Adventures in Football #47: Hillsborough (Sheffield Wednesday)
MARCH 26, 2022
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY vs. CHELTENHAM TOWN (League 1)
Sheffield Wednesday, originally “The Wednesday”, were founded way back in 1867. That’s nearly as old as Notts Co. As County aren’t currently in the football league it’s bumped Sheff Wed up to third place in the oldest league club’s list only trailing Stoke and Notts Forest. Wednesday’s unique name came from the Wednesday Cricket Club, formed way back in 1820. Hillsborough isn’t quite that old, having opened its doors in 1899.
Hillsborough is home to one of English football’s most horrific disasters. In 1989 ninety-seven Liverpool fans were crushed to death before an FA Cup semi-final tie held at the stadium. The tragedy transformed the appearance of football grounds in England. Moving to all-seater stadia to prevent a crush and the removal of perimeter fences. Hillsborough remains a huge stadium, capable of housing 39,732 fans. Which makes it the biggest stadium I’ve been to this season. Sheff Wednesday have an average attendance this season of 21,924, which is huge for the level. Only being outdone by Sunderland who average 30,000 at their games. 30k in League 1 is mad.
The maximum attendance at the moment is 34k for safety reasons. There are plans in place for Sheff Wed to increase capacity to 44k and in the process remove all restricted views from this old girl. A bit of a ticket concern here as I bought tickets a week beforehand and on the Friday they hadn’t turned up. I emailed the club to see if I could collect from the ground and lo and behold, they drop through my front door at 1pm. Way to go postman. I dig your unconventional approach to delivering my ‘morning’ mail.
At start of play Sheffield Wednesday lie in P7, chasing the play offs. 13 points off automatic promotion so that seems unlikely. Cheltenham have done a decent job settling into this level and are safe in mid-table. Off to peek at the squads and former Aston Villa legend Barry Bannan is on the books at Sheff Wed. He’s a midfield grafter but he’s also reasonably creative and has a big beard. Another midfielder I’m very familiar with is Dennis Adeniran, who used to be on the books at Everton and I constantly referred to as Dennis Adrenaline because of misreading it as that the first time I saw his name. Another player who I’ve had on Football Manager is Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. A tricky winger, who is wildly inconsistent, if memory serves correct. Finally, we have Saido Berahino, formally of West Brom and Stoke*. As for Cheltenham, their only goal threat when I saw them at home came from massive long throws and Ben Tozer has since been sold to Wrexham.
*Only two of these players appeared.
It’s only after booking tickets that I realised it was non-league day. I am celebrating non-league day by going to literally the largest ground in the entire country that’s hosting football today. I feel like we’re not embracing the vibe. Anyway, fuck it, we have the tickets, lets go. It’s the M42 again and we basically have the same drive we have to Nottingham on Tuesday with one small difference…
Apparently, there are animals on the loose. As soon as I see this sign I start uncontrollably singing House of the Rising Sun. I just can’t help it. Every time we whoosh by another sign with the same message…THERE IS A HOUSE, IN NEW ORLEANS…, which is all fun and games until apparently someone has rear-ended someone else. Presumably animals were involved. THERE IS A HOUSE, IN NEW ORLEANS. I just can’t help it. So, we get stuck in a traffic jam and as we’re not moving Maria eats some cold KFC from yesterday.
We drop into the Rose & Crown in Barlborough (it’s near Chesterfield) for lunch. The idea being we head in, grab food and motor off to Sheffield in plenty of time for the game. Only it’s one of these gaffs where they meticulously prepare every item and don’t just microwave a bunch of shit from the freezer like Wetherspoons. So, we’re there for ages. The food is decent. I have Hunters Chicken, Maria goes in for fish and chips. She’s practically enraged when she orders a lemonade and it costs £2.20. She’s still grumbling about it on the way to the car and adds in further complaint that there was no toilet paper in the bogs. The bloke behind the bar was nice though so we’ll call it evens and not leave a passive aggressive review on Tripadvisor.
