The term “Sleeping Giant” is an overused cliché often used for clubs who have fallen on hard times, whose better days are a distant memory or highlight footage that is only available in black and white. The Football League is littered with clubs who at one point or another dominated English football. Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United are four of the biggest clubs outside of the top flight, alongside Sheffield Wednesday.
All five have failed to maintain Premier League soccer since 1992, despite Leeds, Forest, United and Wednesday all being part of that debut season. Of all of them, perhaps Wednesday feel the most regretful about what has happened since they kicked off away at Goodison on August 15, 1992. Wednesday were flush with a recent shock League Cup win in 1991 against another big club about to wake up, Manchester United. and had been promoted back to the top flight after a one year absence.
Wednesday hit the ground running, finishing third in the final season of the First Division behind champions Leeds United and Manchester United. The following season, they maintained this momentum cruelly losing both cup finals to Arsenal and both were in extra time. It was easily the clubs best period since the 1920’s. They played an attractive brand of football and regularly attained crowds of 27,000 as fans began to return to soccer after the dark days of the 1970’s and 80’s. Sheffield Wednesday were consistently in the Premier League top seven. Yet it all began to unravel and by 2000. Wednesday had been relegated and the Premiership exile began.
During the 15 years since, they have fallen into the third tier twice and almost dropped into the fourth tier in 2004, staying up by just 3 points and goal difference. The pitch was flooded during the fatal Sheffield floods of 2007. They survived several winding up orders in 2010 and finally returned to the Championship in 2013. All in all, other than Portsmouth, it had been the most dramatic fall from grace in the modern era. Incredibly, it could have been worse.
The club received a massive boost in January this year when the current chairman (former Portsmouth and Leicester City owner Milan Mandaric) sold to the Thai Union Group for £30 million and they have not stopped investing since. A new pitch has been laid, a state of the art electronic scoreboard installed, updated facilities and improvements to the training ground along with wiping out the remaining debts. Eight players have been signed including the impressive Lewis McGugan and Marcos Matias. The former Benfica and Besiktas coach Carlos Carvalhal has been installed as head coach and the new owner is targeting promotion by the end of the 2016-2017 season. Finally, Wednesday fans began to see a realistic opportunity of Premier League promotion.
The chairman has also stated to back up this target that he will spend whatever is required to get them back into the Premier League and whilst Wednesday were a long way short of challenging for promotion last season, the foundations of a good side were in place. Suffice to say, Wednesday fans are probably the most excited they’ve been for quite a while. Even a storm over a rather hefty price increase seems to have settled down but it’s on the pitch where things will always be decided.
The Championship has seen some phenomenal amounts of money thrown around over the last couple of seasons as Fulham, Derby, Middlesbrough, Forest, Wolves, Ipswich, Leeds United, QPR and Hull City all feel they have a chance of promotion. Wednesday fans may be flush with more optimism than they have had in a long time but they need to remember just how strong the big boys in this league really are. QPR are a prime example of that. The incredible amount that sides relegated from the Premier League receive in parachute payments has begun to wash around the Championship. Ross McCormack’s £11 million transfer from Leeds to Fulham last summer is testament to that.
Often the Championship is derided because any team can beat anyone on the day, but it is true. The competitive nature and the closeness in squad ability mean that at least 10 sides all have a serious and realistic chance of promotion. Add to that the promotion momentum that MK Dons, Preston and Bristol City have and Sheffield Wednesday may find them with a little bit too much to do in attempting to gain promotion this season.
It is the hardest league to get out of, without a doubt, and anything above 10th should be a reason for success at Sheffield Wednesday. They’ve waited 15 years to have a realistic crack at returning to the top flight. They just need to make sure they don’t rush the opportunity and make sure they build over the next couple of seasons. Wednesday fans are more hopeful than they’ve been in a while but it may take more than two seasons to return to the Premier League’s promised land.