Letters home and a surprising voice: Inside the meeting that set the tone for Sheffield Wednesday’s pre-season
Set to the sound of screeching chairs and an ever-so-slight air of first-day-back nervousness, Garry Monk stood at the front of the room preparing to chair a meeting that he felt would set the tone for the next few weeks.
Sheffield Wednesday players pulled up their pews and shared a joke or two after a few weeks apart. It was their first day back at Middlewood Road and Monk was stood with an assortment of new faces – coaching staff assembled to make a change.
The atmosphere relaxed but focused, the meeting began and was centred on only one thing; a successful season in the most challenging of circumstances.
Monk, a manager fiercely focused on detail, spoke to his players about the dark cloud hanging over their season’s preparations; a 12-point deduction that has many looking at the club from the outside presuming a target of no higher than 21st place this season.
It was the first time the group had discussed the situation in any depth. Throughout the last campaign, after the very first rumblings of trouble in November, the words ‘EFL charge’ were not discussed at Hillsborough’s ground level. Starting afresh, punishment confirmed, it was time to face the battle head on.
Monk delivered his messaged and then encouraged others to speak. His experience of managing points deductions at Birmingham is one that he shared. New first team coach Andrew Hughes captained Leeds to a playoff final despite a points deduction way back when and spoke of little things they can draw upon during the season ahead.
Thrown to the floor, one player spoke first. And as Owls winger Kadeem Harris explained to The Star, it was a voice unfamiliar to most.
“Chey Dunkley actually spoke first on it, which was hugely impressive on his first day,” Harris said on the new signing’s comments, which centred on the points deduction he suffered while at Wigan last season.
“It was good to have him do that and stand out straight away. He's had experience of this before as a few of the guys have, they're experience can only help us.
“Everyone knew what the situation was but it wasn't something we had spoken about. We made sure we spoke about it straight away and discussed what we could do moving forward.
“Everyone was on the same wavelength, everyone was confident. We know what we're capable of and what qualities we have in the team. Now it's about delivering it on a matchday. We can do it. It's more than possible to achieve really good things this season.”
It’s that positivity that Monk and his staff wanted to permeate from that first meeting onwards. This won’t be an easy task, the message read, but it’s one that needs a united front if it is to be overturned.
And the Owls boss was delighted at the response he received from Dunkley and others.
Speaking ahead of the season-opening clash at Walsall tomorrow, Monk said: “There was interaction within it. It wasn’t just the players and staff. Everyone was there. It was all with the point in mind of the challenge in front of us and how we overcome it.
“It set the tone, got minds thinking and I’ve seen a strong response from the players. We know we’re together, and will have to fight through this together. I want to build and environment and culture of wanting more.
“I promised the fans a team they’ll be proud of, and that’s my aim as a manager.”
It’s not the only example of Monk’s hands-on approach to turning the good ship Wednesday around. There’s been enough said and written about the personnel changes he forecast last season, but it’s an attitude change meetings like that are designed to instil.
After the last game of the 2019/20 season, each player left Hillsborough with a personalised letter outlining what needed to be done on an individual basis, preparing them to arrive back to Middlewood Road, back into that meeting, with a renewed stomach for the fight.
Many have noticed a change in the approach the club’s media team have taken to communicating with fans, one designed to open up the squad’s personality as showcase the players as human beings. It was one the Owls boss had a huge hand in.
He said: “I sat with Trevor [Braithwait, the club's director of communications] and the media team and we talked about opening ourselves up and letting the fans see the real us. It has not really been done very much here before.
“I think letting them have that insight into the type of characters we have here and what type of people they are is important. People often judge players on what they do in the 90 minutes on the pitch.
“We want the fans to know the players. We have made a conscious effort to open things up and it has been a great effort by all the guys in the media team, plus the players themselves, to really help with that and give insight so we can build that unity, spirit and togetherness.
“We have to have that throughout this season, no matter what and that is probably why we feel there is a more positive feeling.
“Hopefully when we get the fans back in the stadium there will be an even stronger connection.”
Coaching staff assembled, new players in the door and letters distributed. Meetings held, training camp complete, media team firing; just a few days before his one-year anniversary in the Hillsborough hotseat, this is beginning to feel a lot like Garry Monk’s Sheffield Wednesday.
The fun starts at Walsall.