Alex Miller's Sheffield Wednesday column: Darren Moore gesture for disabled Chester fan went unnoticed - we could all get behind a team in his image

Let’s have it right off the bat; the job of a football manager, first and foremost, is to win football matches.

By Alex Miller
Friday, 16th July 2021, 10:22 am

And in setting them up to do so more consistently than they have done in say, the last five years, Darren Moore has a job on at Sheffield Wednesday.

Though so many of the circumstances he faces are a world apart from the manager everybody has spent the last month talking about – Gareth Southgate – similarities are there to be squinted at.

In taking on proud, historic sides brow-beaten by decades of pain and underachievement, both men have inherited a team that needs piecing back together and that has had its relationship with its fans clawed at.

Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore shared a touching moment with Stephen Dix, who suffers from learning difficulties.

And both men are looking to build towards future glories with a team built in their own image.

Southgate is a proud and principled figure who at times in the last few years has struck many as the nation’s most impressive public statesman in a time where true statesmen seem to have fallen by the wayside.

He has stuck his neck several metres further than most would dare on issues outside of football that most would shirk.

Such an attitude has informed some of his bolder calls on the football pitch, too, and has empowered his players to stand up for what is right, to wade into crowds to hand shirts to adoring young supporters, to use their platform to further social justice where their predecessors daren’t.

It is wins that have turned the outer reaches of the nation’s football support back onto the Three Lions’ bandwagon but it is the character of Southgate, Mason Mount, Tyrone Mings, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson et al that is reaching out to those fans in a way I’m not sure we’ve seen before.

These are talented, wealthy young men living lives most could only dream of. But they are first and foremost good people that, for this summer at least, appeared to be living the dream for all of us.

Some 180 miles and three days on from the hundreds of camera phones that captured Mount’s handing over of his shirt from England’s semi-final win over Denmark to an adoring youngster in the crowd, there was a moment at the final whistle of Wednesday’s preseason friendly win over Chester that far fewer witnessed.

Darren Moore turned, shook hands with members of the opposing dugout and made his way to Stephen Dix, a passionate 40-year-old Chester season ticket holder who was born with learning difficulties and battles the effects of Parkinson’s Disease.

Stephen is as vocal a non-league football fan as you can imagine and with his seat situated close to the opposition dugout is no stranger to more regular visiting coaches.

“He called me straight after the game,” said Paula Condliffe-Hughes, Stephen’s support worker at the Cheshire-based Vivo Care Choices centre for over five years.

“Stephen has had a season ticket at Chester for many, many years and it’s really important to him.

“His seat is right next to the away dugout and he’s not adverse to giving out a bit of stick if I’m honest, though he assured me he didn’t do that on Saturday!”

Moore, well known in football as one of the game’s true gentlemen, took the time to speak to Stephen alongside some of the other Owls coaching staff and before he left for his post-match team talk handed him a Sheffield Wednesday jacket. To his surprise it was his for keeps.

Stephen has visited the Vivo centre twice since the events of the weekend and even in the warm weather has been desperate to keep his Owls-emblazoned jacket on.

“It was so thoughtful and so lovely and he won’t take it off,” Paula said, laughing. “His Chester jacket has been binned off for now – Sheffield Wednesday are his second team I think!

“That sort of thing is massive for the mental well being of people like Stephen. It’s the small things that happen at sports matches that have a huge impact on people. We’ve got a lad that goes to rugby and if his favourite player waves to him at the end of the game it’s all he’ll talk about for a week.”

Paula continued: “These little gestures make so much difference to people with disabilities. They spend so much of their life feeling invisible, to have someone like that notice them and to speak to them, it’s just a huge moment for them. It means the world.

“Stephen has sat there for years and most managers and coaches ignore him. The fact he [Moore] noticed him and took time with him has really helped Steve and has really boosted his confidence. He’s still walking on air now.

“He feels like he’s been seen. It’s these little things that make a big difference.”

Darren Moore has a monumental job on at Sheffield Wednesday and while many have been hugely impressed by some of the building blocks he is putting in place at the club, that job is still very much an uphill journey. Football is a cruel game and it is results and only results that will determine the success of his time in the Hillsborough hotseat.

But it is these small, private gestures that give just a glimpse into the man steering the ship and, like has been the case with England’s genuine off-field efforts this summer, they can serve in some ways to redirect a side’s relationship with its fanbase.

Most importantly, it was a little act of kindness that made Stephen Dix’s week.

A winning Sheffield Wednesday built on the kindness and personality of Darren Moore? I think most could get on board with that.