ERIC BROWN reviews the official history of Sheffield Wednesday FC and wonders why the tragedy of Hillsborough and the 1960s betting scandal gets such short shrift.
Anyone with a decent vault of general knowledge should be able to name the location of English football’s worst disaster.
You don’t need to be a football expert to identify Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday FC, as the ground where 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest in 1989. Nearly 30 years on, court proceedings are still pending.
But a new history to celebrate 150 years of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club has missed the opportunity to present Wednesday’s viewpoint on the disaster.
Author Jason Dickinson has previously written, or co-written, five books about the club, supported them since 1979 and is a member of the Wednesday match programme team.
He does quote from minutes of board meetings but there’s nothing about the directors’ response to what happened. It would have been interesting to learn the club’s reaction when they were incredibly and awarded another FA Cup semi-final a year later.
The whole disaster has warranted about 10 lines of a 350-page book and mostly appears to be celebrating a later £480,000 government grant for Wednesday to help redevelop the infamous Leppings Lane end where crush barriers collapsed on April 15, 1989.
The second major scandal to envelope Wednesday receives similarly short shrift. Wednesday were at the centre of bribes allegations made in a Sunday People exclusive in April 1964. Wednesday’s England international centre half Peter Swan, prolific David “Bronco” Layne, who netted 52 goals in two seasons, and former Owl Tony Kay, who had been unloaded to Everton, were accused, subsequently imprisoned and given life bans from football.
Swan and Kay were candidates for England’s 1966 world cup squad with Kay expected to make the team. This bombshell incident in Wednesday’s history rates 13 lines.
Mr Dickinson has done a fine job with the minutiae of Wednesday history. For instance a report in the 1920s mentioned that play was held up while players recovered from slipping heavily on ice.
And the final chapter of oddities is highly entertaining, reporting among other anecdotes the performance of goalscorer and prankster Harry Millar who once turned up at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre and began conducting the orchestra before being rumbled and chased out by the manager.
The topsy-turvy progress of England’s third-oldest club is meticulously traced from early days as a cricket club through various promotions, relegations and trophy glory to the present day. It will appeal to hardcore Wednesday fans.
Just don’t expect to read much about the two biggest incidents in their history.
Sheffield Wednesday FC The Official History by Jason Dickinson is published by Amberley. Price £16.99 softback.