English football can be an unforgiving place. The past decade or two has seen a number of clubs fall on hard times, financially, structurally and even professionally. Former giants of the English game have been reduced to shadows of their old selves, their proud histories looked back on with fondness as they tumble down the league(s), battling relegation and financial ruin, chasing the dream of their past glories as they head in the ‘wrong’ direction.
You only have to look into the Championship for evidence as to the ease of which clubs’ fortunes can rise and fall in dramatic fashion. From past Premier League winners to Champions League semi-finalists, the list of sides whose fortunes have fallen on harder times is notable. Even into the third and fourth tiers we can find modern-day FA Cup winners and finalists along with sides that have competed at the highest level in recent seasons.
One of the biggest clubs to have dropped away from mainstream public consciousness in recent years is Sheffield Wednesday. One of the founding members of not only the Premier League, but the original FA in the late 19th-century, the club have a proud tradition, large fan base and an excellent stadium. Hillsborough has unfortunately become synonymous with the tragic events of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final but it nevertheless remains an impressive ground with a near 40,000 capacity, of which at least half is regularly filled by their loyal fans.
The modern era has generally headed in one direction for the Sheffield giants, however. The last 25 years have seen the Owls go from League Cup champions and multiple cup finalists to wading around in the Championship, even falling in to the third tier at one point. Since falling out of the Premier League in 2000, the club have gone through 10 different managers in an attempt to improve their fortunes, although none succeeded in raising the club to anything more than mid-table fodder – a sad sight for one of England’s most historic clubs.
As is often the case in this day and age, the club battled financial problems alongside it’s on-pitch mediocrity and narrowly avoided a winding-up order at the start of the decade. But brighter days are ahead for ‘Wednesday’, the club’s coming through its downturn and is now in a good place to attempt a push for a return to top-flight football for the first time in over 15 years.
Like many clubs across the country, the ‘Steel City’ side were bought by foreign investors in early 2015. They’ve found a new lease of life under owner Dejphon Chasniri, however, and currently occupy the last promotion spot in the ultra competitive Championship. Aiming to get the side back in the top-flight in time for it’s 150th anniversary in 2017, the Thai businessman has invested heavily since his arrival, both structurally and with personnel.
But he clearly knows his stuff both on and off the pitch. Not many would have heard of their manager before this season, the relatively unknown Carlos Carvahal bought in following unremarkable spells in Portugal and Turkey. With the help of some excellent investment in quality players, however, the Portuguese coach has made the Sheffield side one of the most impressive in the Championship, and outside candidates for promotion.
Their form on their own patch has been particularly eye-catching, with the club only losing once in front of their own fans so far this season. They are right up there amongst the leagues top-scorers, a feat aided by prolific strikers Fernando Forestieri and Gary Hooper, who are both in double figures for the season. Carrying on the fine work undertaken by previous caretaker and full time boss Stuart Gray, Carvalhal has taken the team on another level, mixing talented imports with some fine UK players to produce a side that’s both good to watch and able to get results with great team spirit.
If they are to really cement their place in the play-offs for this season they may need to improve their away form, but they’re headed in the right direction for sure and would actually be a year ahead of schedule if they did somehow get to the Premier League this time around. It seems more logical to suggest they can make a concerted effort for automatic promotion next season, the squad, manager and club still in development together under the new owner.
After so many years of battling relegation, staving off financial ruin and merely just treading water in the anonymity of lower mid-table Championship football, Owls fans may have finally found something to get excited about once again. With good investment behind them, an intriguing and exciting manager at the helm and the loyal and passionate Hillsborough crowd alongside them, this tight-knit group of players have the talent and potential to re-establish the Owls as a Premier League force once again.