Hi-ho, Darren Moore and ‘that bloody Steven Fletcher chant’: Sheffield Wednesday supporters are back
“I’m just pleased we won’t hear that bloody Steven Fletcher chant again,” says Stuart Laver with a tone that was both joking and utterly furious in equal measure.
The lifelong Wednesdayite, whose story of slavish supporterism was told on these pages when football returned in front of empty terraces some 412 days ago, recoiled at the very thought of Sky Sports’ incessant playing of the former Owls forward’s terrace singalong during behind-closed-doors matches.
“Everyone was the same, I think,” he went on. “It drove me up the wall. He wasn’t our player and I never wanted to hear that song again. As a multi-million pound company, you’d think they’d be able to spare us that. So that’s certainly something I won’t miss.”
Thankfully, Wednesday fans hope never to have to hear that song piped over their team’s matches at an empty Hillsborough ever again. Football, and the glorious experience of chanting in support of your team that comes with it, is back.
“I’ve hated it. It’s awful, dreadful,” Stuart told The Star thinking back over 18 months of watching his beloved side through a screen.
“Wednesday matches became any old game. Because it was on telly, I found myself picking up my phone and flicking about, I wasn’t really engaged.
“I was dying for them to win, but it just wasn’t the same. I was there on Sunday and it was an incredible feeling to be back.
“We were in the middle of the South Stand. It was weird being crammed in. Great, but weird.”
It’s an experience that will be seen through the eyes of seven-year-old Olivia Spence, who this season will enjoy her first season ticket with her dad Stevie, a well-known voice to many Wednesdayites through his work on popular podcast The Wednesday Week.
While 18 months is a long time for anybody, the time lapsed for a child of Olivia’s age, Stevie said, will mean a return to Hillsborough will mean a completely different experience.
“She comes with me because she enjoys spending time with her dad,” he said. “And as we get there, she gets ingratiated with the whole thing of fans in the stadium.
“The football she’s not always been that bothered about, it’s the whole experience. But over time she’s picked up habits and it will all become routine for her.
“She’ll sit and take things on board now. That experience of going to a football match will be completely different for her because she’s able to sit and focus and concentrate on the game. The Euros have helped as well, all that Three Lions and learning songs at school. She can’t wait.”
Wednesday head to Charlton Athletic on Saturday hoping to get their League One season off and firing with a bang against a team expected to be among those challenging them among the promotion stakes.
A sold out allocation is expected at The Valley as Wednesdayites settle back in to enjoy their first ‘proper’ match back in all that time.
But there was a dress rehearsal on Sunday, of course, in the form of the Carabao Cup match with Huddersfield. And while the match itself offered more of a glimpse at what could be than a glorious feast of football, there was a moment pre-match that will live long in the memories of all who were there.
In a two-minute period, over 12,000 fans rose to sing ‘Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday’ for the first time in 515 days, before giving Darren Moore an incredible first standing ovation as Wednesday manager.
“It was one of the most positive experiences I’ve had at Hillsborough for a few years,” Stevie said. “I think people were just so relieved and happy to be able to get back into the ground.
“It was special. I had goosebumps. The moment that music went up, what little hair I had at the back of my neck went up. And the way Darren Moore was received was incredible as well. Everyone seems to be behind him.
“At 43 years old I found myself getting my phone out and posting it on Instagram. It was a special feeling in a special moment.
“You dedicate a huge part of your life to football and these are special moments.”
And predictions for the season ahead? Can this new-look Sheffield Wednesday ride this wave of optimism back to the Championship?
Stuart and Stevie, like so many Wednesday fans, are doing their best to keep it cool.
“I’m trying not to get absorbed by that pre-season optimism,” said Stuart. “You always do it, don’t you?
“But the players he’s brought in? I think he’s done a cracking job. We’re just a couple of out-and-out forwards shy. Some of the players coming in probably could do a job up there, but as we saw last season, we need a proper striker, someone to hold the ball up and bring others in.
“But that optimism is there as it always should be at the start of a season. It’s just good to be back.”
Stevie, who has taken the opportunity to start new a new grassroots team in the break from football, believes one of the most encouraging signs is the transformation in off-field feeling, as well as the squad itself.
He said: “There feels like there’s a shift in the way things are done in the club.
“Every single one of us is looking forward to getting down to the games. It feels like something has changed.
“I don’t want to get my fingers burnt by getting too excited, but there’s having Iorfa and Luongo back alongside the new players. These are fantastic additions in League One.
“It might take a little while to get, but we’ve got the right person in the big seat and we’ve got it in us to get big results.
“We’re a better squad than the one that came down.”
Welcome back, football fans. You have been sorely missed.