My original plan was to come to Liverpool for the Merseyside derby on May 4, but a couple of weeks ago the league decided to push the game back a day to put it on “Super Sunday” (the other game on the 5th was Chelsea – Man U). So with an extra day, I had a chance to watch the final day of English Championship Football (the league below Premier League). In checking over the schedule I found that Sheffield Wednesday were at home to Middlesborough, and decided to kill two birds with one stone, as I was already planning to visit Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield as part of my research.
On getting there, I realized how much the game was going to dominate the city that day. Everywhere were the blue and white jerseys of the Owls (Wednesday’s nickname). Walking to the stadium I passed pubs packed with fans getting ready for the game (this is England pubs are generally packed, even in the morning). And there were more and more police as I got closer as well, including mounted unit patrolling around the major entrances and at the Leppings Lane gate, where the visiting fans enter. ALthough I’d seen a handful of ‘boro supporters hanging out around the entrance, I talked to one of the stewards and he told me that they were waiting for 14 coaches of ‘boro fans to arrive. A police escort brought them in a few minutes later and many emerged singing their songs ready for the game. Before going in I got a few good shots of very welcoming signs warning that anyone entering certain sections wearing visiting colours would be asked to leave or expelled from the grounds – they were very clear as to where the ‘boro fans had to sit.
The Kop filled very quickly prior to the game, they had the banners, but at the very back they also have a brass band and drums played by some of their more fanatic fans throughout the game. Along with the band, the loudspeakers play the Wednesday anthem as the players come out, it’s a ’60s song that has had the chorus lyrics changed to, “Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday!” Sounds fun with 30,000+ singing along. Songs went on through the whole game, perhaps helped by the first goal a few minutes into the game and then another later in the first half. With it 2-0 a new chant started breaking out around the grounds: “We are staying up! We are staying up!” And by the end of the game, yet another chant made the rounds for a team that wasn’t even playing that day:
The city is ours, the city is ours,
F*** off United, the city is ours.
This of course would be for their rivals Sheffield United, who play across town.
I noticed in the programme that there was a warning asking all fans to remain in the stands following the conclusion of the match, and starting from the 85th minute there was a very nice voice reminding everyone that they were to stay in the stands following the match. This was at the same time as the Kop started moving right up to the stewards and packing the bottom of the stand – with mostly young males right at the front. At the final whistle, they didn’t even hesitate, they streamed right past the stewards and right at the tunnel. After getting a good video of it all, I headed down and joined them. The way the officials finally managed to restore order and clear the field wasn’t through the stick, but by the carrot, another announcement came on that players would return to the pitch for a tribute to the fans once all fans were back in the stands.
On the tram back into town and through the rest of my day the overwhelming sentiment of those who did not go the game was that it was better that Wednesday won, as it made for a happier bunch of drunks than a loss would have. Wednesday chants continuously broke out around the city and in pubs for the rest of my day there, and even on the train, a good number of riders had been to either that game or another somewhere else in Yorkshire. The whole of Saturday in the country is defined by the games and they are inescapable. Even at 10:30 on the platform in Manchester waiting to catch a train to Liverpool, people were starting football chants and very drunk men were vomiting onto the tracks (being cheered on by friends through a football chant “He pukes when he wants, he pukes when he wants…”).
That was Saturday, and that was Championship. Sunday and the derby was still to come…