Desperate sprints, dark secrets and no regrets: Meeting the Sheffield Wednesday fans who left historic Peterborough United clash early

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
It’s towards the end of a phonecall – with a man who won’t even share his full name – that he becomes emotional.

We’ll call him John on account of the fact he doesn’t want his real name using in this piece. He’s middle-aged and he sits in the Kop.

That, he explains, is the extent of the detail he wishes to go into. Anonymity, he says, must be absolute. He’s checked these paragraphs before publication.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s a level of secrecy that might otherwise be channelled into protecting victims of violent crime or for a source that has blown open Government wrong-doing.

David Tollerfield and his son Rudy (top right), were two of the supporters to leave the game early along with Kenzie Barker (bottom right) and missed Liam Palmer's 98th-minute equaliser.David Tollerfield and his son Rudy (top right), were two of the supporters to leave the game early along with Kenzie Barker (bottom right) and missed Liam Palmer's 98th-minute equaliser.
David Tollerfield and his son Rudy (top right), were two of the supporters to leave the game early along with Kenzie Barker (bottom right) and missed Liam Palmer's 98th-minute equaliser.

John’s crime? He left Hillsborough in the late stages of their remarkable play-off comeback against Peterborough United. He heard the roar of Liam Palmer’s 98th-minute equaliser as he opened his car door and he listened to the remainder of the match on the verge of tears; proud of his team and angry at himself for having left.

“I’ve been in a daze ever since. No offence, but I’ve not read anything about the match since,” he told The Star, laughing with a real undertone of sadness.

“I wasn’t the only one that left early, there were a few of us. But I get so cross with myself when I think about leaving when I did. I haven’t told anybody about it – only my wife. I told my nephew I watched the end of it, the same with friends from work. I don’t want anyone to know I missed it, it’s humiliating.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I was in the car and I looked over into another car where another man was watching the game on his phone. He’d done the same thing, I assume. We couldn’t bear to look at one another.”

Not far behind ‘John’ in leaving the Kop in the final moments was 18-year-old Wednesday Community Programme student Kenzie Barker, who had left the game with a friend when Wednesday’s penultimate chance of normal time rested in the arms of Posh keeper Will Norris.

With six minutes of injury time elapsed, Kenzie got up from his seat and made the subdued walk out of the stand and onto Penistone Road. That, he felt, was that.

“In my head I was just thinking, ‘Miracles don’t happen here. They never do. We never get any luck,’” he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I just couldn’t bear the idea of their staff running onto the field when the final whistle went. I walked out gutted, there were a few of us and it was silent, nobody was saying a word.”

The sparse, miserable group crossed over a dark and miserable Penistone Road and dispersed, Kenzie making his way down Herries Lane.

And then.

“We got a bit down from the ground and there was this cheer,” he beamed. “I didn’t think it was us at first, I thought it was them [celebrating promotion].

“Then this bloke in front of me shouted ‘They’ve done it!’ Well, everyone just turned around and sprinted back. I don’t know how I didn’t get hit by a car! I lost my mate – it was surreal. We managed to get back in.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“That’s the best I’ve ever seen Hillsborough. Nothing gets close. I was there for Brighton, I was younger, but it didn’t get close to the other night.”

Long gone by that stage were David Tollerfield, 40, and his son Rudy, eight. Rudy is a baby-faced veteran of the Hillsborough terraces and joined his old man for the home games at Newcastle and Plymouth among many others this season. But with the atmosphere at Hillsborough more raucous, more guttural than it had been in years, Rudy got spooked.

“After the second goal went in, it all calmed down a bit and I looked down to my left,” David said.

“He’d just gone white. He looked absolutely terrified, really scared. I asked him ‘Are you alright?’ and he said ‘No, I’m not, I want to home daddy. I want to go home.’”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Having tried to ‘kid himself’ that Rudy would settle down in a few minutes or that the atmosphere at S6 would wind down, the pair left moments before the end of the first half. They had the city to navigate on their way back to their home in Meadowhead.

“He was never going to calm down," David continued. “He had my hoodie with his hands over his ears. We were sat in the grandstand and the noise was just bouncing off the ceiling. So I took him home.

“Thankfully, he sat and watched every minute of it when we’d got back. He was so excited, cheering when we scored. He went through all the emotions of a match like that, but at home where he felt safe.

“As a fan I was gutted I wasn’t there, but as a parent it was great because I got to watch the match with the person that I wanted to watch the match with.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The only thing that I regret is that I put him in that position in the first place. If I had to make the decision again now [taking him home early] then of course I would make that decision 100 times out of 100.

“I don't look at it like I missed a moment as a Wednesday fan, I look at it like I gained a moment as a dad.”

The last word goes to ‘John’, a man clearly coming to terms with his early exit in the style of a grieving process. It feels cruel to tell him about how Kenzie managed to get back in, so we don’t bother.

“I’ll never do it again,” he said. “They’ll be 6-0 down with a five-hour trip ahead of me and I’ll be there.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“You [The Star] are one of about five or six people in the world that know I wasn’t there. Maybe I’ll tell people one day.

“For now I want to keep it to myself.”