Sheffield Wednesday Football Club
Sheffield Wednesday, or The Owls as they are nicknamed by fans, is the 5th oldest professional football club in England.
One of the only clubs in the world with a day in its name, Wednesday has a turbulent history. Triumphant periods of league and cup victory are intertwined with tragedy and disaster for the club, meaning Owls fans have had to get used to living on a knife-edge in a city famous for its steel.
The Early (Most Successful) Years
Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (SWFC) started life as a cricket club in the early 19th century, much like many other English football clubs established during the 1800s. The Wednesday Cricket Club started playing football together in an effort to keep fit and in 1867 The Wednesday, as SWFC was first known, was born.
At first the team played to ‘Sheffield Rules’, set out by the founders of the oldest football club in the world, Sheffield FC. The rules were different to those used by the national football association. Under these rules, players were allowed to punch and catch the ball in certain situations, as well as push others on the pitch with two hands. However this changed in 1878 when Sheffield Football Association merged with the national FA and a rulebook incorporating both associations rules became the standard.
By the 1890s The Wednesday was a professional club, and in 1892 joined the Football League as we know it today. Wednesday had a triumphant start, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers to win the FA Cup in 1896. This success was followed by a change of venue and Wednesday found a permanent home at Hillsborough (then known as Owlerton) after years of drifting around the city. They had played at various venues in Sheffield, including Bramall Lane – now the home of their fiercest rival, Sheffield United.
More triumph followed and Wednesday, who began life at Hillsborough in the second division, won every home game in the 1899-1900 season – a feat accomplished by only seven teams in the history of the football league.
Success was the order of the decade, and the club won the championship for the first time in 1903, beating their main title rivals, Sunderland, 1-0 along the way. The Wednesday successfully defended their title in 1904, and a comprehensive 3-0 win over rivals, Sheffield United, cemented Wednesday’s position as the top club in the city, as well as the league. The team added the FA Cup to their trophy cabinet in 1907 after an impressive campaign.
It was also during this time that Wednesday adopted their Owls nickname, having previously been known as ‘The Blades’ which is now used for their neighbours Sheffield United.
The Return To Glory
Wednesday lost their winning instinct quickly, and found it impossible to regain league or cup-winning form until 1929, which saw them win the football league for the third time in the club’s history. The next season, Wednesday was renamed as Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, and more success followed. The club flew high in both the league and the FA Cup, but hopes that they would become the first team to win the double in the 20th Century were dashed, as they lost to Huddersfield in the FA cup semi-final. However, the league was retained, and Wednesday kept up the success to win the FA cup for the third time in 1935.
Wednesday’s inconsistency meant they suffered after the war, and the lack of trophies throughout the 1940s and 50s gave fans little to remember of the victorious blue-and-white team of two decades earlier. The 1950s saw the team relegated three times, only for them to bounce back to the first division after each disappointment.
It was in 1960 that Harry Catterick took charge, causing a rift amongst fans as he opted to change little about the team he inherited. His choices paid off though, and Wednesday pulled off some stunning victories during the season, including a 6-1 thrashing of Fulham and a thrilling 7-2 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. However, with four games to go and Wednesday lying second in the table, Catterick shocked the club by handing in his resignation and joining Everton a week later.
Off the field, other developments were taking place, and in 1964 the famous betting scandal which embroiled English football meant that three Owls players were suspended for betting on games which they had purposely lost. Peter Swan, Tony Kay and David Layne were all convicted of match-fixing, in a game against Ipswich Town, which Wednesday lost 2-0. All three served jail terms and were banned from the game for life, as fans of the game became disillusioned with English football.
Division Three Blues
The bleak times of the 1970s held little joy for the Owls, who went from being Division One title fighters to feeding on the scraps in the lowest division of the league. Following the worst season in the club’s history, Wednesday were with the minnows in Division Three, having lost every away game for the past 22 months. They were to languish here for the next five seasons.
The infamous Hillsborough disaster happened on 15 April 1989, and to this day is Britain’s worst ever stadium tragedy. During an FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, thousands of Liverpool fans were allowed by police into the Leppings Lane End of the stadium, adding to the already overcrowded conditions. 96 people died in the resulting crush, despite the efforts of other fans who attempted to lift supporters that were literally dying on their feet, over the high anti-hooligan barriers they were pushed against.
An inquiry blamed a failure of police control for the disaster, and as a result, stadia throughout the UK were ordered to remove pitchside fences and adopt an all-seater style, to avoid any recurrence of events at Hillsborough. A memorial to the victims stands outside the south stand of the Sheffield Wednesday ground.
Under the management of Jack Charlton, Wednesday climbed through the leagues before Howard Wilkinson put them in the First Division and kept them there for much of the next decade. In 1991 the club spent a season in the second tier for the first time in 17 years. However, they rectified this blip in form, and quickly rose back into the top division in 1991, the same year that Ron Atkinson led the club to league cup victory in an impressive campaign.
Several first division stable mates were dispatched early on, and when it came to the semi-final, the Owls were underdogs to Bobby Campbell’s Chelsea. Wednesday pulled out a convincing victory, beating the Blues 3-1 at home and 2-0 at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. However, fans had to wait to the final to see the club’s most dogged performance of the campaign, against the might of a Manchester United team on the up and full of potential under Alex Ferguson. Wednesday played magnificently, and just before half time, John Sheridan claimed the match-winner with a beautifully taken shot on the bounce. The trophy was theirs – the first club honour for nearly sixty years.
Just as the celebrations were winding down, a managerial bombshell shook Wednesday for the second time in its history. Fans were devastated as Atkinson handed in his notice for resignation, just a few weeks after the league cup win and promotion to the first division.