Off to Sheffield then and we opt for plan B, an unnamed car park just north of the ground. It turns out it belongs to Sheffield Wednesday and parking there is free, as long as you get there early enough. We got there are 2.20 and got a parking space. For those interested it’s on Middlewood Road and is simply called “car park” on Google maps. You can’t miss it, the training pitches are behind it. See that white domed building? That’s your marker. Enjoy free parking!
Sadly we arrive at the away end first after walking down Middlewood Road so we have to walk all the fucking way around. This seems to happen every time.
Consilio et Animis. “By wisdom and courage”. Did I have to google this? You bet your sweet bippy. This is from the south end of the ground, just by the Hillsborough Memorial, which I took a quiet contemplative moment in front of. People should never die at a football game. I didn’t take a picture because it didn’t feel right but Cheltenham had laid a wreath at the bottom of it with their club colours on. Nice touch.
I’m very aware we’re in the wrong place and ask the program seller how to get to the North Stand. He gives me directions and is very friendly. It all starts with crossing the River Don and then we’re into the ground and on our way around the outside of it. Here’s a nice picture of Maria relaxing while looking at the river. Lots of people were chilling out around here and it seems like a nice spot to go to pre-game.
This picture does not do justice to the sheer size of this stand. It’s enormous. Look at the steps running up the back of it. That’s the Spion Kop, which we have to walk around to get to our stand.
Got the turnstile today! I had trouble getting through this fucker. I can’t imagine how hard it is for gentlemen with plus sized clothing requirements. Look at it! I assume they just open a gate for anyone that gets stuck. Or Sheffield is full of skinny bois.
Sadly we didn’t have time to visit the Owls Megastore. As we entered the ground we went up a ramp into the stand. An honest to god, ramp. It beats the shit out of staircases. The bonus of this is it still counts as outside so people were chilling around here and drinking. Plus you get a majestic view of the Owls Megastore.
Into the ground and just shut up for a minute and look at the view.
We’re in the North Stand, which is very large. Opposite us is the South Stand, which is very scenic. I regularly stopped watching the game when it got quiet and just gazed across at it. It’s an absolute beauty. On the left is the Spion Kop and then there’s the West End for the Cheltenham fans to congregate in their dozens. I like Cheltenham and really enjoyed going to their game but there are levels to this business and Sheffield Wednesday operates on a different level. The meek scattering of Cheltenham fans didn’t get much better and in terms of fan support, they’re some way off Sheff Wed.
After clambering up those steps you can see to the left we took our seats and just sat there soaking it all in for 20 minutes. Some grounds have a special aura about them. You can feel the history. Shout out to the Sheffield Wednesday for doing the Wolves thing and singing “hi ho, silver lining” but with the club name replacing silver lining. Great bit. Really enthusiastic support.
I spotted one of the owl mascots wandering around but couldn’t see his face. Sheffield Wednesday have two mascots; Ozzie and Barney. Sadly former mascot “Baz” no longer works here. I’m not sure which one this is because, and this is a huge fuck up, he doesn’t have his name on his shirt. Rookie stuff Sheffield Wednesday. Definitely losing points for that. He doesn’t even have a number. Is that the mascot blood shirt? What really happened to Baz?
Maria, as you can see, is thrilled to be at Sheffield Wednesday. (She’s just tired, been a long couple of days and she drove). In this picture I was also trying to capture a bloke in sunglasses with a bald head hanging around at the back of the stand because I’m pretty sure it was Agent 47 from the Hitman games. Wait a fucking minute…Agent 47…blood shirt…did Captain Blade put out a hit on Baz? So many questions.
I’m borderline obsessed with the stand opposite. I love the clock, the EST. 1867, the curved writing, the decoration on the top. There is a game to watch though and it starts out very quickly. Cheltenham spring the offside trap and Alfie May rifles one into the top of the net from an acute angle. 0-1. Not the start the grumpy old Yorkshire bastards behind me were hoping for. The one sat behind Maria has a running commentary going on everything that’s wrong with Sheffield Wednesday and honestly, he may be the most miserable man alive.
He shouldn’t have been miserable for long as Sheff Wed were quickly level thanks to an audacious overhead kick from Massimo Luongo. That’s 1-1 and two bangers. Very fired up for this! The rest of the first half slides away and we go in at 1-1.
