Former Sheffield Wednesday player who grew up just yards from ground ‘lucky’ to still work at the club he loves

John Pearson.
John Pearson.

John Pearson was born just yards from Hillsborough.

He grew up on Rockley Road, attended Marlcliffe Juniors and Wisewood High, and, he says, ‘basically lived’ in the park for large parts of his youth.

John Pearson playing for Sheffield Wednesday vs Leeds in October, 1983.

John Pearson playing for Sheffield Wednesday vs Leeds in October, 1983.

When he was 15 he left school and joined the club he has supported all his life, playing for Wednesday for six years before stints at Charlton, Leeds, Barnsley and Carlisle, among others.

In his career he scored 60 goals, won three promotions and played a key role in getting his beloved Wednesday back into the First Division in 1985.

Now 55, he works for the club’s community arm and is still well known to fans as a matchday co-commentator, first on BBC Radio Sheffield and now on Wednesday’s own iFollow service.

Speaking from the club’s Middlewood Road training ground, he said he feels ‘lucky’ to have been associated with the club he loves for so long.

“When I was growing up I didn’t just want to be a footballer, I wanted to be a Sheffield Wednesday footballer,” he says.

“If you would have told me when I was four that I would score a goal for the club and then die, I would have taken it.”

Coming from Sheffield, he is steeped in the rivalry between the city’s two great clubs, but not to the point of turning his back on those in red and white.

United legend Keith Edwards was an usher at his wedding and he says his dream would be for both Sheffield teams to be in the Premier League.

"Us winning it and United finishing fourth bottom so we can beat them every year," he adds.

In the 20-odd years since he stopped playing, the game has changed so much that it almost seems like a different sport, he says.

The split between the clubs and their fans concerns him, as teams think about breakaway leagues and setting up training grounds hundreds of miles away from their communities.

The Sheffield Wednesday Community Programme - for which John has worked for the last nine years - is about as far from that idea as possible.

The setup is backed by the club but must stand on its own two feet, and holds races, golf events and dinners with club legends like Ron Atkinson to pay its way.

With the proceeds they put on walks, run a fit club and host regular ‘walking football’ games with fans of all ages.

“We call it walking football but most of the time people can’t help but break into a jog - it is good fun but it does take it out of you,” he says.

“In the fit club our oldest member is Derek who will be 86 in a couple of weeks but still runs round the pitch.”

“It’s brilliant, but it is the people that make it.”

The community programme recently took two walking football teams to a tournament in Portugal, with John’s side reaching the latter stages of the competition before going out on penalties.

The team they lost to did run out eventual winners - but the fact that he missed one of the crucial spot-kicks still rankles with him.

As well as being the face of the community programme, he also co-commentates on Wednesday games on the club’s iFollow service, after performing the same role for many years on BBC Radio Sheffield.

“I love what I do and I don’t take it for granted,” he says.

“Hopefully it will last for a few more years yet.”