“He loves it..” Introducing Sheffield Wednesday-mad Owen Haslam – a hero of the Rotherham United win
“Darren Moore’s Barmy Army,” roared 2,500 Sheffield Wednesday fans during their impressive win over near-neighbours Rotherham United on Saturday. Well, perhaps, 2,501.
High up in the corner of the New York Stadium, the blue and white masses to his right, little Owen Haslam leant forwards in his wheelchair, raised two fists to the sky and joined in. For a second or two it felt like he was leading the roar.
The seven-year-old is like any other football-mad youngster and goes to Wednesday matches with his dad Mark, 37. The only difference is when it comes to playing the game he loves; Owen has cerebral palsy.
“He loves going to the match,” Mark told The Star just hours after the pair left Rotherham with grins as wide as the seven miles that separate the two clubs.
“He got a bit disheartened with it, the same as everybody else, over the last year or so especially with not having been able to go. It’s just not the same, is it?
“But he's got a new-found love for it this year and hasn't missed a game this season. We were at Huddersfield, we went down to Charlton and had a weekend in London. We've done the lot. He just loves Sheffield Wednesday. ”
Footage posted by Mark on Twitter showed Owen playing his part in the Moore chant and quickly got a warm viral reception from the Wednesday faithful.
The youngster, who attends Paces High School in High Green, has been going to Hillsborough with his dad since he was just four years old but few moments he has experienced rival the save made by Bailey Peacock-Farrell – his new favourite player – on the stroke of half-time.
“I wish I'd have got that on video, it was unbelievable,” Mark said. “His body tends to go stiff when there's a big moment in the match and he was holding himself up in his chair - he loves it.
“He gets very invested in the game as it goes on. It really does mean a lot to him and you have to keep reminding him that it won't always go our way!
“He loves Peacock-Farrell. He's always been obsessed with keepers, he had a thing for Dawson and he sent him a shirt. Normally kids go for strikers, don’t they? But he's always loved the goalkeepers. He loves Bannan too, obviously.”
Mark has been a Wednesdayite his entire life who has been going for as long as he can remember. Sharing the experience with Owen and often his daughter Bethany, who is 17 also has cerebral palsy, has become a way of life for the family.
Facilities for disabled supporters vary from ground to ground, he says – the logistics at older grounds in terms of space and set-up can make things tricky – but Hillsborough has been praised for its provision, as have other grounds.
The Haslam family – no relation to Wednesday academy chief Steve – sit in the North Stand at home games. Football in general, Mark says, has become immeasurably more disabled-friendly in recent years.
He said: “All the new build stadiums are unreal, we've found. They're built to cater for it. It’s different at some of the older grounds and that’s nobody’s fault, they’re just not built that way.
“At Charlton he couldn't really see and I had to hold him up. But times are changing and these grounds do work hard to make things as good as they can for them. We appreciate there are some grounds this year we might struggle at.
“The staff at Rotherham were brilliant. They took us down into the Rotherham end so he could have a sausage roll, they couldn't do enough for him. They're brilliant with him at Hillsborough as well. They really look after us.”
A bright and bubbly young lad, Owen has his own YouTube channel where he posts about his life growing up in Sheffield and has ambitions to play PowerChair Football, a sport in which Mark says “Owen sees his future.”
Earlier this year the sport was rejected for inclusion in the Paralympics, though authorities believe it is only a matter of time before it is accepted given its rapid growth at grassroots level. Owen was about to start his PowerChair journey before the coronavirus crisis kicked in and he can’t wait to get going when things open up again in the coming months.
“He's a happy kid,” said a proud dad. “I include him in a lot of things I do. There are things out there he'd like to do, he's into boxing as well. But he knows that's just not possible for him. I've had him in the boxing gym with me a couple of times but he sees other children around his age gloving up and in the ring it can be tough for him.
“He’s really looking forward to getting going with the PowerChair stuff. There’s a set-up based up in Leeds that are trying to get some younger kids involved.
“Life is difficult for him, there’s no getting away from that, but it's all about making the best of the situation he's in. He just gets on with things and nothing fazes him.”
For now, little Owen is happy shouting loud and proud while watching his heroes at Sheffield Wednesday.
But keep your eyes peeled for the Paralympics in 2028. Haslam for GB? You wouldn’t bet against it.