During half time some kids have a kick around on a smaller pitch and no one comes near an overhead kick equaliser. Poor showing boys. I have seen enough and go to take a piss, which takes a while because everyone in Sheffield needs the toilet at the same time. Did you all stop off for a substandard pint of Guinness in Barlborough too? One criticism of Wednesday is the tragic state of the toilets but a) I’ve seen worse and b) the concourse kinda makes up for it.
It’s a big open area with the top bit being completely open to the elements. Might get a bit chilly in the winter but that’s a price I’m prepared to pay for fresh air. As you can see it was shorts weather for this March game. There is one other slight criticism as the pitch was cut up badly on either flank and that’s a little below par for the level we’re playing at here. Notts Co’s pitch was immaculate. Anyway, back to my seat for the second half and on 58’ Lee Gregory broke the dead lock with a firmly struck shot from the edge of the D. With the game finely balanced the guy in front, who had his red cap on backwards like popular Nu Metal front man Fred Durst, began rubbing his son Zack’s head for good luck.
It was around this point that I spotted these bros just chilling out over here. Not sure if they can see past the post but it looks like a wild spot with a housing estate just off to their left and presumably a full story fall if they tumble over the rail celebrating a thunderbastard. All manner of second half madness went down including Cheltenham springing the offside trap again and twice being one on one with the keeper and also having an open goal that somehow didn’t work out. Gregory got the ball caught under his feet when it looked easier to score and somehow it was still 2-1 when a dinked cross to the far stick found Jack Hunt unmarked and he smashed a volley home for 3-1. Keep rubbing Zack’s head, Fred.
With time running out, and Mr Miserable having taken his leave*, George Byers wrong footed a defender and curled in number four. There were quite a lot of chances in this one so 4-1 is not a fluke and it could have been even more dramatic. Sheffield Wednesday are certainly capable of bagging goals. They’ve got the same number as Rotherham, who are top and 11 points ahead. It seems Sheff Wed simply draw too many games with 12 in the D column. From what I’ve seen from this division this season they probably are good enough to go up through the play offs but will need to reinforce if they do.
*The last five minutes were zen like peaceful without someone screaming “cunt” at the referee when he inevitably offended the old timer by not giving Sheffield Wednesday every single decision.
Final Score: Sheffield Wednesday 4 Cheltenham Town 1
With the game over we head back to our exclusive car park and here come the ratings…
There were a lot of people in Hillsborough. I didn’t catch the attendance figure but it was a lot (I looked, it was 21,256). That’s a lot of people and they did bang out the “Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday” like a bunch of champs. During the game though, the atmosphere wavered and the grumpy bastard behind me takes it down a notch. ***
It was £27, which compared to Notts Co’s £20 for non-league feels like a bit of a bargain to be honest. Especially as it’s basically a Premier League ground, suffering two divisions lower. ***½
The match was pretty fantastic, albeit aided by a manic finish where Cheltenham started pouring forward in numbers and got smashed on the break. It was a very good game of football to watch though and was only damaged by sitting in front of the most miserable man in Yorkshire. ****
EASE OF ACCESS:
I thought Wednesday would suffer here but we drove right into the belly of the beast, found free parking and on leaving there wasn’t a horrific delay. We even drove past the ground and it wasn’t that bad. Considering we couldn’t get off the car park for 15 minutes for Burton Albion, this is a win. ***½
Not a lot to go on here. I liked the general ambience of the place. The stand opposite is a work of art and should be in a museum. The grumbling old git takes the rating down a little bit and also there’s nothing else to go on because we got there too late to explore or get food or anything. ***
A strong effort, which puts Sheffield Wednesday on the same rating as Portsmouth, Walsall, Wolves and Sutton Coldfield (I had been drinking).
Hey, I love just about every football ground and Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough was no exception. It’s a beautiful old girl and the locals are rightly proud of her. As a ground it’s simply too good for League 1. This is the same level Burton Albion play at. Let’s get serious. I would definitely go again if I could get a guarantee of not getting a miserable Yorkshire man sat behind me, cheers.
NEXT: Hednesford Town.