I have always been an avid supporter of Sheffield Wednesday, a British football club that is known, if at all, in North America for its quirky name rather than on field successes. I always have a soft spot for the underdog.
When I was growing up in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, all football players were subject to a maximum salary set by the Football League.The maximum wage was £20 in 1958, not a lot more than the average industrial wage. Players had to work at a trade to complement their football wages. So, the legendary Preston and England forward Tom Finney was a plumber, while Sheffield Wednesday great Johnny Fantham opened up a hairdressing salon. In those days, footballers played for the love of the sport, not for mega salaries that today’s prima donnas command. Rooney, Messsi and Ronaldo – how would you have fared?
But, during times when television had not been invented or was at least in its infancy, when being “on line” would have conveyed a message about traffic and roadways, people flocked to the football games, they were affordable to the average person and the atmosphere was dynamic. Here is an excerpt from my book:
“It was April 1950. Sheffield Wednesday, “the Owls,” were playing Coventry City, “the Sky Blues.” It was a key game because our lads were in the running for promotion from Division 2 to the First Division. It was a packed stadium of over 44,000 people and the tension was high. Dad and I stood alongside one another, pinned by a crash barrier behind one of the goals on the Spion Kop. Exposed to the elements, it was open-air standing in that part of the stadium. Men stood shoulder-to-shoulder and I was cramped in among them. Dad told me that an acquaintance of his had once had his coat pocket filled with piss, courtesy of the man who was standing next to him. I kept looking around, making sure nobody like that was near me. At my height, it wasn’t my pockets that would be vulnerable. Now and again, Dad would lift me up so I could see over the many silhouettes that were blocking my view. Several times during the game, I was able to see the same scene unfolding—the play had stopped as a player lay on the pitch injured, clutching his legs or groin. No such things as substitute players back then. A man ran out onto the pitch with a wet sponge and gave him the once over with it. The supposedly crippled player then stood up and got back into the game. A miracle.
“Iz ee urt, Dad?”
“ No. Magic sponge, that,” replied Dad, smirking broadly.
For the entire first half, groans from the crowd permeated the air as Wednesday had the jitters. Then, just before half time, a chorus of “Oh, shit,” “Bloody ell,” and “What are tha playin at Gannon” rang out as the Coventry defence man George Allen put one in the net by Wednesday goalkeeper Dave McIntosh…”
Photo: Eddie Gannon. Sheffield Wednesday wing half 1949-55. Irish international. Not sure who the cocky bloke in the background is.