“What’s it like to be outclassed?” – The Sheffield Wednesday story of artist, Pete Mckee
Having been born in the 1960s, Pete McKee’s earliest Sheffield Wednesday memories won’t have been memorable on the pitch, but the legendary Yorkshire artist formed a relationship with the club spanning the best part of 50 years…
In the first of The Star’s delve into the Owls’ host of famous fans, 54-year-old McKee reminisced about his time as a Wednesdayite stretching back to the dark days in the 1970s, from being given a £5 note by his father to making his own money selling t-shirts outside Hillsborough – also revealing his favourite SWFC piece from his catalogue.
So first things first, where did it all begin?
“I’ve got two older brothers,” he told The Star. “There’s seven and 15 years difference, and I grew up with them going to games on Saturday in the bleak winters… When I got old enough, my brother and his best mate took me and my best mate because they were brothers too.
“That was the starting point. We were in the Third Division – when Len Ashurst was the manager – and let’s say they weren’t the glory days!”
Results didn’t matter really, though. Football was about more than that for McKee and his brother. It was about everything that came with that matchday experience as he made the trip from Batemoor – via Lowedges – to Hillsborough.
“It was the ritual that was really nice,” he explained. “To go with my brother, and be part of something, it made the match almost incidental to be honest. It was about the dressing up, the getting ready, the long bus ride in from Lowedges, and just the whole atmosphere of it all. We were on the Kop, and that added to the excitement.
“When I was old enough to go on my own, my dad would give me a fiver – I think it was about £3.50 to get in, then I’d get a programme and everything - and the best thing about being on the Kop, was that, when there was a goal, everybody would be tumbling down the stairs and all that. When there were big games, the atmosphere was fantastic.
When there was a goal, everybody would be tumbling down the stairs and all that...
“I always remember going to night matches, and my brother, Stuart, was working at the steelworks so he had a bit of money and we could go in the posh stands. There used to be a little pub there in the South Stand, and he’d go down 15 minutes before half-time just so he could get a pint! Everyone crammed in this tiny little place.
“The smell of cigar smoke to this day takes me to the 1970s on the South Stand, because that’s where my brother and his mates would smoke those religiously throughout the match. It was all part of that ritual.”
While he remembers being besotted by the likes of Rodger Wylde, Tommy Tynan and Terry Curran in the 1970s, the artist found his personal SWFC hero playing between the sticks rather than up at the other end of the pitch.
McKee chuckled as he said, “Funnily enough, I wanted to be a goalkeeper, so my hero was Chris Turner!
“I was a bit chubby, so outfield wasn’t part of the remit for me! At that time Turner was a bit of a legend because of saving penalties against Arsenal and stuff, so I’ll always have a soft spot for him.”
And there’s an afternoon at Hillsborough that really stands out in his memories when asked for a memorable game…
“One that, for me, was a beautiful moment, was against Hull City where we won 5-1 and Hirsty basically just took them apart… We all started singing, ‘What’s it like to be outclassed?’, and that was it. It was the first home game of the season, Ron Atkinson was the manager, and we could just tell we were on a journey then – that journey lasted about three years, and that game summed up what we were about to see and witness.
“The original nucleus of that team was insane, they were brilliant. That game was the starting point of something special.”
And it was a masterclass. Hirst scored four that day at Hillsborough – including one superb volley and a lovely goal running from the halfway line before slotting home. By the end of the 1990/91 season he’d taken his tally to 30+ goals.
McKee, who was 24 at the time, wasn’t about to let the moment pass him by, so took his artistic talents into the clothing industry – to good effect!
“After that match I went home and produced some ‘What’s it like to be outclassed?’ t-shirts,” he recalled. “I hawked them outside the ground for the next two or three games. They sold out, so for that entire season I ended up outside every home selling those shirts for a fiver a go and then going in to watch the match.”
He’s done a lot of SWFC work over the years, drawing cartoons for Owls fanzines such as ‘View from the Eastbank’, ‘Spitting Feathers’ and ‘Out of the Blue’ before joining the Sheffield Telegraph, and it may come as a surprise that his favourite Owls work isn’t his famous ‘Class of 93’ piece with Hirst, John Sheridan, Roland Nilsson and Chris Waddle.
When asked for his favourite, he replied, “One of the first ones was called ‘Full Time’, and it was basically a group of Wednesdayites in a pub. For all intents and purposes it was The Crown because that’s where we used to go, so that was scene-setting, and to really capture what it’s like to be a fan, I think that’s a nice one to go for.”