Chris Holt: Don’t sneer at Owls fans for not catching United’s cup fever

Worried Owls fans.
Worried Owls fans.
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Monday morning, and the city of Sheffield had a slightly unusual buzz. Mild hangovers were masked by smiles as weary yet happy commuters glanced through their copy of The Star or glued themselves to their phones or tablets to pore over the various reports and reaction from Sunday’s victory for United against Charlton which sent them into the semi-finals of the FA Cup and a trip to Wembley.

While nosily listening in on queue conversations, school-run chatter, reading comments and tweets online and catching bits of radio shows, there was one phrase which cropped up regularly ... ‘It’s great for Sheffield.’

As someone not originally from the Steel City, I can say that’s a fair point. Generally it is good for Sheffield; that a city this size and with such a rich sporting tradition, yet has waded through more footballing misery than many, is, once again, being held up in high regard.

But then I overheard a man, dressed in a Sheffield Wednesday t-shirt, perhaps in a show of defiance, reply to “It’s great for Sheffield though, isn’t it?” offered by a fellow shopper, by stating “Is it? I couldn’t give a stuff about them.”

“Can you not just be happy for them?” the well-meaning gentleman added.

“No I bloody can’t!” came a terse response.

And at that moment I felt an apathy for the disgruntled Owl and a realisation that it’s only good for Sheffield if you want it to be.

I don’t consider myself a Wednesday supporter, but I’m a football fan.

I have been there. I have had to watch and listen as my team’s rivals revel in glory and sometimes that leads to a bitterness, borne out of simple jealousy. For any football fan, it’s a natural reaction.

Did City fans think it was great for Manchester when United were conquering Europe? Are Spurs supporters happy to see Arsenal do well because it is good for north London? And despite it being the ‘friendly derby’ do you really think that back in 2005, when Liverpool were coming from behind to win the Champions League in Istanbul, that the majority of Evertonians were thinking how great it would be for their city?

Of course they weren’t and that’s because being a fan is often as much about wanting your own team to win as hoping your rivals lose.

That’s football.

Up and down the country on any given Saturday and at half time in any stadium when the latest scores are being read out, should your rivals be losing then it will be greeted by a cheer almost as loud as any goal your own team may have scored.

Yet in the past couple of weeks or so, as United’s FA Cup adventure gathered pace, there have been some looking down their noses at Wednesday fans who, to understate the point somewhat, have been a little less enthused by the Blades’ extended spell in the spotlight; treating the Owls as if they were wrong not to feel happy for their red and white neighbours.

Those who do so, in my opinion, don’t understand football and what makes it tick. Football needs rivalry, otherwise what’s the point? What have you got to shout about if no one cares?

Wednesdayites shouldn’t be castigated for not catching a dose of Sheffield’s cup fever - there are many, if not most, whose blue blood will make them immune to it.

At some point the tables will turn again and it will be they who hold the bragging rights. Because, again, that’s football.