'I’ve even spent time with my wife' - how one Sheffield Wednesday season ticket holder is struggling without football

The suspension of football across the country because of the coronavirus pandemic has left thousands of supporters without their weekly fix of attending matches.

By Ashley Booker
Sunday, 22nd March 2020, 9:23 pm

For many, football is their life.

It’s like a drug which leaves them wanting more irrespective of whether their team wins or not on a Saturday afternoon or a cold, wet Tuesday night at Stoke.

So, just one week into what is expected to be a lengthy spell without football, how are fans adapting to life with no games to watch live?

We’ve asked Wednesday supporter of more than 30 years, Rob Shirley, 48, a season ticket holder in the South Stand, for an insight into how he’s coping without his beloved Owls.

“When I walked out of Griffin Park at 4.50pm on March 7 I, like 1,600 other Wednesdayites, was angry, disappointed and bit shell-shocked by the inept performance I’d just witnessed.

Spineless, unprofessional, woeful.

I’m running out of words to describe our recent form but the pitiful display in west London took it to a new level.

Sheffield Wednesday supporter of more than 30 years Rob Shirley outside Hillsborough at Christmas.

Brentford are a very good team, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t forgive the total lack of effort, application and organisation shown by our shower.

It was my first visit to Griffin Park – and my last as they move into a new stadium in the summer – and one I’d really been looking forward to.

I really liked the traditional feel of the ground and the novelty of standing on terracing behind the goal for the first time in years.

Alas though, my memories of Griffin Park will always be tarnished by my team’s pathetic surrender.

Owls supporter Rob Shirley during Wednesday's 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest in December.

As I left the ground in search of the station to begin my long journey home, the last thing I felt like doing was watching Wednesday, or indeed any football, ever again.

The match highlights on TV, reports online and in the press were definitely to be avoided. I’d suffered enough.

So why, two weeks on, am I missing the matchday buzz so desperately?

I’ve tried occupying myself at weekends in the garden (until it rained), playing 6-a-side (until the leisure centre closed down) and going to the pub and singing bad karaoke with friends (until the pubs closed down).

Owls supporter Rob Shirley with fellow Wednesday fans Mike and Kate Tripp at Brentford earlier this month.

In fact I’ve even spent time with my wife (until she started watching The Greatest Showman for the 30th time)!

Not even re-runs of old matches, from better times when the team was so much better can come close to compensating for a football-free Saturday.

Because, for fans, a Saturday afternoon (or midweek night) is not just about the 90 minutes itself.

It’s the first thing you think about that morning and the last thing you think about that night.

It’s the journey to the game in the company of your favourite footy podcast.

It’s meeting up with friends for a pre-match pint to talk about team news, expected line-ups, the manager’s sanity and the dread when you see who the referee is.

It’s about 2pm when the team news is announced and the vindication that you were right to question the manager’s sanity.

It’s walking down to the ground with that expectant, nervous, tingling, slightly sickly feeling in the stomach.

It’s getting into the ground and seeing all the familiar faces around you that you’ve known for years, all of us a lot older but non-the wiser Owls, because we’re still coming, thinking this is our time. It must be our time, it’s our turn, surely.

It’s looking at the away end and commenting how pathetic their away following is, compared to ours.

It’s the noise as the teams emerge from the tunnel, followed by everyone in the ground getting their feet to sing and clap to Hi Ho Silver Lining and then the roar as the game kicks-off.

It’s berating the ref for his inexplicable decisions, the injustice of officials always being against us, the siege mentality you get when your playing against 12 men.

It’s the unbridled jubilation of a goal, the release, the jumping up and down celebrating and not caring how stupid you look and hugging of the total stranger next to you (is there any wonder they stopped football before anything else to stop the spread of coronavirus?).

It’s the final whistle when you’re hanging on to a lead and under the cosh – we’re Wednesday, we’re going to blow it, we always do – but then we don’t, it’s over, we’ve won.

The Premier League return ticket, European football in three years is back on. We’ve beaten Charlton and we’re the best team in the world.

It’s getting back to the pub after the match, smiling faces, beer flowing, excited chatter.

It’s listening to joyous Owls on Praise or Grumble on the way home, scouring the web for match reports and reaction and watching the highlights over and over.

It’s a difficult and uncertain time for everyone right now and I know that the shutdown of football – and sport as a whole – pales into insignificance at the suffering of those who have lost their jobs, their businesses and their lives.

But in the words of Jurgen Klopp, football really is the most important of the least important things and I’m sure that, whoever you support, one of the first things we are all looking forward to doing at the end of all this is getting back to football.

I’d take a miserable 5-0 battering at Brentford over no football at all, any day.”