Sheffield Wednesday: Here’s what happened on a sweltering day at Owls in the Park

Owls in the Park. Pictures: Andrew Roe
Owls in the Park. Pictures: Andrew Roe
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The queue snaked right round the field, maybe a quarter of a mile from start to finish.

Around 15,000 Sheffield Wednesday lovers were gathered in Hillsborough Park just a couple minute’s walk from Hillsborough Stadium.

Charles and Henry Lawrence with the new shirt

Charles and Henry Lawrence with the new shirt

This was Owls in the Park, the annual jolly where club and supporters come to together in mutual appreciation.

Not all of the 15,000 were in that long, long line waiting good-naturedly for player autographs and photographic opportunities, it just seemed like they were. Maybe you could see them from space.

Temperatures were touching 30 deg celcius and there was no escape from the baking heat, but the chain of fans had started to form before 11am, more than two hours before members of Wednesday’s Championship squad were due to make their appearance.

Only one thing was missing: stripes. The Owls had said the new kit would be on sale but in the end they settled for a “soft launch” of infant and women jerseys and top-end “Pro-Fit” men’s shirts.

From left, Rob Moffatt, Samuel Barker, Harry Moffatt, Millie Barker and Dave Barker at Owls in the Park

From left, Rob Moffatt, Samuel Barker, Harry Moffatt, Millie Barker and Dave Barker at Owls in the Park

Any male over the age of four not prepared to spend £99 on the same top the first-teamers will wear will have to wait a few more days before shelling out £59 for their standard-issue garment.

There were fewer complaints than expected. People had turned out to enjoy themselves and the day had a feeling of harmony: family groups out in force, happy to be part of a much bigger club clan.

They spread themselves across the scorched grass or around the numerous refreshment establishments. “No, you can wait. You’ve had two ice creams already. And stop spitting at our Riley.”

Manager Jos Luhukay, a week into pre-season training, was there, sporting a tan suggesting he’d spent some of his summer somewhere even hotter than Hillsborough.

Victoria and Bev Birkhead with Atdhe Nuhiu

Victoria and Bev Birkhead with Atdhe Nuhiu

“It’s great to see people here enjoying themselves, getting their autographs and pictures,” he said. “There are so many families with their kids.

“We have great supporters and I thank them all for coming. I have a lot of respect for them. It is not easy to be here in these temperatures.”

Everyone supped, sweltered and sweated. A cafe appropriately called Sunshine Deli betwixt stadium and park knew what was needed. ‘Chips’ and ‘Cold drinks’, it advertised on a blackboard outside, adding as an afterthought, ‘Salads’.

Probably the only ones on lettuce and cucumber were the gaggle of hardy slim-liners who’d stumped up their Pro-Fit £99 and were already wearing their purchases with pride.

Players on stage

Players on stage

Another queue developed, not of autograph-hunter proportions but still well over 50-strong as youngsters with their mums and dads waited for an audience with mascot Ozzie Owl.

As popular as Ozzie was, he was overshadowed by the players who made their entrance around 1pm.

In their regulation blue Elev8 T-shirts and matching shorts, they split into three groups, taking turns to be interviewed on the main stage, mingle with fans and sign autographs outside the Owls marquee and take part in kids’ football on roped-off pitches.

Atdhe Nuhiu, the centre-forward with the name no journalist likes to type, got a dose of his own medicine, twice having to enquire about the spelling of one young fan before Neela Jo and her family went happily on their way.

Full-back Liam Palmer bamboozled a couple of youngsters with his neat footwork while winger George Boyd performed a keepy-uppy and then sent the ball spiralling into the sky with perfect control for a lovely soft launch of his own.

Boyd, fresh from a family break in Disneyland, said: “The turnout is amazing. It’s a beautiful day. It’s brilliant for the fans to see everyone and for us to give a little bit back.

“Fifteen-thousand is crazy for an open day. It just shows how big the club is.

“Hopefully we can give the supporters a bit of success. I’ve always said, when everyone is fit, it’s one of the best squads in the league.

“We’re near enough there with everyone back fit. There is a lot of competition, and that can only be good for the manager.”

This was more than a mere meet-and-greet with first-team players. There were stalls and smiles everywhere, bouncy castles, a largescale fun-fair doing a roaring trade. The city stages few events bigger than this.

The sun never wavered and neither did the fun on an afternoon of S6 bonding. Bodies wilted under nature’s assault, but the spirit of a unique get-together never did. As the temperature kept rising, so did the attendance. It was a warm, warm day in more ways than one.

Supporters with blue and white shirts and pink faces found ways to cope. Along with the columns biding their time for Nuhiu and co’s autographs and mascot selfies, came a third outsized throng.

The queue for Mr Whippy.

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