Chicken nuggets at 2am, Chris Waddle in Ray-Bans and a tearful trip to Wembley – The Sheffield Wednesday story of Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware
Sheffield Wednesday have been a part of Martyn Ware’s life for as long as he can remember, his grandad was around when they were formed, and he’s seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows over the past 60 years as a Wednesdayite. It’s been a journey.
In the latest edition of The Star’s delve into Wednesday’s host of famous fans, Ware spoke of his first game, getting to know the likes of David Hirst and Chris Waddle, and his sense of pride when one former Owl bestowed upon him his footballer name, ‘a badge of honour’ he calls it.
“It’s a religion, as far as I’m concerned,” the Human League and Heaven 17 founding member told The Star. “Well, it varies between affliction and religion, that’s the way I view it, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I wouldn’t care if we dropped out of the league, I’ll be a Wednesdayite until the day I die. I’d go watch them play in Graves Park.”
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Over the course of his 64 years, Ware’s seen SWFC win trophies, earn promotion, suffer relegation and more, but where did it all begin? Enter Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law, and a fella called Jack Whitham.
“My first game was when he beat Manchester United 5-4 at Hillsborough in front of a full house. That was 1968, so I’ll have been 12. We would’ve gone before, but we had no money. We were skint. I kept bugging my parents, saying ‘I really want to go’, and we picked this game. It was mental. They had Law, Best, Charlton, Stiles, and we beat them after being 4-2 down. After that I was hooked, forever.”
The born-and-raised Sheffielder then had to watch them drop down the pyramid until that fateful day in 1976 when the Owls were staring relegation in the face and needed to beat Southend to stay up. They did, thanks to Eric Potts and Mick Prendergast.
“We invaded the pitch like we’d won the cup or something,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘God, can it get any worse than this?’ Fortunately, it didn’t. So when people moan about not being in the Premier League, I take it with a bit of a pinch of salt because we’ve seen much worse times than these. Thick and thin doesn’t really cover it.”
Things did improve, and it’s no surprise that a certain trip to the capital in 1991 sticks out as a favourite memory.
“Beating Manchester United at Wembley… I remember crying as Nigel was picking up the cup and saying to my friends who were there, ‘I never thought we’d do anything like this in our lifetime.’ It’s hard to believe that’s 30 years ago now.”
Another one is the ‘If it's Wednesday it must be Wembley’ cover. You might remember it.
“I had to sign a contract with the player’s pool, headed by Waddle. And I told my record label we’d need a team picture – like what they’d publish in The Star – of all the players with me and Ian Reddington in the middle in goalkeeper kits. They’d all be wearing Ray-Bans like the Blues Brothers, but we wouldn’t be. We pulled that off, and that’s one of my proudest moments.”
But they aren’t the only memories he has of that group, and while many of his stories remain under lock and key (others will no doubt be in his soon-to-be-released autobiography), it’s safe to say there was a mixing of his two worlds – music and football.
He said, “The record we made, Move On Up for Steel City, came out the week before David Hirst signed from Barnsley. We became mates then and used to go out together, and I became close with Lee Chapman and his wife, Leslie Ash.
“We’d have lock-ins at Hanrahans, which were absolutely mad. Suffice to say it involved a lot of dancing on the bar, with people like Gary Megson and others completely off their nut. We’d be trying to switch on the electric fryers at 2am to cook come chicken nuggets! Can you imagine having free run of a bar like that? I saw some things there that I can’t possibly divulge!”
Speaking of Chapman, the former striker even asked Ware to desert the Owls and follow him at Nottingham Forest! He declined.
“He turned around to me one day,” the musician remembers. “And said, ‘I’ve got something to ask you… Do you mind if I call you Waresy?’ It was like a badge of honour for me to have a football name! That was like being given an MBE to me, like being admitted into a secret society, you know?
“When he’d left the club and joined Forest, he asked if I was going to go and see him. I said I’d be there when Wednesday were there, but he wanted me to follow him there and support Forest! I said, ‘I’m not going to do that, Lee! Are you mental?!’ His face kind of fell, and it was really weird.”
Fast forward a few years, and the Owls are on the brink of a 2020/21 season that’ll begin with Garry Monk’s side on -12 points in the Championship, but Ware can’t help himself from being optimistic.
“I’m not sure that the deduction will be an entirely bad thing for Wednesday,” he explains. “There is a history of it galvanising teams, even look at Wigan, they were in promotion form after their deduction… Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I’ll be really surprised if we struggle next season – provided we can sign a couple of key players.”
Fingers crossed Martyn, fingers crossed.