Steven Fletcher and a last embrace: How Sheffield Wednesday acted as the bond between father and son

Steven Fletcher raced from in front of the Kop and charged towards the dugout with every vein in his body pulsing out of his skin.

By Alex Miller
Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 11:55 am

For months Hillsborough had seen nothing like it. The Scot had snatched three priceless points for the Owls with a 95th-minute winner over Charlton and the 20-odd thousand supporters present celebrated in shared pandemonium.

It was the release of emotion from half a city that hadn’t seen their team score in eight weeks. Fletcher embraced teammates along the way and for a few seconds, the Sheffield Wednesday family joined in the sort of ecstasy only football can deliver. The noise was incredible and photographs of the celebrations capture the emotion perfectly; pure, unashamed relief.

But in a pair of seats just metres from where Fletcher had sparked this chaos, two men shared a moment in which the rest of the world didn’t matter.

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As those around them lost all control, 18-year-old Dan Knight turned, crouched and held his dad, knowing that following hundreds of others before it, it would be the last goal they celebrated together. Howard Knight died a fortnight later after a brave fight against cancer at the age of just 69.

“It was a massive part of our relationship,” Dan said on the bond that football forged between them.

“The time we spent together was pretty much all at football. We went to every home game and we’d argue about the game together. We’d just talk and talk about football. That's what it's about, isn't it?

“It was always going to be his last game, we knew that. He was dying and it didn’t matter how he felt, he was always going to drag himself to that game. We knew it was the last one. He hadn't been for a while because he was ill and we knew it was coming towards the end. It was a case of just going regardless.

“My pal and I basically carried by dad in, we took one arm each. It was a determination thing really.

“That feeling that he wasn't going to get to another one was with me all night and it felt as though it was going to be a typical Wednesday match; dominate the game and mess it up.

“If there was someone writing a script for my dad's last game, what actually happened would have been rejected for being too fantastical. We scored and I just hugged him. It was just a moment I won't forget.”

The Knight’s is a painfully bittersweet example of the function that football plays in the lives of families in Sheffield, up and down the country and all over the world. That last embrace on the Kop was the full stop on an obsession shared, a passion and way of life handed down from generation to generation.

Dan Knight was indoctrinated into life as a Sheffield Wednesday fan from a young age.

Their story is fiercely personal but is one that will ring true for hundreds of thousands of families hankering for a safe return to the terraces, whenever that may be. The uninitiated might describe football as 90 minutes of 22 millionaires kicking a ball about but it’s so much more than that. It’s the camaraderie, the routines, the feeling of being part of something bigger.

Fletcher’s was the last Wednesday goal scored before the world hit pause in its attempt to handle the coronavirus crisis. Howard’s funeral took place in the days before full lockdown measures were brought in but several friends and family chose not to travel because of it.

And friends he had all over the world. Howard was well-known to many in the city due to an esteemed life in politics. Those who sit within a glance of the 13th row of the Kop – where Howard would stand week on week before taking season tickets with first friends and then his older son Ben before Dan – might know him for a hi-vis jacket that would from time to time see him mistaken for a steward at the turnstile.

It’s these stories and the routine idiosyncracies the 18-year-old said he will miss in a future football experience he can’t quite imagine yet. Dan’s first match was spent on the Kop at just six weeks old, strapped to Howards’ chest. Football with Dad was something that was just always there.

Howard Knight, a former Labour councillor, died after a brave battle with cancer in March.

“We'd always park in the same spot and he'd always have the same bit of banter with the bloke who was looking after the car park,” he said, his voice breaking from time to time in an open, articulate and personal conversation. “It's little things like that.

“One of the last things he did was buy me and my friend season tickets so I'm going to be commuting back from uni every weekend. It was one of the last things he did. It was typical of him. I've got his season ticket in front of me here. I'll take it to games next year so he's with me for those ones.

“I think it’ll be worst at the first home match we get to go to, I'm just so used to him meeting me at quarter past two, picking me and my pal up. Wednesday was massive for me and my dad. It will be tough.”

The last few weeks have been a cold and devastating reminder that there are more important things in the world than football. But it’s not nearly as insignificant as some would like to make out. One day it will be safe to return to football stadiums again and it’s a day to look forward to. Football matters.

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Dan and his father Howard shared a strong passion for Sheffield Wednesday until his sad death on March 10.

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Stay safe and take care. Thank you. Alex.

Dan Knight's first match at Hillsborough was as a six-week-old baby, strapped to the chest of his father Howard.
Steven Fletcher's winner against Charlton sparked pandemonium at Hillsborough.