Sheffield Wednesday: As the Owls return to training, old boy recalls the pre-season pain of the Wilkinson era

The Owls train in Portugal during pre-season last year
The Owls train in Portugal during pre-season last year
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Jon Newsome vividly remembers how long the walk suddenly seemed when he left his parents’ house to catch the bus.

The central defender was a callow teenager and still living with his mum and dad in Wincobank as he travelled by public transport for Sheffield Wednesday pre-season training under Howard Wilkinson.

Manager Wilkinson was a renowned taskmaster. Newsome suffered.

“The first ever pre-season I did, when I was an apprentice, that was the toughest thing I’ve ever experienced,” the 47-year-old recalled.

“I had to set off half an hour earlier than usual to get up to the bus-stop to get the bus into training because I was so stiff and sore. I swear on my life, I could hardly walk.”

The Owls class of 2018/19 returned for their own summer of suffering today, six weeks before they kick off their Championship campaign with a trip to newly-promoted Wigan Athletic.

I think if they got into the play-offs, that would be a really successful season

Jon Newsome

It’s not the same as it was in Newsome’s era. The defender always kept his fitness ticking over during the May/June break, but for many pros the beach came before beep tests.

“The players will all have been working while they’ve been away,” he said.

“They’ll have had programmes from the club to follow. The days of coming back two stone overweight and spending six weeks getting that weight off are gone now. Players are too professional for that.

“They’ve got conditioning coaches who check your well-being and how you are before training.

Jon Newsome

Jon Newsome

“Players don’t do a lot of mileage these days. It’s all about short, sharp bursts.

“Back in the day, we used to go off on long runs. You’re plodding and slapping your feet down.

“Did you enjoy it? You got through it. You enjoyed being fit. I enjoyed knowing I was at it and on it. I enjoyed flying through what the gaffer was telling us to do.

“It was hard work but once you were at the level it was a great feeling. It’s only when you finish playing that you look back and realise how fit you were.”

Howard Wilknson in his Wednesday days

Howard Wilknson in his Wednesday days

Wednesday have 41 days to prepare for Wigan and then August league encounters against Hull City at home, Brentford away and Millwall and Ipswich Town at home.

Last season was one of under-achievement as the Owls finished in 15th place following two successive play-off campaigns, but the Football League computer has been kind to them in the first month while the return to fitness of a number of key men is another reason for optimism.

“A good start is absolutely massive,” said Newsome who made more than 60 appearances during two spells with the club. “I’ve said it for years, I said it when I was playing.

“If you get only a point out of your first three games, you’re bottom three in the league and then you’re playing catch-up.

“You win a game and somebody else might lose, but there are other teams around you who’ve won as well. You have to then put a string of wins together to climb the table.

“You’ve got to have a bit of help with the fixtures. When the fixture list comes out and you’ve got two or three half-decent games that look winnable in the first four or five, then you’re in business.

Jos Luhukay

Jos Luhukay

“You only have to look across to the other half of the city last season to see that. You put two wins together, then it becomes three and you’ve got momentum. Winning becomes a habit, just like losing can become a habit.”

The manner of an opening-day defeat at Preston North End set alarm bells ringing last term and boss Carlos Carvalhal was gone by the New Year, to be replaced by Jos Luhukay.

“I think back to the start of last season and Wednesday didn’t look fit,” Newsome said. “They weren’t at it. Suddenly, the penny drops with players. They think: ‘God, we’re miles off. We’re in trouble here.’

“For me, Jos has brought players on. Atty Nuhiu’s done great. Everyone know that Lucas Joao is now playing with confidence. Jos just seems to be a half-decent man-manager. For me, that is the biggest key about management in this day and age.

“You’ve got good, strong, fit footballers who can all play to a certain level - some are better than others, but they can all play - and it’s about managing that group and getting the best out of that group.”

Dutchman Luhukay won three promotions in Germany before arriving at Hillsborough and, after stablilising Wednesday last term when relegation fears were starting to rise, is looking to make his mark in his first full season in charge.

“I think a realistic goal for next season would be top half,” Newsome said. “I think if they got into the play-offs, that would be a really successful season. I’m not stupid enough to be saying they should be going for automatic promotion.”

More than 30 years on, the man who also played for Leeds United and Norwich City in his top-flight career hasn’t forgotten his aches, pains and bus-stop bother. Luhukay could do worse than follow the Wilkinson way.

“What I took from Howard and my time under him is that pre-season has to be physical,” Newsome said.

“By the end of it, you were fit, you were powerful, you were strong. You start on the right footing when your preparation has been right. We were like a train coming through.”

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Carlos Carvalhal

Carlos Carvalhal