Golf courses, City Hall and a cafe in Bridlington: Rob Jones on his 'surreal' time at Sheffield Wednesday
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The sound of pensioner chatter is interspersed with the squawks of seagulls as customers come and go, pulling at their collars and grasping their polystyrene-encased cuppas on their way back into the swirling coastal winds. Some wear Leeds United shirts, some Hull City, some Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United.
Competitive though the local leagues are, the seaside town is something of a football wasteland. The residents are nearly an hour from the closest Football League ground; the KC Stadium. That Bridlington cafe is 80 miles from Hillsborough.
And yet on its walls proudly hangs one photograph – of Durham-born Rob Jones in a Sheffield Wednesday shirt.
“It's strange I guess, being from so far away,” Jones tells The Star in a soft North East accent, explaining why he grew up a passionate Wednesdayite.
“But my mum's family, they're all from Bridlington. You'd expect them to be Hull fans, but they weren't.
“Whenever we went there at weekends or school holidays, we'd always go to a Wednesday game. Lots of people out there will know that as soon as you go to your first game, that's where your priorities lie. And I was hooked.
“I grew up watching Carlton Palmer, Nigel Pearson, Chris Woods. When I was a kid I was a centre-forward. David Hirst was my hero.”
The giant centre-half, a popular figure during his time with the Owls and club captain in his only full season – the promotion-winning campaign of 2011/12 – took a winding route to his boyhood club, starting out in non-league before spells at Stockport, Grimsby and Scottish Premier League giants Hibs.
A club-record fee was paid by Scunthorpe to bring the man-mountain to the club but after less than two seasons it was clear it wasn’t working out. And then the dream call came.
“I was playing golf and my agent rang,” Jones recalls with the sound of his smile widening.
“I left the course straight away, halfway through my round. I was playing against Southampton a couple of days later. It was whirlwind. I came on loan to the end of the season initially and then it was made permanent.
“I took a paycut. It was a case of my agent telling me what was on offer and I duly accepted. We didn't try to negotiate a thing. All I wanted to do was play for the football club.
“You sit in the changing room and you look around and you think about all your heroes that have sat there for years and years before. It was surreal but it's every boy's dream to play for the club you've supported your whole life.”
But there was no time for sentiment. Sheffield Wednesday were in League One and Jones had been brought in permanently by Gary Megson to provide the leadership and physicality needed to return to the Championship. Full transfer complete, he was immediately made club captain.
“It was a monumental feat for me,” Jones said. “I know there are people out there who don't understand him but he was straight down the line and incredibly passionate.
“I loved Meggo. He was brilliant for me, my kind of character, he said it how it was. If that upset you, that's your problem not his.”
Jones lead the backline under Megson and initially under his replacement Dave Jones after the Wednesday legend’s controversial sacking just days after a derby win at Hillsborough.
But with seven games to go, suspension against Preston proved to be his final act in an Owls shirt as his namesake refused to pick him on his return.
Jones looks back on the end of his Wednesday career with a tinge of disappointment but said it does not sully the memories of winning promotion with his boyhood club.
“I found out later on that Dave saw me as 'Gary's player' and that I wasn't really wanted around the football club,” he said.
“I was hugely disappointed, I could have sat around for another year and let my contract run down and pick up my money or I could go and play.
“In my mind, every Saturday you don't play is a Saturday you don't get back. It was important for me to go and play football. It hurt me to leave but I had to look after my career.
“Players come, players go. That's reality. But I look back on my time at Wednesday with big pride and passion. It wasn’t how I’d like it to have finished but that's football. You get on with it.”
A move to Doncaster Rovers followed, where Jones once again stepped into the captain’s armband and played an even more pivotal role in another promotion, this time as caretaker manager alongside Brian Flynn.
But not before a parade through the city and a civic reception that saw thousands supporters make clear their appreciation for the centre-half, serenading him and vice-captain Jose Semedo as they took to the City Hall balcony.
The strains of ‘Rob Jones is a Wednesdayite’ are memories his family hold dearly, he says, from Durham to Bridlington.
“It was crazy. You do everything you possibly can to fulfil your dreams as a kid and when they come to fruition it's really special.
“There was a lot of pride from the family in that somebody played for Sheffield Wednesday. You try to take sentiment out of it when you're in there at the deep end but now I can look back on it with huge pride.
“It's still the first result I find.”