Trevor Francis was quickly installed in the newly vacant manager spot. Francis guided the team to its highest top-tier finish in years, and the third spot in 1992 meant European football for the Owls, for the first time in their history.
With the UEFA cup beckoning, it was reckoned that some big guns were needed, and Francis brought in ex-England stalwart Chris Waddle, as well as striker Mark Bright from Crystal Palace. The stars faltered in Europe though, and a 3-1 defeat in Germany to Kaiserslautern made it nearly impossible to turn the fixture around at Hillsborough.
Despite this, SWFC continued their Premiership form, winning game after game in a streak which saw them rise to fourth by the end of February. A string of victories in the FA cup also saw them face city rivals, Sheffield United, in the semi-final, a thrilling tie in which Wednesday dominated The Blades and beat them 2-1.
A tense FA cup final ended in disappointment for The Owls and Arsenal walked away with the cup with less than a minute of extra time left before penalties. The FA cup loss, combined with an exciting league cup campaign which ultimately ended in disappointment, again in a final against Arsenal, meant Wednesday finished off a blistering season without silverware yet again.
The next season was less successful still, and a succession of big name players left the club before the season started. A 7th place finish was all Wednesday could manage, and their form continued to droop, with the exception of a few big wins at the formidable ‘Fortress Hillsborough’. Another underachieving season meant Wednesday slipped to 8th place in 1995, and in May both the manager and the club decided it was time for Francis to move on.
The next nine years, between 1995 and 2004, saw eight different managers take charge of the club. This period of turbulence and change meant the Owls plummeted from the heights of the Premiership to the third division, taking with them vital TV and sponsorship money, whilst leaving behind experienced and talented players.
At first the changes looked promising, and a 7th placed Premiership finish confirmed the Owls still meant business in the top tier. Expectations were high at Hillsborough, and the £4.5m capture of Celtic’s exciting striker, Paulo Di Canio, showed the league that the Owls had something to prove. However, a poor start to the season meant Wednesday found themselves at the bottom of the table by November, and manager David Pleat was sacked as a result. The shock return of Ron Atkinson lasted only until the end of the season, when a 16th placed finish was all the manager could muster.
Former Barnsley boss, Danny Wilson, became the next manager to fail at SWFC, leading the club to the bottom of the table and giving Assistant Manager Peter Shreeves the ultimately impossible task of Premiership salvation of a club who were bottom of the table at the end of March.
Relegated, and faced with their first non-Premiership season in over a decade, several experienced Wednesday players resigned, giving ex-Bradford boss, Paul Jewell, the unenviable task of propelling the Owls back into life with the big boys. However, he was unable to do so and, by February, Shreeves was again in place to save the club. This time he succeeded, leading Wednesday to safety in 2001.
The elation didn’t last long though, and after accepting the manager’s job on a full-time basis, he resigned in October, after winning just one of 13 games in the league.
More managers followed, including Terry Yorath, Shreeves’ assistant, who saved the club from relegation once again in 2002. Others, such as Chris Turner, only made the situation worse; he led the Owls to relegation from Division One in 2003. Turner stayed, but signed his own death warrant in 2004 when the club fell to 16th in Division Two, a blow for fans who expected Wednesday to make an immediate return to the second tier.
The Sturrock Revival
Ex-Southampton manager, Paul Sturrock, replaced Turner in October of the 2004-05 season and had an immediate effect in the newly named League 1.* An impressive run saw the Owls reach the play-offs, and a 3-1 demolition of Brentford sent them into the final with high hopes. 40,000 Owls fans travelled to Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium to watch their team take on Hartlepool United. A score line of 2-2 at the final whistle made for a tense extra-time period for both sets of fans, but Wednesday youngsters, Glenn Whelan and Drew Talbot, hit the target in the final 30 minutes to secure Championship football and send thousands of fans crazy in Cardiff.
Sturrock stayed on at the club, and held onto Championship football in 2006, by guiding the Owls to 19th place. However, he was sacked at the beginning of the 2006-07 season after a disappointing start, and ex-Scunthorpe boss Brian Laws became the club’s 14th boss in 11 years. Laws kept Wednesday in the Championship for another season, placing them in a respectable 9th position, just five points shy of a play-off position.
In Laws, fans hope the club has finally found a manager who can do justice to its illustrious and often unlucky history. Whatever the next few seasons bring for Sheffield Wednesday, one thing they can be sure of is die-hard support, no matter what their fortunes.
- First Division
- Champions 1903, 1904, 1929, 1930
- Second Division
- Champions 1900, 1926, 1952, 1956 1959
- Promoted 1950, 1984, 1991
- League 1
- Play-Off Winners 2005
- FA Cup
- Winners 1896, 1907, 1935
- Runner-Up 1890, 1966, 1993
- League Cup
- Winners 1991
- Runner-Up 1993
- Charity Shield
- Winners 1935
- Runner-Up 1930
- Record Attendance: 72,841 v Manchester City, FA Cup 5th Round, 17 February 1934
- Record Win: 12-0, FA Cup v Halliwell, 17 January 1891
- Most Capped Player: Nigel Worthington, Northern Ireland (50 caps)
- Youngest Player: Goalkeeper Peter Fox, 15 years 269 days v Orient, 31 March 1973
- Oldest Player: Defender Tom Brittleton, 41 years, 8 days v Oldham Athletic, 1 May 1920
- Most Club Appearances: Andrew Wilson (1900-20): 545
- Most Club Goals: 216 – Andrew Wilson 1900-20
- Transfer Records
- IN £4.5m Paolo Di Canio (Celtic) August 1997
- OUT £2.75m Paul Warhurst (Blackburn Rovers) Sept 1993
*In 2004 Division One was re-branded as the Championship, Division Two as League 1 and Division Three as League 2