The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough

Sixer now …
as was, albeit a frw years back on a Ferryhill school trip to Paris

Mr Sixsmith – Pete or Sixer to most – has sternly corrected Monsieur Salut. The series is not to be passed off as The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team regardless of context; it’s Ground if we’re playing them away, Team if it’s at the Stadium of Light. So this latest edition is TFTEISYG and emphatically not TFTEISYT. Fine writers, eh? So precious.

But Sixer can be excused all preciousness. This is a wonderful series that cries out for a proper publisher (anyone listening out there?). And once aain he packs history, humour and personal reminiscence to come up with a winner …



This week we trek down the A1 and M1 to the City of Steel, a city of Owls, Blades, Eagles and Steelers as we visit Sheffield Wednesday, one of the oldest clubs in the world, formed in 1867 as The Wednesday, following fellow city clubs Sheffield and Hallam onto the mid Victorian footy scene.

They started out at Brammall Lane, then a cricket ground with a bit of football played, before moving to Olive Grove, south of their original home. When, in 1899, the railway companies wanted the land for a new line, The Wednesday upped sticks and moved across the city to the village of Owlerton, which was outside the then city boundary. Within months they had built Hillsborough and it soon became one of the most iconic grounds in English football.

By this time, they were members of the Football League, joining in 1892=93, the year that we won our second successive championship. Our first visit to Olive Grove was a disappointing 3-2 defeat; their first visit to Newcastle Road ended in a 4-2 win for us.

We first went to Hillsborough (or Owlerton as it was then called) in April 1901 where an estimated crowd of 14,000 saw a 1-0 win for The Wednesday, a result that possibly thwarted our attempt to win yet another First Division title. We did win it the next year and then the Owls followed us with their first title in 1902=03.

Heady days for two famous clubs, clad in striped shirts and representing hard-working, hard-drinking, not suffering fools gladly cities. The 30s were good years for both with league titles and FA Cup wins but both slipped off the pace in the 50s and by the time I made my first visit to Hillsborough on October 23 1965, each club was struggling at the wrong end of the top division.

Hillsborough was a stadium that many clubs aspired to. It had a huge uncovered kop, a splendid main stand with a gable so redolent of many of that period and a new cantilever stand that was the pride and joy of the club. It’s still there, running the full length of the pitch and it gives a clear and unobstructed view of the whole ground. No awkward pillars, no roof overhanging the rear seats and a sense of pride in what the Steel City could produce and build.

Comes courtesy of the Twitter pages of our Sheffield Wednesday ‘Who are You?’ interviewee Dave Briggs. Click on this caption to see the article

On my inaugural visit, I stood in what is now the West Stand but which is better known as the Leppings Lane End. It’s where we will be seated on Wednesday, a new stand with good sight lines. I stood in the area below the seats and admired the ground and wondered if the Clock Stand could be replaced by a cantilever stand.

The game is rather faint in the memory, I’m afraid. I know Neil Martin made his debut and headed a goal. A second away win of the season looked likely but we were beaten 3-1.

The Wednesday – Sheffield Wednesday by then, of course – manager was Alan Brown, who had taken us down and brought us back up and who had left the club in the summer of 1964 after a dispute over a bonus payment. He was quickly appointed as manager of the Owls having once played for the club and was in the process of building an attractive side.

He had paid the huge fee of £37,500 to Chelsea for teenager Jim McCalliog but he had many home grown players in his team such as Gerry Young from Jarrow, Peter Eustace, a Stocksbridge lad and David Ford, who made his debut in this game and became Wednesday’s first ever substitute. He later gave up football and signed for Newcastle United.

I can’t remember the scorers nor can I find them anywhere but looking at their squad list is interesting. Of the 25 senior players listed, 23 are English and the other two (McCalliog and Tom McArnearny) are Scots. Look at their squad list for this season and out of the 28 listed there are Swiss, Italian, Portuguese and Kosovan players. How times have changed…..

I assume that I went to this game by train from Darlington. In those days there was no Sheffield Tap on Midland Station but I may have sneaked a small can of Long Life out of the scullery at home and quaffed it on the way back. Or maybe not.

Since then, I have been to Hillsborough many times and have some fond memories. The two semi-final victories stand out and there was a performance in 1974 when we were three up at half time through Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes and Dave Watson. We missed out on promotion that year by two points; Wednesday missed out on Division Two, plunging into the nether regions of the Associate Members for five years.

They have had two other spells down there as well and have not been in the top division since 1999-2000. We did the double over them that year with Stefan Schwarz scoring at the SoL and Kevin Phillips getting both in a 2-0 win away on a day when the heavens opened.

Our last visit was in 2007 when we were starting to go on a roll and we won 4-2 thanks to goals from Dwight Yorke, Toby Hysen, David Connelly and Carlos Edwards. We were coasting at 3-0 but allowed the Owls back into the game, prompting steel-eyed Roy Keane to say “I was disappointed generally. We’re doing ok. We’re taking baby steps at the minute. We got away with it.”

I wonder whether Simon Grayson would be as dismissive of a similar win this time round. I think not…..

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3 thoughts on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough”

  1. I’ve never been to Hillsborough and AFAIK I’ve only ever seen a live Sheffield Wednesday game on one occasion:

    White Hart Lane. 13 November 1965. Attendance: 30,422
    Tottenham Hotspur 2 (Mackay (pen), Saul).
    Sheffield Wednesday 3 (Dobson, Fantham, Mobley – with a towering header).

    Teams (in the old numerical 2-3-5 system with possible errors involving 4v6 for Wednesday and 7v11 for Spurs).

    Spurs: Pat Jennings, Maurice Norman, Cyril Knowles, Alan Mullery, Laurie Brown, Dave Mackay, Neil Johnson, Eddie Clayton, Alan Gilzean, Frank Saul, Jimmy Robertson.

    Sheffield Wednesday:
    Peter Wicks, Don Megson, Wilf Smith, Gerry Young, Vic Mobley, Peter Eustace, John Quinn (but I’m “sure” it was Brian Usher who took the field in this position), Jim McCalliog, Johnny Fantham, David Ford, Colin Dobson.

    In those days I was living in Stroud Green Road. I think Manor House was a key interchange point for me when going to WHL. From there a bus – certainly as far as Seven Sisters and probably even further once I’d learned the ropes. Spurs were something of a 2nd team for me since I usually took in their home game one Saturday and then picked and chose on the alternate weeks between Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Fulham. I used to watch Div.1 evening games regularly regardless of who was playing. I think I saw three Sunderland games at WHL in the 60s – 0-3 (64/65), 0-1 (66/67), 1-5 (68/69). In fact in the whole decade I’m pretty sure I saw just one top-flight win in London – and that was against a 10-man West Ham (Eddie Bovington carried off after about 5 minutes) in 64/65.

    Looking at the Spurs team above I note no Jimmy Greaves, no Cliff Jones – and the need to play Maurice Norman at right back weakened the centre half position as well. Right back Joe Kinnear WAS at the club but he had not made his senior debut at the date of this game. Wednesday were missing keeper Ron Springett and John Hickton at centre forward but David Ford and a positional switch took care of Hickton. Interesting that Sunderland & Wednesday ended with very similar records that season. In our actual games against them, Wednesday did the double over us and against Spurs we each won our home game.

  2. The things you learn. Olive Grove now houses a First Bus depot consisting of 321 buses.
    I’ll get my coat…

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