Having a bad season? Worried that things couldn't be much worse? Cheer yourself up with some schadenfreude as Graham Lightfoot looks back on Sheffield Wednesday's darkest hour
Sheffield Wednesday’s fall from grace over the last few years has been more plummet than decline. Ask any supporter under the age of 30 to name their worst ever season and our most recent campaigns in the Nationwide League would undoubtedly figure. Wednesdayites with the odd silver hair curling out from under their blue and white bobble hat will have memories of darker days. In the 1970s, for the first time that most of us could remember, we would have to grudgingly admit that Sheffield United were actually a better side than us.
The low-point was reached in the 1974-75 season and comparisons with Wednesday’s current predicament are eerily familiar. Relegation from the top flight at the end of the 1960s had found Wednesday frantically treading water in the Second Division. The release of mercurial winger Willie Henderson had wiped the smile off most Wednesdayites’ faces and the take-up of season tickets had been poor. Then, as now, the club were in something of a financial crisis.
In charge at that time was ex-QPR coach Steve Burtenshaw. Wednesday was his first managerial appointment – and it was showing. The hammer blow of an early-season exit to Fourth Division Scunthorpe United in the League Cup was an indication of things to come. This was soon followed by the death of Eric Taylor, the club’s general manager of over 30 years’ standing. He had retired only two weeks earlier. A well respected administrator, Taylor, affectionately known as “Mr Sheffield Wednesday”, had once intimated that “a club’s first duty was to the home supporters”. In 1974 Wednesday were failing to fulfil that duty. A string of poor home performances meant that the fans had to wait until mid-October before the first home win was posted. The victory over Hull City coincided with the arrival of Eric McMordie on loan from Middlesbrough. The Northern Ireland international presided over Wednesday’s best run of the season, including a remarkable 4-4 home draw with Manchester United (yes, it was that season). In the nine appearances he made for the club, McMordie scored six goals. Prior to his arrival Wednesday had managed only nine goals in 13 games. Sadly, but not surprisingly, McMordie chose not to join the club permanently.
The depression was relentless as Wednesday sold Tommy Craig to Newcastle. Craig, a stylish midfielder bought for £100,000 from Aberdeen some years earlier, had been Britain’s costliest teenager. His departure seemed somewhat of an admission that the good times were over. Even the diversion of the FA Cup failed to offer any cheer, as a creditable performance away to First Division Chelsea saw the Owls take a two-goal lead only for Chelsea to net three in the last 15 minutes, including two from that quicksilver goal-poacher, Micky Droy. Unbelievably, it was to get worse as Wednesday managed to score only one league goal throughout January, February and March.
On April 19, Wednesday hosted Oxford United in front of 7,444 (the club’s lowest postwar crowd) in a ground that had held 55,000 for an FA Cup semi-final a fortnight earlier. After eight minutes the Owls were a goal down thanks to Andy McCulloch, a player who would later play a big part in the club’s subsequent revival. With 90 minutes played, those who were still in the ground to witness it saw Brian Joicey scramble the ball over the line for our first home League goal since December 14.
Wednesday had played over 14 hours at Hillsborough without scoring a goal. Eric Taylor’s ghost would be shaking its head. With 21 points and without a win in their last 17 games, Wednesday were relegated to the Third Division for the first time. Poignantly, McMordie remained the club’s top scorer for the season.
From WSC 192 February 2003. What was happening this month