From Hillsborough and back again – a Sheffield Wednesday fan’s dream come true

A couple of decades ago there was a lad in the family enclosure at Hillsborough, Wednesday weren’t very good at the time but with a freshly-purchased season ticket it felt like he was really part of the family.
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Many years had passed since the first trip to Hillsborough, and the glory days of Benito Carbone and Des Walker had gone, but there was something about that season ticket that made it feel different.

If you’d asked that young teenager what he wanted to do for a living back then then he’d have answered in a heartbeat. He wanted to write about Sheffield Wednesday.

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Last night, a few metres away from that seat, I was sat in the press box speechless. Unable to comprehend what I’d just seen. My journey back to Hillsborough has been convoluted, it went via Africa, involved trips to Brazil, Italy and more, but I have never seen – and probably never will see – anything like what we saw on Thursday evening.

Ultimately I wasn’t good enough to play, and writing about football seemed like the second best alternative to actually being out there on the pitch. Nights like last night, feeling that electricity, justify every decision on this road.

I was at Cardiff in 2005, a day that still ranks as one of the best in my life, but watched 2012’s promotion from afar, celebrating alone in a room in Cape Town not too long after leaving these shores. In 2016 I flew over from Johannesburg, and – despite the result – what a day we had.

Nothing embeds you into a football club like covering them week in, week out, though. It’s all-encompassing. You watch with a different eye when you’re in a press box, and your perspective shifts when you speak to the manager twice a week, and your questions for players are no longer simply hypothetical conversations.

Sheffield Wednesday fans celebrate on the pitch after the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final second leg. (Nick Potts)Sheffield Wednesday fans celebrate on the pitch after the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final second leg. (Nick Potts)
Sheffield Wednesday fans celebrate on the pitch after the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final second leg. (Nick Potts)
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Those defeats ruin your week that bit more when you’ve got to spend hours and days dissecting them, and the victories feel even sweeter as you sign off your match reports with talk of club records, fan pride and wondergoals.

Thankfully there’s been a lot more of the good than the bad in 2022/23… Shrewsbury was special, Derby was electric, but nothing gets close to what we all saw this week. I was genuinely in awe.

It was from the start, too. The roar after Darren Moore’s message at the start… The realisation that, at 4-0 down, for some reason these fans genuinely thought there was a chance. There were so many moments throughout the night that I’ll never forget, but that really stuck out – that blind faith is what football is all about.

Standing pitchside afterwards, looking out on that hallowed turf as the lights went down, I was down on my haunches just thinking ‘What have I just seen?’. We’re going to be talking about it for years to come, decades to come.

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There’s no doubt about it, I’m living the dream of so many Wednesdayites before me, so many that will follow, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

I’ve covered World Cups, Champions League finals, and spoken to some of the best players that the footballing world has to offer, but I’m almost certain that May 19th 2023 will never be beaten. It’s not just a huge Wednesday moment, it’s a huge football moment. I’m 33-years-old and I’ve peaked.

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‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’, they say. I don’t buy into that completely, because even the best jobs have their tough moments, but when I’m ‘at work’ as lifelong Owl Liam Palmer pokes home to complete the greatest play-off comeback ever seen - it’s hard to argue that it’s not the best job in the world.

Whatever happens now, this season has been a pleasure to cover. It feels like Moore has managed to once again unite a fanbase that did feel fractured when he arrived, and there’s a lot to be said for a group of players that are just incredibly likeable and seem to have time for all those that pay their hard-earned money to watch them play.

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A day out at Wembley is just reward for everyone that’s played their part in a brilliant campaign, and from a very selfish perspective it’ll nice to finally get to cover a game at Wembley as a journalist. A proper bucket list item, that.

This career has taken me from Azerbaijan to Zambia, Amiens to Zurich, and each place has their quirks, the things that makes them special. At S6 we have the pre-match Beres, the walk over the Don, that roar that goes up after Jeff Beck’s voice trails off on the speakers.

We’ve got a special football club here, and nobody can tell me otherwise. It’s genuinely an honour to be telling even a short part of the long story that began back in 1867 and has brought us to this moment.

My grandad – who sadly didn’t get to enjoy this record-breaking season – was an Owl, my dad’s a season ticket holder, and no matter what other stadiums can offer they’ll never be able to give me the sense of family that I feel when I walk through those big blue doors just off Catch Bar Lane.

As the Arctic Monkeys so very rightly said… ‘Dorothy was right, though’. There’s no place like home.