Sheffield Wednesday: Selection chaos, false teeth and radio humiliation - the untold story of Alfreton Town 14 Owls 0
Shell-shocked, the players who had represented Sheffield Wednesday that day shuffled onto the coach and set about trying to forget what had just happened. The problem was, the radio had been turned on.
“And a score in from a pre-season fixture, which you may not believe so listen up,” said the voice, from TalkSport or 5Live or similar, “Alfreton Town 14 – yes you heard that correctly, 14, Sheffield Wednesday nil.”
The date was July 31 2011 and Sheffield Wednesday had suffered perhaps the greatest humiliation; a double-figure spanking by non-league opposition.
But it wasn’t quite a Sheffield Wednesday as you might know it – by the end of the evening it was being described as a ‘Sheffield Wednesday XI’, after all.
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This is the untold story of Alfreton Town 14 Sheffield Wednesday nil.
Memories of the day aren’t a laughing matter for many. When approached by The Star for an interview, two players who represented Wednesday that day described the afternoon as ‘humiliating’ and blamed the club for what they saw as being ‘thrown under the bus’.
Then-first team manager Gary Megson wasn’t described in the most glowing of terms and one player saw it as the afternoon that instantly killed his dream of being a professional footballer. Neither wished to be quoted or named in this article.
A third was 18-year-old Cess Nyoni, who later played for Alfreton and arrived at the training ground that Sunday but for his phone to ring with academy boss Sean McAuley’s name on it.
The original plan had been for Wednesday’s first team and reserve squads to be split in two from the previous day’s draw with Stoke and the trip to Alfreton.
For whatever reason, a near full-strength side and bench was named for Stoke.
And for whatever reason, many of the reserves weren’t made available for the trip to Derbyshire. As Nyoni remembers it, when his phone rang just a few hours before kick-off, McAuley was still scrambling a side together from the academy.
Nyoni would be one of his senior men alongside Nathan Modest, 19, who wore the captain’s armband.
It was men against boys – quite literally. They scored early, then again. The Alfreton fans began to jeer the visiting youngsters, while Alfreton just kept scoring.
As the players headed into the changing rooms at half-time, Alfreton Town were 9-0 up.
“The whole team talk was to not to concede in the second half,” Nyoni told The Star. “We were told we had to salvage our careers by not embarrassing ourselves in the second half. Drilled into us for 15 minutes; do not concede, do not concede.
“Within the first minute we conceded.
“I didn’t expect them to be that good. I’d never heard of Alfreton! But they were miles from us. Miles and miles.
“Some of the younger lads just found it so daunting. The physicality of the Alfreton team was unreal, we had players out of position at centre-back and from kick-off they just targeted them. Bang, straight from kick-off bang it up to the striker, three touches and it was a goal. I’d never seen anything like it.
“As soon as we kicked off, they got the ball and scored again. It was such a horrible feeling.”
Now manager at Barton Town, Nathan Jarman was in the Alfreton Town side that day and was one of three players to score a hat-trick.
Warming up before the match, the Alfreton players looked over expecting to see familiar faces among their opposition. Alas. Fans, players and staff were taken aback by just how young the Wednesday team was.
Their manager Nicky Law, a former boss at Chesterfield and Bradford City, took it personally. Instead of his captain leading the side out, he pushed Jarman and six-foot-plenty centre-half Matty Wilson to the front of the queue. Though few would have guessed the scoreline, the match was won before a ball was kicked.
Jarman said: “These were young boys lining up against us in the tunnel to go out. Me and a lad called Matty lost teeth playing football, so we decided to play without our teeth in. We were basically growling at them. They were wondering what was going on.
“We were expecting a far more experienced team to come and with very colourful language Nicky said they’d disrespected us.
“He told us to go out and let them know they shouldn’t have done it.
“I remember running straight from kick-off, instead of running round this lad I ran straight into him and knocked him flying. They knew after that they were in a game.
“We had a big team; real big men in there, experienced pros that had played a lot of games in the league. It was the proverbial men against boys.
“I’m not saying they got what they deserved, but it was always going to happen.”
After the game, McAuley didn’t hold back in his summation of a humiliating afternoon.
“It was my worst moment in football. Terrible,” Nyoni said.
“Sean was brutal. He absolutely hammered everyone; screaming at us that we were a disgrace, that none of us would make it.”
But he was wrong. Of the Wednesday team that day, five of the starting side played professionally; Matt Tumilty in two cup matches for Wednesday, Nyoni similar, with Bradley Tomlinson briefly playing at St Johnstone.
Hayden White is at Walsall having played at Peterborough and Mansfield among others, while Emmanuel Dieseruvwe has represented the likes of Chesterfield, Tranmere and Salford and last month played in the National League play-offs as Grimsby Town were promoted back to the EFL.
Back to Alfreton, the Wednesday youngsters packed up their things in silence and shuffled out onto the coach. “Stick the radio on,” someone shouted from the back.
“And a score in from a pre-season fixture, which you may not believe so listen up...”
It didn't stay on for long.