Wednesday were all at sea for years… 

Did you ever think that you would look at the Premier League table and see the Wigan in 7th, Hull take 20 points in the first 9 games and Fulham challenging for 6th?

If  that wasn’t strange enough, once Champions League semi-finalists Leeds United are currently sitting in the middle of the third tier following in similar footsteps to the once impressive Sheffield Wednesday. 

So what happened to the big boys who are nowhere to be seen in England’s top 20?

 Leeds United – Essentially, Leeds spent millions that they simply did not have under the guidance of then chairman, Peter Ridsdale (now at Cardiff City) . Ridsdale took out large loans to buy players in an effort to build on the success of previous high finishes. The club expected to pay these back with prize money and revenue from television rights obtained from progress in the UEFA Champions League. Of course Leeds then failed to qualify and this led to high profile player sales to try and keep the club afloat, most notably Rio Ferdinand to bitter rivals Manchester United. This transfer caused the dispute between Ridsdale and manager David O’ Leary, under whom they never finished lower than fifth. Terry Venables took over followed by Peter Reid and then Eddie Gray but alas after three years of financial meltdown the club was relegated.

United were then the subject of a succesful take over bid by a Ken Bates (the once controversial Chairman of Chelsea). The club nearly made a return at the second attempt under Kevin Blackwell, Leeds finished fourth and reached the play-off final only to lose to Watford. Blackwell was sacked early in the following season after a sluggish start and was replaced by Dennis Wise. Despite the change in regime wise couldn’t lift Leeds out of the bottom three. With relegation virtually assured, the club applied to go into administration immediately in an attempt to incurr the 10 point dedution penalty whilst in the Championship. The football league overruled this and after a lengthy court battle and dispute with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Leeds started life in League One, 10 points adrift. Amazingly they still reached the play off final and lost to Doncaster.

Leeds in 2009

They are currently seventh in League One and four points off the play-offs with a game in hand. Should Leeds achieve promotion, it will be an arduous task to keep them in the second tier. It will be a long, LONG time before Leeds compete for European football again.

Sheffield Wednesday – In the 1990/91 season Wednesday were relegated to the second tier having spent the previous six seasons in the top flight. Little did they know they were about to enter the club’s most succesful spell in the modern era. Promotion back to the top echelon of the English game was secured at the first attempt with the Owls finishing third. For all the joy that promotion brought the Hillsbrough faithful, this was eclipsed in some style by winning the League cup in the same season by defeating Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley to win the clubs first major trophy since 1935.

 The following season Trevor Francis took over the reigns in a player-manager role to fill the void left by Ron Atkinson’s departure to Aston Villa. Francis success was immediate, securing a third-place finish in their first season and Wednesday made four appearances at Wembley the following season. Defeating bitter rivals Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi final and losing the final after a replay to Arsenal. The Gunners had beaten Wedneday in the league cup final at the twin towers earlier in the season.

 It was the 1994/95 season where most Wedneday fans feel it started to go wrong. After achieving another seventh place finish, Trevor Francis was sacked after a disappointing start that led to club finishing 13th and was succeeded by David Pleat and the latter by Danny Wilson This signalled the start of a managerial merry-go-round at Hillbrough, nine managerial changes followed in a mere ten years from Francis’ departure

Wednesday’s financial problems were starting to be exposed,  the managers that followed Francis invested heavily in the squad with very little to show for it. Inflated transfer fees, high wages and badly negotiated contracts were the order of the day for the ailing club and they soon had to offload the high earners.

Wednesday started to capitulate and were relegation favourites for the 1999/2000 season, a disastrous campaign demonstrated by the 8-0 thrashing by Newcastle United. As a last ditch attempt at survival Wilson was replaced by Peter Shreeves who failed to keep the club in the top flight, Wednesday were relegated away to Arsenal despite a 3-3 draw on the last day.

After relegation Paul Jewell, Peter Shreeves (again), Chris Turner all braved the hot seat. The Owls suffering another relegation under Turner’s tenure at the club. 

Stability And The Future

 Paul Sturrock brought the club off its knees and Wednesday were promoted to the Championship in 2004 via the League One play offs and even kept the club in the Championship after the promotion. Wednesday however started the next season in poor fashion and the scot was replaced by currrent manager Brian Laws who guided the club to ninth in the league. Last season Wednesday survived the dogfight but with an ambitious new Chairman and a solid manager in Laws  who has performed well on a shoe-string budget, Wednesday may well return to Premier League in the coming years.