“I cried, as a 29-year-old man, in the toilets at London City airport…” – The Sheffield Wednesday story of Milburn's Joe Carnall
Sheffield’s incredible musical heritage is well documented, but for supporters, there’s always a 50% chance that their favourite bands and musicians have allegiances that fall on the wrong side of the city. As for Milburn’s Joe Carnall, he couldn’t really be more Sheffield Wednesday if he tried…
In the latest edition of The Star’s look at the Owls’ list of famous fans, we tracked down the local musician to find out his SWFC story – including his earliest memory, best moments, and why – at 29 – he was crying in a London airport.
“I had a season ticket really young,” he told The Star. “I’ve got a brother, who is a couple of years older, and my dad used to take us. It was in the early 90s, but I couldn’t give you an exact year.
“I think my earliest real memory is when I was about five, the FA Cup semifinal with Sheffield United… My brother and dad got up at 5am in the morning, and looking back my dad obviously didn’t want to take me because he couldn’t be arsed lugging a five-year-old about all day!
“Now I’ve got kids, I totally understand why, but at the time I was gutted. I was saying to my mum, ‘Where’ve they gone? What’re they doing?’ I knew something big was happening.
“I ended up getting dressed up in my full kit, my mum painted my face and I sprayed my hair blue and white. Basically to try and buy me off, my dad had told my nannan that when they went to London I could go to Toys “R” Us and get any toy I wanted for the price of the ticket… That’s how much he didn’t want to take me!
“I remember walking around that shop, I probably got like a Power Ranger or summat, and everyone was staring at me because I was head to toe in blue and white. I don’t remember the game much, but I vividly remember everyone staring at me in Toys “R” Us dressed as some mad Wednesdayite.”
But while he remembers the excitement of getting to see an injury-riddled latter years David Hirst in action, it’s sadly the tough early noughties where Carnall’s Owls loyalties were truly formed.
“There was a point where I just ended up with a season ticket on my own in the North Stand,” he says. “I couldn’t find anyone to go with, but I knew I had to go, so I just went on my own…
“One highlight for that period, I think, was Matt Hamshaw’s goal against Watford. I was in the Kop that game, and it just felt like he was getting closer and closer to us after he picked it up in our own half and flicked it over someone’s head.
“And obviously there was the Cardiff trip that was incredible. It was almost like we had to go up because they were Hartlepool and we were Wednesday, which is ridiculous really, but we didn’t really deserve it that day either.
“It felt like our fans sucked the ball in a little bit that day.
“And I’ll never forget being at Bramall Lane the day Marcus Tudgay scored that belter… I was in sixth form and all my mates were Blades. I could see them in the ground that day from where I was sat, and we spotted each other before kick off. When Tudgay scored I went absolute ballistic in front of them – it was like a pent up rage of being only a few Wednesdayites and school and the fact that they’d been good at that period.”
He also remembers winning trips to grounds like St. James Park and Elland Road with goals from players such as Peter Atherton, Guy Whittingham and Chris Brunt, but – just like in 1993 – he was destined to miss another Wednesday trip to the ‘Home of Football’.
“I was best man to my best pal, and he happened to have his stag do on Wembley weekend in 2016,” he recalls with a hint of disdain. “All my family were in London. My pregnant wife was at the game and I wasn’t. I even went down the night before and stayed with them on the Friday night, had my picture at Wembley and then on the Saturday morning I had to get up at fly to Rotterdam.
“And I cried. As a 29-year-old man, in the toilets at London City airport, I cried because I couldn’t go to the final. I was so gutted. I’d known my best mate since I was like three, and I had to be there, but I really did toy with it in my head. Honestly, it was horrible.
“Apart from, you know, the births and deaths in my life, it’s probably the most emotional I’ve ever been.
“The worst thing was that on the stag do I was surrounded by Unitedites. The only plus side was that my mate was going around Rotterdam in a Wednesday kit, because that was my decision.”
Carnall is now leading a bit of a double life as a history teacher and creator, and despite rubbing shoulders with the likes of Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys while on the UK singles and albums charts with Milburn, his starstruck moments will remain almost exclusively Wednesday related.
He says, “Being in music, you come across some massive musicians, and it’s very rare that you become wrong-footed… But then I could meet Jon-Paul McGovern at a service station and not be able to speak. It just means so much.”