Sad goodbyes and new beginnings: Sheffield Wednesday and the circle of football life

It was a day that laid bare the fact that the circle of football life rumbles on.
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The sad news filtered through the morning of the death of former Sheffield Wednesday manager Jack Charlton, a man who won just about everything there was to win in the game.

Not with Wednesday necessarily, Wednesday weren’t that sort of club then, but in dragging them from the abyss of the foot of the Division Three table and to promotion in his six years, his was a Hillsborough legacy passed onto Howard Wilkinson that stretches onto today. It simply wouldn’t be ‘The Massive’ without Big Jack.

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Given his later success with Ireland, a nation he almost single-handedly turned into a proud football nation during a colourful decade of international management, it is perhaps fitting that on Saturday his former club walked out of a sunshine-soaked Loftus Road wearing green and with eyes smiling.

Teenager Liam Shaw made his first team debut for Sheffield Wednesday in the win at QPR. Pic: @swfc | Steve Ellis.Teenager Liam Shaw made his first team debut for Sheffield Wednesday in the win at QPR. Pic: @swfc | Steve Ellis.
Teenager Liam Shaw made his first team debut for Sheffield Wednesday in the win at QPR. Pic: @swfc | Steve Ellis.

The scenes at the final whistle were ones of relief rather than elation. Dominic Iorfa fell to his knees, Joey Pelupessy held his head in his heads, Josh Windass looked to the sky.

This is a group of players that have been through a lot in these past few weeks, some issues self-inflicted, some not; departing talismen, under-par performances and all else. The hosts were poor, make no mistake, but Garry Monk’s side played well and got exactly what they deserved in a 3-0 win that could have been more.

And a day that started with tributes from staff and former players to a man who had ridden that football wave for over 40 years ended with questions about two young men just starting out in their career; Alex Hunt and Liam Shaw. From sadness to excitement, from the past to the future. The circle of football life.

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“We’ve got young lads in the squad as you can see and every one of them needs work,” Monk said on a job well done. “They’re not quite at the level to do it regularly just yet but the good thing is that they are getting there and that’s what it’s about.

Owls youngster Alex Hunt made his full debut at QPR. Pic Steve EllisOwls youngster Alex Hunt made his full debut at QPR. Pic Steve Ellis
Owls youngster Alex Hunt made his full debut at QPR. Pic Steve Ellis

“Some are at different stages, we’ve got Alex and Liam and others that we work with continuously. There’s nothing better than a young lad coming through the club. They’re right at the start of their journeys.”

Hunt, a 20-year-old charging around midfield in a 14-year-old’s body, was handed his first start by Monk after a growing back catalogue of encouraging cameo performances from the bench. It was a selection a fanbase had been waiting for, Monk biding his time to extend the invitation only when he felt the time was right.

If it looked a case of men against boy as the teams lined up, it was anything but as the minutes ticked down. Showing for the ball relentlessly, pointing the likes of Barry Bannan into positions he wanted him in, the fresh-faced youngster ebbed and flowed but showed moments of quality.

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Tougher times will come of course, Monk said so himself when speaking to The Star in the moments after the game, but in an hour’s runaround Hunt showed a confidence and a wise head belying his boyish looks; Wednesday’s Benjamin Button.

Joining him in the halls of Owls academy alumni was Shaw, a robust 19-year-old who conversely has the look of a Boat Race rower.

Dragged on to replace injured club captain Tom Lees and shuffled in at an unfamiliar position at centre-half, the young midfielder acquitted himself well in his first outing. Better than in the post-match celebrations in the changing room, anyway, revealed a jovial Monk.

“The lads were tricking him that when you make your debut you have to do a dance or make a speech,” he laughed.

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“He fell for that one and went with the speech. As you can expect, the speech was a little bit, well, you know. But it’s fantastic for him, we’re all proud of him and his family will be very proud. It’s a great thing.”

What else of the performance? There was yet another colossal display from the deadlock-breaking Iorfa, a classy comeback from Lees and a goalscoring return to the starting line-up from the energetic Josh Windass, whose presence heading into the last three games is a huge boost to the side’s goal threat.

Jacob Murphy, the scorer of Wednesday’s third goal, pushed on ahead as the club’s top remaining goal-getter and Massimo Luongo played like a man eager to show his former teammates what they were missing.

It’s a baby step that might well prove to be a giant leap in the future of the club should any points deduction be enacted.

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Garry Monk has spoken a lot about transitioning Sheffield Wednesday, transforming the culture of the changing room from one that is too comfortable to one that is hungry for success. It’s a challenge his sadly departed predecessor tackled head on with great success.

“Everyone held him in such high regard,” Monk said, paying tribute to ‘Big Jack’.

“It’s always a sad day when you lose someone with such a high stature in the game, the name and what he’s done.

“It’s not just a loss to football but also to the world with him as a person.”

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It would be grossly unfair to ask Alex Hunt or Liam Shaw for even a fraction of what Jack Charlton gave the game. But on a day that saw the football world pay tribute to one of its greatest, they borrowed just a glimmer of the limelight in one of his little corners of the football world.

You fancy he wouldn’t have minded. It’s the circle of football life.


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