A Rhyme for Captain Blade and Ozzie Owl
We use a familiar old nursery rhyme to record a tale for two of Sheffield’s proudest clubs. It somehow seems appropriate to use a children’s song when discussing matters relating to the birthplace of football. We omit the weekend bit in the limerick though, as there appears little at the moment to suggest things are bonny or blithe in the Steel City.
Monday’s Child is fair full of face…
Having previously overtaken Sheffield Wednesday as the bigger club in the birthplace of football, Sheffield United entered its final match of the 2006/2007 season needing a draw to Wigan or a defeat by West Ham United to eventual champions Manchester United to retain their Premiership status. After several years of recording losses to spend their way back into the top flight, the Blades had finally recorded a pre-tax profit for their troubles and were anxious to be given a reprieve from relegation.
As for the Owls, the 2006/2007 season saw them come within striking distance of a Premiership return. Having struggled to remain in the Championship–much less play against the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal–Sheffield Wednesday recovered from a disastrous start to the campaign to finish 9th in the Championship table. Brian Laws looked an inspired choice to lead Wednesday back to its rightful place amongst the other big clubs in England and like their city rivals were turning in more favorable financial figures after several years of adjusting to life without the Premiership.
Tuesday’s Child is full of grace…
Well, not exactly. If grace can be defined as the feeling of relief one gets for the split second of no longer being punched in the face only to belted in the stomach, then Sheffield United might call it grace. After losing that final match to Wigan and watching West Ham beat Manchester United, the Blades were relegated to the Championship, arguing all the way that West Ham should have taken their place over the Carlos Tevez affair. When the FA Tribunal finally ruled in favour of United, it made no difference in league position for either club and might just as easily equated to the Hammers leaving money on the dresser for Blades chair Kevin McCabe to call a cab.
West Ham has remained in the Premiership–for now–while Sheffield United continued to rely on the largess of McCabe to fund a return back to the top. It nearly worked, but a heart-breaking defeat at the hands of Burnley in the 2009 Championship playoff sent the Blades away from Wembley with another Championship season on the horizon. That season saw United finish in a disappointing 8th position and meet the stark realization that a large wage bill might not guarantee a swift return to the top flight. McCabe opted to rein in his spending and put the club up for sale in an attempt to recoup some of the £50 million he had poured into the club over the years.
Wednesday’s Child is full of woe…
At Hillsborough, over 37,000 watched on with despair as Wednesday drew with Crystal Palace on the final day of the 2009/2010 season and were relegated to League One. Having equalized late in the 1st half, the Owls did so again through a strike by captain Darren Purse with three minutes remaining. Despite a flurry of activity, Palace denied any final magic and dumped Wednesday out of the Championship rather than head there itself. The Owls must have certainly felt they had been born under a bad sign, considering it was Hillsborough that was to be hosting League One matches the following season rather than Selhurst Park after Palace had recovered from its points deduction for administrative action.
To make matters worse, the loss of revenue that came with dropping down a division was accompanied by the wailing and gnashing of teeth from HMRC over previously-unpaid taxes. That part of Wednesday’s woe has been featured here before, so there’s little need to rehash. Suffice to say, the rough economic times felt globally and locally during that period had a decided effect on Wednesday when it came to matchday income (page 17 of the report) and as the private lending entitites along with the public taxation authorities began calling in debts in the worldwide scrum of solvency, Sheffield Wednesday had a much emptier till from which to answer those calls.
Thursday’s Child has far to go…
After facing a wave of winding up orders throughout the second half of 2010, Wednesday were rescued by former Portsmouth owner and Leicester City chair Milan Mandaric, who settled the club’s debts with the bank and HMRC. With the off-field issues now in their nadir, the focus has been returned to the play on the pitch. One would imagine that, with the uncertainty as to whether the club’s doors would be shuttered gone, Wednesday would pluck up and show the Serbian businessman he made the right decision in jumping right back into football management after previously stating he wanted a break.
If the most recent loss to Brentford is any indication, though, this will likely be Mandaric’s most difficult and intense reclamation project. Following that 3-1 defeat, the Owls now find themselves just a few points above relegation to League Two and the clubs below them having matches in hand. Expletive-happy manager Gary Megson adjudged Wednesday’s performance to be poor and surmised “Some of the things that go on at this football club beggar belief.”
Was he speaking as the manager or as a fan of the Owls?
Back over at Bramall Lane, it’s now up to gaffer–and Blades supporter–Micky Adams to lead United away from demotion to League One. While a resumption of the Steel City derby with Wednesday might sound intriguing to some supporters, it would likely come at a heavy price. The honey pot has been lidded by McCabe while he looks for a buyer for the club, so transfer spending to get Sheffield United swiftly back to the Championship would be severely curtailed. Further, there’s the concomitant drop in match day receipts that comes with demotion, and after the club has already seen average attendance drop by over 5000 the past couple seasons, Sheffield United might very well experience a similar Wednesday Woe if the Blades are unable to navigate a tough final stretch that sees them play six matches of their final eight matches against the top half of the table.
For United and Wednesday, the fortunes are up in the air. Both will have to skip over what happens to Friday’s Child and get right to it with Saturday.
Saturday’s Child work’s hard for a living…
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