Why Sheffield Wednesday and survival means so much to Liam Palmer
“Oi, noise down mate!”, Liam Palmer said to a colleague with a smile midway through one of his answers in today’s Sheffield Wednesday press conference.
Their situation may be dire, but the Owls academy graduate has reasons to be upbeat as one of the players who has seemingly benefitted most from Darren Moore’s arrival at Hillsborough, and on the back of a victory that has given Wednesday a glimmer of hope.
Palmer has been with the Owls for the best part of two decades, coming through the ranks as youngster before making his debut back in 2010 – he’s seen promotions as a fan and as a player, and he’s endured relegation on both fronts too.
The defender from Worksop, about half an hour away from Hillsborough, was present for the 2005 Play-Off final at Cardiff, and watched on at S6 in that fateful draw with Crystal Palace just months before his first Owls appearance.
So he knows the pressure, probably more so than anybody else at the club right now. And he’s determined to try and play his part in what would go down as one of the greatest of great escapes.
He told The Star, “I’ve been a Wednesday player for the best part of 20 years since coming here as a kid, and as a fan as well. It weighs heavily on me in terms of my own personal goals and aspirations – I try to bring that to the club, the dressing room and every time I step out on the pitch.
“I was there that day at Cardiff, and it opened my eyes. There were people kicking the balls up in the street, and it was just a really good day out in terms of fans coming together. We saw it again at Wembley, although it didn’t go our way that time. This club needs to be at those sort of stages.
“As much as I was frustrated not to feature at Wembley, the build-up, driving on the bus and seeing the fanbase then – it’s something I want to aspire to get the club back there again.”
With so many years at the club, he’s now into double figures in terms of managers that he’s played under in blue and white, but in Moore he seems to have found somebody that really gets him.
“The way he likes us to play suits me a bit better than some of the other managers,” he explained. “One of the things that he says is ‘be at your best when your best is needed’, and that’s something that resonates with me. It’s something I really took on board. As much as it’s something you try and do every game, there’s a really need and desire to do it now given the situation we find ourselves in.
“Having someone that believes in you, and tries to give you the tools – physically, technically and mentally – is important.”
And it’s not just in a football sense that they connect, it would appear. Moore is known for his sense of community and the work that he’s done off the field – and Palmer is certainly doing his bit to try and uplift the youth in a city which has given him so much.
Through his School of Excellence, ‘Palms’ offers plenty more than just football development, and he’s eager to make sure that he plays his part in forging a better future for the kids who take part.
It’s a project clearly close to his heart, and he says, “It’s nice to be able to do something in my spare time… My coaching school allows me to educate a new generation of kids. You see a lot of soccer schools up around the place, but education is something that’s gone hand-in-hand with mine.”
And it’s not just education in the academic sense that he’s talking about.
“It’s key to what we do,” he explained. “And we always try to challenge topics that are relevant… We’ve touched on racism, cyber safety, we’ve had mental health organisations come in. Our kids range from 5-12 usually on the holiday camps, and it’s really just scratching the surfaces of the real issues.
“We had the Rainbow Laces came down for a camp in the Easter holidays, and we want it to be inclusive for everyone. We’ve got the Mini Medics pencilled in for the next one – and we try to have a real variety of things that they might not understand or hear about, and that they might not feel comfortable talking about, but it’s just giving them a bit of information to make them better people and broaden their horizons, but also to have discussions with their classmates and families. It’s about normalising these things.”
But back to the football. And the matter at hand.
Palmer isn’t known for his goalscoring prowess – he’s only ever scored two in his time at Wednesday – but he’s getting further forward under Moore, and nobody would begrudge him of all people the chance to get in on the act in the three cup finals ahead.
For the player though, he’s not bothered who gets the goals. As long as they’re enough.
“Now is the time to throw caution to the wind, in the right way,” he urged. “It’s time for somebody to step up and be a hero – whether it’s someone who’s played 40 games or 10 minutes – and that stage is being built up for anyone to help the club when they’re called upon.”