'˜You get goosebumps just thinking about it' - Boyhood Owl Rob Jones on captaining Sheffield Wednesday in a Steel City Derby
Just imagine - whatever side of the divide on which you fall - leading your team out in a Steel City derby.
Imagine the pride and the emotion such a privilege would bring. And imagine having to contain all that and simply do your job on one of the most - if not the most - important matchdays of the season.
Rob Jones has done it. Twice.
During the epic 2011/12 League One season, the boyhood Owl captained Wednesday in two Steel City derbies.
In a storied career which brought two promotions from League One and a Scottish League Cup, those two derbies stand out in the memory of the towering centre half.
“Being a Sheffield Wednesday fan, it was incredible,” Jones told The Star.
“I remember going to their place. We were 2-0 down very early on in the game.
“The atmosphere in the ground was incredible and we got it back to 2-2.
“I had a header, late on for us, to make it 3-2 but I put it straight at the keeper.
“To come from 2-0 down away from home to draw 2-2 in a local derby felt like a win to us at that point.”
Both derbies were pivotal in a season which saw Wednesday and United go head-to-head for promotion - none more so than the second meeting at Hillsborough.
United started the day five points clear of Wednesday in second place with 14 games to go. Win, and the gap would surely be too significant for the Owls to overcome.
But it did not go that way - much to Jones’ delight.
“The home game was just incredible,” he said. “You get goosebumps now just thinking about it.
“The fact we were sold out, we won 1-0 in Gary Megson’s last game in charge and the atmosphere right throughout and after the game was something I’ll forever remember.
“When you do remember it you’ve got a smile on your face.
“It’s just incredible to be involved in such games like that.
“The Hibernian-Hearts game is a very vicious and ferocious derby. But they don’t get the crowds like the Sheffield clubs do.
“To play in front of that many people, to be at home and do it the way we did it because we were dominant.
“The fact it was Gary Megson’s last game in charge makes it even more special.
“He didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want him to leave but the last game in charge was a derby win so if there is ever a way to go out, it’s that one.”
Jones built a reputation as an incredibly intense and driven individual during his playing career. Anyone who interviewed him when he was in ‘football mode’ would certainly attest to that.
So when he says he was struck by the emotion of derby day, you know there is something special about the occasion.
“I think the warm-up felt different,” he said. “It felt different to me.
“It was quite emotional for me where normally games are just normal, no matter who you’re playing or how you’re playing.
“It’s not often you get to captain your boyhood team against your local rivals.
“That was the emotional side of it.
“Once a game starts for me, I’m in my own world. So it was all about before and after for me.
“The final whistle and the scenes after really speak for themselves.
“It was more a release for me and the gaffer [Megson].
“I picked the gaffer up at one point.
“It was a release for us of those emotions you try to keep in check, not just for the day but the week leading up to it because it’s all that’s spoken about.
“You try to treat it as just another game but deep down you know it’s not.”
Though dealing with his own emotions was enough of a task, Jones saw his role as captain on derby day as ensuring his team mates remained calm and focused throughout.
He said: “You have to keep a calm head while everyone around you is going crazy.
“You have to remember that you’ve got to play football, that you can’t get carried away with emotions, even if sometimes you want to.
“With the younger boys in the team, it was more a day of reassuring them for me.
“A lot had already played in the derby so we knew what was coming. And there were a few Wednesdayites in the dressing room as well so they know what it meant.
“For me it was about keeping the lads on the path we wanted to go down and thankfully they did.”
This article and more feature in a 16-page special supplement inside Saturday’s Star, previewing Sunday’s big derby clash. It includes interviews with figures from each club, past and present, offering their insight into derby day.