Sheffield Wednesday and the Unspoken Beauty of Mid-Table Mediocrity

By Alice Weekes. Stress-free football is SO this season! After taking on the blue-and-white burden of Sheffield Wednesday as a naïve child of the ‘90s, my first taste of supporting the Owls

was rather rich. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time. I might even have let out a sigh when we only just failed to qualify for Europe after a particularly strong season in 1996-97.

Seventeen years on, while sighs and sarcastic comments still prevail, top-flight finishes are sadly lacking.

Ron Atkinson with Roland Nilsson after Wednesday's victory over Manchester United in the 1991 League Cup Final

Ron Atkinson with Roland Nilsson after Wednesday’s victory over Manchester United in the 1991 League Cup Final

Let’s recap. During the 1990-91 season, Wednesday were in the second tier but swiftly returned to the top one under Ron Atkinson. They also claimed their first major trophy for over 50 years by beating Manchester United to lift the League Cup.

The following term, Wednesday finished third in the league. The campaign after that, they went to Wembley four times for both domestic knock-out trophies, losing both finals to Arsenal.

But the club’s fortunes quickly changed with the turn of the century. They dropped out of the Premier League – and, briefly, into the third tier.

The problem with Wednesday is that we were once rather good. And then, all of a sudden, we were really bad. There was no middle ground. No gradual deterioration of our status from European potentials to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy favourites. It just sort of happened. Before we knew it, we were on the road to Grimsby wearing ill-fitting shirts adorned by oversized Chuppa Chups logos.

Former Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman donning the Chupa Chups sponsored shirt

Former Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman donning the Chupa Chups sponsored shirt

The glory days still linger in the minds of Wednesday fans, young(ish) and old. We cling to our former top-flight status and take great pleasure in reminding our rivals of what once was – like a family anecdote that gets retold so many times you begin to wonder whether it actually happened in the first place.

And while the stresses of struggling in the lower leagues have been all too familiar of late, I’ve also had some of the best times of my life watching Wednesday – twice witnessing us gain promotion in dramatic fashion. But, even during these moments of glory, the stress was almost too much to bear.

I’ll bring you up to date with our current position. We lie 14th in the Championship with a 45-point tally. While other teams clamber towards the play-offs or slide despairingly into the relegation zone, we look rather comfortable. Some might say this is uninspiring and that we have nothing to play for. They may be right – but therein lies the beauty of this season.

Think about it. Who doesn’t love hanging out with those wonderfully average people who are not so successful that they make you feel like a total goon, and not so awful at life that you’re afraid to be seen with them in public?

The Owls look set to beat last season's 18th place finish in the Championship

The Owls look set to beat last season’s 18th place finish in the Championship

That is the company that we are presently keeping in the Championship – and I kind of like it. I can now make it through a Saturday afternoon without tearing a single hair out of my head or scouring the kitchen for every last possible drop of alcohol.

I have a theory: mid-table mediocrity is actually rather a beautiful thing. We’re coasting. Just having a little sit-down. It’s about time the Sheffield Wednesday faithful were given a footballing sabbatical and, Lord knows, it won’t last.

I began to theorise about the beauty of being average after we recently fluffed the chance to make it into an FA Cup quarter-final against our bitterest of rivals, Sheffield United. Sure, on the face of it we were all gutted. But I don’t think I was the only Wednesdayite to quietly wonder whether we had, in fact, dodged a bullet.

The Sheffield Derby is still one of the most hotly contested derbies in English football

The Sheffield Derby is still one of the most hotly contested derbies in English football

The sheer terror that came with the cosmic possibility that we could lose to the Blades sickened me to my very core. It wasn’t worth the risk. I took comfort in the fact we had slipped out of contention without so much as a whimper.

So think twice before you complain about mid-table mediocrity. Somewhere out there a Leicester City fan is frantically figuring out the maths of promotion, while a Manchester United supporter painfully muses over the likelihood of missing out on Champions League qualification.

And here we are, my beloved Sheffield Wednesday, wedged comfortably in the bosom of comfortable anonymity.

Stress-free football is SO this season.

Do fans take mid-table mediocrity for granted? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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