone from being a stable, if uninspiring, Championship club to one that may not start the season. Wednesday no longer own their own stadium and have a squad of players that is small, and lacking in fight and ability. There is now talk of some of our remaining players walking away from their contracts due to not being paid on time. There are rumours of possible points deductions for the coming season. If you were a professional footballer, would you sign for a club in this situation? Doubtful.
Questions also need to be asked over the future of the manager, Darren Moore, and his coaching staff. I don’t know Darren Moore, but I would be amazed if he’s not asked himself whether it would be better to walk away now rather than face the coming season, where we could start on minus points with possibly the weakest squad the club has ever put together.
Some bookies have Wednesday as favourites to win League One next season and I just can’t understand how they arrived at this. There is honestly more chance of relegation next season unless we see major change at all levels of the club. We need a clean slate; a fresh start and I think the only way to achieve that is to force Chansiri to sell. I strongly oppose any form of personal abuse towards our owner. This isn’t personal. This is about the survival of the club, and the continuation of over 150 years of history. There are many fans who take pride in supporting their club through the good times and the bad. In most cases, this is the right course of action. However, in this instance, I think the best way to secure the future of the club is stop putting any more cash into it. The fans need to keep their wallets firmly closed. This is the only way to force a sale. It will, unfortunately, be a game of who blinks first. There is the possibility that Chansiri could just liquidate the club, and sell the stadium to a property developer. As things stand, I believe it’s a case of when the club dies as opposed to if the club dies. As the saying goes, if you find yourself falling, you might as well try to flap your arms and fly.
Thank you for reading this post on davidscothern.com. Please subscribe for email updates using the link at the bottom of the page. If you have enjoyed this post, please consider showing your support and Buy Me A Coffee using the link below.