Optimism in the air at Sheffield Wednesday's annual Owls in the Park event
There aren’t many football clubs that could attract upwards of 15,000 people to a funfair in June.
At the eighth annual ‘Owls in the Park’ event held in the shadow of Hillsborough stadium today, there was no kit launch or grandeur unveiling of multi-million pound signings, but Sheffield Wednesday did exactly that.
Because all that club needs to do is clap and the fan base come running. They come running for an autograph from their heroes, a handshake from their goalkeeping coach, a glimpse of their manager. Make no mistake, Sheffield Wednesday is a massive football club, and blessed with stunning weather, the sense of optimism at Hillsborough Park was immense.
Walking the grounds through the sea of blue and white shirts, the conversation was only whether Steve Bruce’s men should expect to challenge for the Championship’s top two spots, or the top six.
What is unanimously agreed is that promotion is the aim, and with a manager at the helm who has done that more times than any other, there’s logic behind the feeling that this could be their season.
Bruce himself praised the assembled thousands for their support when interviewed onstage alongside a selection of his squad, admitting the Wednesday fanbase were a major part of the reason he agreed to sign for the club in February. Days like today, he said, were the perfect illustration of what he imagined the club to be.
One season ticket-holder, Mark Hurt, had travelled from York to attend Owls in the Park, and said it was always one of the highlights of his year.
“It’s always the day you turn up and it feels as if the season is almost here,” he said, “I’ve been to every one of them. From here it’s onto friendlies and into the proper stuff. I always think of this as the start of the season now.
“There is a feeling that things are going right again at Wednesday. You can see that today, everyone is walking around with smiles on their faces, the players look relaxed and raring to go. There are things that need doing in the next couple of weeks, we all know that, but they seem to have got things going in the right direction.”
And relaxed the players were. One by one, they were asked what they believed the season had in store, and one by one they said they were aiming for a play-off spot. Soon-to-be-completed new signings Julian Börner, Moses Odubajo and Kadeem Harris were present and though Arminia Bielefeld, Brentford and Cardiff are big clubs in their own right, the trio were surely impressed with the turnout to an out-of-season day at the park.
“I’m sure it’s a big eye-opener for them,” said Wednesday fan Keith Mills, the oldest of three generations of his family there today.
“It shows the players what we’re about and it shows them just how much this football club means to so many people. I don’t know how many clubs in the Premier League could do this, let alone the Championship.
“We need to get up in the next two seasons and I think Steve Bruce is the man to take us there.”
The Sheffield Wednesday supporters will be out in force no matter what. Whether the unabashed optimism that swirled around the park this afternoon is still blowing in May is over to the club.