Alex Miller: Let’s park the football.. Sheffield Wednesday may have saved a life this week
In all the tension wrapped up in following Sheffield Wednesday these days, it’s perhaps important to remember that Bill Shankly was emphatically wrong.
Because in a week that saw Sheffield Wednesday’s Championship safety hopes take back-to-back hits, the wider Owls community stepped up to do something truly incredible. Message by message, piece by piece, it may well be that over the last few days Sheffield Wednesday saved a life.
Sid Gavrielides is a 41-year-old handyman from Lewisham. Among many other things, he enjoys pints at the pub, boxing at his local gym and watching Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. In a world of dangerous stereotypes, he is not the sort of man to showcase vulnerability to thousands of strangers.
But hit by lockdown, thrown into the claws of depression and considering hurting himself, Sid reached out on Twitter to see if he support could be found by posting a brave and honest video expressing his emotions. Support came back in droves.
A few days later he found himself drinking coffee on a park bench, talking over his problems with Lee Bullen.
“It’s been hard,” Sid told The Star wanting to spread a message of thanks to people who have reached out to help in some of the darkest days of his life, days he accepts are not over yet.
“I’m quite a private person when it comes to emotions, but it got to the stage that I couldn’t handle it anymore and I had to talk to people because if I kept it inside of me I would have done something really bad to myself. Talking to people has saved me from doing that.
“It has saved my life. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t had that support and to know people out there cared and we’re going through the same thing. I would’ve done something really bad.”
Within hours hundreds of Wednesday supporters had sent messages of support and offers of help. After a few more the effort had spread across the city, with huge numbers of Sheffield United fans having done the same.
Earlier this week he received a phone call from former Owls keeper and mental health ambassador Chris Kirkland and through the kind assistance of Owls blogger Matt Brown was sent a personal video message from Chris Waddle, the player who sparked his love for Wednesday as a 12-year-old.
The club itself has been in touch to lend its support.
Sid said he coped through the first set of lockdown periods but has reached new lows in the most recent episode. Arriving at work on Monday, he broke down and was encouraged to seek help.
“I’m a very outgoing person,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion from time to time. “I go down the pub, meet up with mates, have a laugh. I’m into my fitness, which I haven’t been able to do; I do gym work and football training and it’s all got to me, not being able to do the things I loved, not being able to go down to the gym and let it all out on the punching bag.
“I want my normal life back. I miss it.
“Coming from London especially, it’s a busy place. Nobody wants to listen, everyone is rushing about to get to work or do whatever business. That sits on you, the world is so busy down here and it feels like nobody cares.
“Then I let it out to the people of Sheffield, within seconds I had people sending me their number, asking me if I need to talk.
“For someone like Chris Waddle to make a video and send it to me? It’s amazing. My struggle was all in my head and it couldn’t get out and now someone like that is helping me.
“I got a message from Chris Kirkland. We spent some time on the phone, he encouraged me. The whole club, the whole of Sheffield has been incredible.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed. I’m getting messages from Sheffield United fans, Wednesday fans, all over the country, offering to help and talk. That’s pushing me to shake myself and feel more positive.”
It’s the latest incredible move made under the banner of Sheffield Wednesday in what has been a brutally testing year for society.
The club have spearheaded several initiatives aiming at helping some of the more vulnerable members of its supporter base, making clear that they take their responsibility as the centre of their community seriously.
One prominent club figure, current assistant manager Lee Bullen, saw an opportunity arise in the form of their midweek trip to London and arranged to meet.
“He reached out to me on Facebook and told me he wanted to meet me and go for a coffee,” Sid said. “I thought ‘oh my god’. I still can’t believe it. My club was actually talking to me and helping me, saving me.
“He’s a really, really good guy. We sat in the park and he basically gave me a teamtalk. It was a teamtalk just for me.
“I left with a smile on my face, he was incredible, what he did for me. He’s a very good man.”
“I want to repay the favour. I want to help people and talk to people, to put it out there and let people know people are going through this.
“If you’ve got a problem, share it with me. If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’ve got two.”
Social media can be a poisonous place at times, of that there is no doubt. But this week a lonely man living in London feels his life has been saved by a Twitter community centred 140 miles away.
So yes, Bill Shankly was wrong. Football is absolutely not more important than life or death. In fact, it doesn’t come close.
In this week of all weeks, We’re All Wednesday, Aren’t We?