To be a football fan of one of the many clubs outside the top 4 in the premiership is to live more with adversity than to live with success, more in hope but even more with disappointment. We all know that, and every year the vast majority of us end the season thinking either ‘there by the grace of god’ as we watch others be relegated or ‘if only’. We understand the pain of the relegated and wish them well and we envy those heading into the prematurely ageing lottery that is the playoffs. Throw in the ever increasing horror of clubs heading into administration and outsiders can rightly question why we do this.
Then occasionally and just occasionally a day like today comes along. Today i was one of 37,500 cheering our team to automatic promotion. Yes that is correct, 37,500 people at what is a third division game (I still think in old money). This isn’t the biggest crowd we have ever had for a game in this league but considering Wycombe are only bringing a further 500 fans (and my hat goes off to them for such commitment) this is a remarkable turn out, dwarfing so many premiership teams.
Was I nervous? Yes. Was I excited? Like a giddy young child on christmas morning. Did i think it was a ‘given’ that we will go up? No. This is after all Wednesday, we don’t do things the easy way but tell me a team where the supporters think any differently and I’ll bear my backside on the town hall steps as they say in these parts.
What is incredible is that we are in this position in the first instance. It has been some campaign. Whilst we have been there or there about all season, we have also been chasing for most of the second half. A draw and a win against Sheffield United, a truly memorable 4-4 with Huddersfield Town, one of the most breathtaking games I have seen in years, and one which i left with both bitterness for drawing the game in the last moment but the sweetness of being present at such a game.
What has stood out however is the sense of optimism that has remained throughout the club throughout the season. For this we can thank only one man, Milan Manderic. I am sure we would have survived had he not bought the club but what is certain is that we would now be facing a very different future.
And yet I was not alone in thinking he had gone mad when he turned all alan sugar and fired Gary Megson in the aftermath of the derby win.
Megson was a proud wednesdayite through and through, he bled blue blood and not the Windsor type and for that we will always love him. He brought an obvious pride to the team, he dragged journey men footballers into loving this club. He did what we all dream of doing. He shook the fear from Hillsborough and made lesser mortals gods from enjoying playing for us. He made them all know they were privileged to wear the shirt we so love and he gave us an emotional, season changing, truly evangelical victory over the Blades.
And then Milan sacked him.
And we loved Gary even more for he was clearly deeply, deeply hurt by this. His pain was evident in every interview and radio and TV appearance, even his contracted silence it was clearly evident. He sounded as we would sound if barred from our club but he did it with dignity and respect for it and the fans he loved. Even today, he shared our joy but from a distance: there was a jarring of my heart at that.
And then Milan replaced him with Dave Jones.
And we haven’t lost since.
I for one was not convinced but then things just kept improving and whereas there had been passion and effort now there was calm and control. The touch line was a different spectacle. In fact it no longer was a spectacle. I spent a great deal of the derby game watching Megson on the sideline. There’s little to see now.
And that for me is the crux of it all. We needed Megson to shock the club back into the right direction. He was our A&E doctor, all rushing and a flurry and saving our immediate lives but once out of critical danger Manderic could see the need for continued treatment but with a calm and clear hand, and for this we love him even more than when he first saved our club.
Before I sign off, I know we have been handed a massive stroke of luck, although the use of such a phrase in this instance leaves a sour taste. Without their leading goal scorer the Blades have fallen away just at the wrong time when they should have had the promotion sealed. For Wednesday to prosper, means two lives face ruin. A brilliant young footballer now languishes in jail but without sympathy because of the life of a young woman that will never be the same again. Football can be many things, including shameful and ignorant, pompous and arrogant. Those within can be undeserving and false idols: it can be a real arse at times.
It is important to maintain a balance on days as this for in football pride tends to come before a fall in the form of next season. Football can be many things: uplifting, beautiful, inspiring, can give a home to the lonely, make lifelong friends of strangers, it can be that precious almost too delicate tiny flower of pure delightful escapism in dark challenging days. Today it was marvellous and to Manderic, Megson and Jones, we love you for giving it to us.