“Tea, tears and memories of my mate” Jim McCalliog’s emotional tribute to ‘Mr Sheffield Wednesday’ Don Megson

Gripping his wife’s mobile phone, 76-year-old Jim McCalliog draws an intake of breath from his home in Fenwick, Ayrshire. His voice breaks a little and he takes his time before speaking again. “Yes,” he says. “That is such sad news.”
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Some 56 years have passed since McCalliog left Sheffield Wednesday at a similar time to Don Megson, a man a decade his senior he says he admired as much as anyone he has ever met.

‘The passing of time may dull a man’s memory,’ the former Scotland international once told me in a previous interview though not in those exact words, ‘but the nature of football means the memories are logged and relived and loved forever.’ It makes footballers lucky men indeed, he said.

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It was a philosophical turn of phrase that stuck heavy in the mind when I phoned McCalliog to discuss his memories of Megson, who died peacefully this week at the age of 86 sparking a flurry of tributes from across South Yorkshire and beyond. Darren Moore – a great friend of his son and former Owls player and manager Gary – was one of a very many to describe him as a legend.

Sheffield Wednesday players Jim McCalliog and Don Megson look on after losing the FA Cup Final in May 1966.Sheffield Wednesday players Jim McCalliog and Don Megson look on after losing the FA Cup Final in May 1966.
Sheffield Wednesday players Jim McCalliog and Don Megson look on after losing the FA Cup Final in May 1966.

With no access to social media and with news channels in Scotland not carrying the sad news, McCalliog was hearing of his great friend’s death for the first time.

“He was the best captain I ever played under,” he said. “He was a lovely man, a lovely family man. That really is such very sad news.”

If McCalliog’s previous talk of dulled memories was in reference to himself you’d never have known from this afternoon’s phonecall. Such was the fondness and detail with which he told of his memories of Megson your mind’s eye installs a swinging sixties Beatles soundtrack playing over sepia footage of Hillsborough Park.

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Voice breaking in his delivery once or twice, an emotional McCalliog was delighted to discuss his memories of one of Sheffield Wednesday’s finest-ever players, a man who sits seventh in the club’s all-time appearance list with a remarkable tally of 442.

“It would be an honour,” he said.

“I was just a young man of 19 when I started out at Sheffield Wednesday and on matchdays I used to hop on the bus up to Hillsborough. I didn’t have a car then, in fact I don’t think I had passed my test.

“I would jump off the bus and walk up to Don’s house, which was just up from the ground. This was every Saturday.

“It would help settle me down, being with a family like that. And that was the mark of the man, opening the door to me in family time. We’d jump in the car and head down to Hillsborough for the match.

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“I have such very fond memories of going up there, having a cup of tea with Don and his wife, Gary and Neil who were just kiddies back then. He was a smashing man and I kept in touch with Don as much as I possibly could.”

Indeed, in recent years Jim and Don would speak on the phone from time to time, discussing family and football and yes, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Legends they of course are but at the heart of the conversations were two men older in years and so very proud of the times that they shared.

A solid left-sided defender blessed with an attacking joie de vivre long before overlapping wing-backs had become commonplace, Megson was the indomitable Owls captain that took his side around the country during a 1966 run to the FA Cup final – where they lost a classic 3-2 to Everton. McCalliog scored.

The team reads as a flick-book of the faces adorned on the walls of Hillsborough to this very day, legends each; Springett, Smith, Megson (c), Eustace, Ellis, Young, Pugh, Fantham, McCalliog, Ford, Quinn.

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The abiding memory of the day from a Wednesday perspective is Megson leading his team around the Wembley turf in a lap of honour. This was in a losing cause of course but designed as a thankyou to the Owls supporters who had made their way to support them in London – and in Reading, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Blackburn and at Chelsea.

It was an understated act of thanks to a fanbase he appreciated and that he had grown to be a part of since making the move over from Lancashire in 1952.

“It was a great idea,” McCalliog said. “The Wednesday supporters of that particular cup run were out a lot of money because we’d played every game in the cup away from home. The semi-final was at Villa Park – and then even in the final we were in the away changing room and had to change colours!

“The Wednesday fans put up with a lot and were there in such numbers. They really were wonderful fans and I know Don and the rest of us were so disappointed we weren’t able to bring the cup back to them.

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“Don was inspirational. A great figure. He was a great guy.”

It is here that McCalliog tells The Star he has tears falling down his cheek.

“We’d have such great chats,” he continued. “He’d always call me ‘Scot’. He’d come up to me, stick his arm around me and say ‘What’s up Scot, are you OK?’ He looked after me and he made me laugh. He was a big brother or a father figure or something inbetween.

“He was so professional and just loved playing for Sheffield Wednesday. He was always a great example and role model. He would go through the wall for Sheffield Wednesday, he loved being captain and it brings tears to my eyes talking about him. What a wonderful man.

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“The thing about Don was that he was always looking out for everybody. Often you’d be leaving training for the day, you’d look back and Don would be out there giving some young lads some tips.

“He was very much – I would say – ‘Mr Sheffield Wednesday’.

The spirit of the line McCalliog had discussed all those months earlier – about memories and the legacies of ‘lucky’ footballers – has never rung more true. Where most of us live and die with legacies stationed at family level, perhaps on a workplace or via work in the local community, there’s great and rightful pride to be had.

But a footballer? Whose pictures hang on the wall of a football stadium six decades on from your time there and whose leading of his friends and teammates around Wembley has become one of the most iconic images in the history of football’s greatest competition? Don Megson’s imprint on Sheffield Wednesday is one rivalled by a very few. Lucky indeed, but in reading the tributes of those who watched him play, it’s possible that Wednesday are in this case the lucky ones.

The last word goes to McCalliog.

“It was a great time in my life,” he said. “And the best thing I ever did going to Sheffield Wednesday.

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“Meeting Don Megson was the greatest added bonus. What a wonderful man.”