A minute’s silence turned into an impromptu minute’s applause as two football clubs remembered a Sheffield Wednesday legend.
Ron Springett, the Owls’ highest-capped England international in the club’s history, passed away following a short illness just over a week ago.
The Londoner, who featured in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups, made 384 senior appearances in almost a decade with Wednesday before a swap deal with QPR which saw his brother, Peter - a fellow goalkeeper - head in the opposite direction.
Saturday’s fixture served as a memorial match to Springett. The players wore black armbands as a mark of respect and the flags adorning the Hillsborough stadium were at half mast.
Carlos Carvalhal had expressed his desire to pay tribute to Springett with victory against Fulham.
Writing in the Owls’ commemorative programme, the head coach stated: “I have coached at many clubs around the world and at each of those clubs are legendary figures whose past help inspire the future.”
His poignant words seemed to particularly resonate with Ross Wallace, who performed like a man possessed. The 30-year-old claimed three dead-ball assists and virtually all of Wednesday’s best attacking moves involved the Scotland international.
Wallace and Carvalhal dedicated the three points to the late Springett.
“You sensed the atmosphere was good and we wanted to dedicate that win to him and his family,” said Wallace.
“The manager spoke about it before a little bit that the fans would be wanting the win and that we have to do it as it is as an emotional day for the club.”
Wallace, snapped up on a free transfer over the summer following his release by Burnley, delivered his best performance in an Owls shirt. His crossing and trickery repeatedly tormented shaky Fulham’s backline.
It was no surprise when the visitors took off ex-Doncaster Rovers James Husband, who was given a torrid time by Wallace, after less than hour and switched centre-back Tim Ream to left-back.
Wallace said: “It was good for me to get three assists from set-pieces. When you’ve got the likes of Turner, Lees and Attey [Nuhiu] in the box, it is easy for me as I just have to put it in a decent area and these boys attack it well.”
With Carvalhal adopting a squad-rotation policy, Wallace failed to even be included in the Owls’ match-day squad against Bolton Wanderers last week. Did that omission make Wallace more determined to make an impact?
“There is always that feeling but I don’t need to prove a point,” he said. “The manager knows what I am capable of. He sees me every day in training and I believe he backs me 100% and he has told me that so it’s just one of those things.
“I want to play every game. If you ask anybody, they will tell you that they want to play every single match. But that’s not going to be the way we are working.
“We have got a big squad, especially in midfield where we have got so many players. We have got good players to come in so we can chop and change it. We can change things to make sure everyone is fresh and 100% on it.
“I missed out against Bolton and was disappointed but I was pleased to be back in versus Fulham. We knew it was a big game and we really wanted to get the three points.
“We can take massive confidence from the result.”
Andy Lonergan produced a fine save that Springett himself would have been proud of in the fourth minute when he tipped over Barry Bannan’s pointblank header following a great Wallace cross. He also superbly denied Alex Lopez.
Fulham’s Achilles heel throughout the contest was dealing with Wallace’s set-pieces. Fernando Forestieri, one of the smallest players on the pitch, marked his home debut with the opening goal, out-jumping Jazz Richards to head firmly past Lonergan before Jamie O’Hara’s deflected leveller.
Tom Lees grabbed his second goal of the campaign after shrugging off the attentions of Moussa Dembele and Michael Turner registered against his former club after the re-start, powering in Wallace’s inch perfect free-kick. At that stage, the Owls were cruising.
But Fulham had other ideas and Tom Cairney reduced the deficit in the 67th minute to set up a tense, nervy finish.
Wednesday sat deep, retreating to their 18-yard line and looked every inch a team who had gone six league matches without a win.
There were six minutes of added on time and the Cottagers threw Lonergan up for a corner in the closing stages. Keiren Westwood pulled off a good block to foil Dan Burn as Wednesday managed to see the match out.
Having celebrated the life and career of Springett, the Owls will be hoping this result will now kick-start their campaign.
Wednesday: Westwood 7; Hunt 7, Lees 8, Turner 8, Pudil 7; Wallace 9, Lee 8, Lopez 7, Bannan 7; Forestieri 7 (Joao H-T, 7), Nuhiu 7 (Helan 82). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Loovens, Semedo, Matias, McGugan.
Fulham: Lonergan 7; Richards 6, Stearman 6, Ream 6, Husband 6 (Vigen Christensen 56, 6); Cairney 7, Tunnicliffe 6, O’Hara 7, Pringle 5 (Burn H-T, 6); Dembele 5 (Woodrow 61, 6), McCormack 6. Substitutes: Lewis, Mattila, Voser, Kavanagh.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).