Sheffield Wednesday: Aldridge so close to the Owls fairytale

Paul Aldridge with Milan Mandaric
Paul Aldridge with Milan Mandaric
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From a League One club teetering on the brink of administration to one match away from the Premier League. Paul Aldridge’s time at Sheffield Wednesday was eventful to say the least. Just under a fortnight ago, the vice-chairman bid a fond farewell to the club after over five years at Hillsborough. He worked closely with former chairman Milan Mandaric to turn around the Owls’ fortunes. In a wide-ranging interview, Aldridge reflects on the highs and lows of his spell at the club.

Dom Howson (DH): When you and Milan first arrived at the club, what sort of state were Wednesday in?

Paul Aldridge (PA): It was pretty broken. It needed some leadership. I was surprised at how many of the senior people had very limited football knowledge. That was what stood out for me.

Milan and I had 50 years of experience between us and I think that was helpful. We brought know-how and I think the staff were pretty relieved they had a bit of leadership.

I had my first meeting with the banks on September 1, 2010, before Milan put his head above the parapet. The due diligence told us what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised at the support base. We were told it was a big, big club and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

DH: Did you always believe you could turn things around?

Gary Megson set up promotion from League One

Gary Megson set up promotion from League One

PA: Absolutely. We were always confident with the size of the support base and what Milan could put in in terms of financial support that we could get back in the Championship. We knew the potential if we got it right. To be honest, we were disappointed we didn’t get the club up in the first year.

DH: What was your highlight?

PA: Securing promotion from League One to the Championship in 2012. Gary Megson put a good squad together and everything just clicked. Things didn’t change too much under Dave Jones.

We managed to keep everybody fit and went on an incredible run. With a couple of games to go, I think we were five points behind Sheffield United.

Championship play-off heartache at Wembley

Championship play-off heartache at Wembley

We certainly didn’t expect to go on a 14-match unbeaten run. We were preparing for the play-offs; there’s no doubt about that! But as we got closer and closer to United, the belief kicked in. It was an unbelievable turnaround.

I always felt we would go up in the play-offs but it was nice not to go through that.

Beating Wycombe at Hillsborough on the last day of the season to seal automatic promotion was very special. We were very confident we would beat Wycombe but we all know football can throw up surprises. There was a huge amount of relief when we got over the line.

DH: How frustrating was it you couldn’t challenge near the top of the Championship?

PA: We made progress every year and kept going in the right direction but not as quickly as we would have liked. A lot depends on the quality of player you could bring in and, given the budgetary restraints, we had to maybe work a bit harder than other clubs.

We didn’t pay out huge transfer fees and our wage bill was one of the lowest in the league so it was always going to be difficult.

DH: How many investors did you and Milan speak to?

PA: We probably had 10 serious conversations. Milan always said that if someone could come in and accelerate the process he would welcome them.

DH: Why did the Hafiz Mammadov takeover collapse?

PA: Hafiz was a very wealthy man but things conspired so he was unable to fulfil his obligations. I know it looks a pretty disastrous period but we were very unfortunate that the timing coincided with a very bad period in Hafiz’s life domestically.

DH: What characteristics did you and Milan look for in an owner?

PA: We wanted a good custodian for the club. Legacy was always important for Milan. Whenever I had discussions with people, legacy was always the first thing to be considered. In Dejphon Chansiri, I think we’ve found a great owner for the club.

DH: Do you think Milan will buy another English club?

PA: He loves English football so you can never say never. But football is a very expensive business now, especially at Championship level.

Milan’s the president of Olimpija Ljubljana and puts a lot of time into them. Olimpija have just won the Slovenian league title for the first time in many years.

I still speak to Milan two or three times a week and I’m going to go out and see him in Slovenia soon. I wouldn’t rule out doing something else with him, whether that’s in football or something else.

DH: Was the losing the Championship Play-off Final your biggest low?

PA: By a long, long way. To have left the club in the Premier League would have been the perfect send-off.

Had we taken the club from League One and the brink of administration to the Premier League, it would have Roy of the Rovers stuff. It would have been a fantastic fairytale, but it just wasn’t to be. Hopefully they will finish the job next year.

DH: What are you going to miss about the club?

PA: The people. I’ve become friends with a lot of the staff and supporters. I will miss what I do on a Saturday afternoon.

I’m very proud of the small part I played in the journey of the club.

DH: What are your plans now?

PA: It will be nice to have a short break. It has been pretty full on and relentless for the last five to six years.

I’ve spent the last 20 years in football. That’s what I know, but I’m realistic enough to recognise that the right job might not be out there for me.

I’ve got a few irons in the fire. I’ve already turned down two jobs in the last few months, one abroad and one in this country. Having just left Wednesday, the job has got to be right.

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