Blue heaven as Owls fans pay tribute

Owls Civic Reception...Fans outside the Town Hall
Owls Civic Reception...Fans outside the Town Hall

BY the time the Town Hall clock struck six, the sky was slate grey and the drizzle had turned to persistent rain.

But the most miserable of spring weather was not going to spoil the blue and white party.

At the remarkable end to a long, hard season, more than 2,000 Wednesday supporters turned out to applaud their heroes arriving for a civic reception, the soaked masses spilling from the square in front of the Town Halll.

Some had arrived more than an hour early to claim a prime spot under the balcony where Owls chairman Milan Mandaric, manager Dave Jones, captain Rob Jones and other players were to thank the fans.

The Kop band played on the steps, the gathering crowd began to go through their repertoire of Wednesday anthems and screens at the Surrey Street and Peace Gardens corners replayed the celebrations at Hillsborough after the final match against Wycombe that brought promotion to the Championship.

Street vendors were on Fargate with flags, scarves and horns, all blaring the message: “Wednesday are going up.”

The coach from Hillsborough arrived at six, the players and their families met by Lord Mayor Sylvia Dunkley, who was hosting the reception. Standing on the Town Hall steps, now it was the turn of the players to take photos of the crowd.

They disappeared into the grand old building, to mingle with VIPs, politicians and council staff. Meanwhile, Dave Jones was on the balcony, cheekily telling the fans “The city is yours” in response to a familiar chant.

Inside council leader Julie Dore couldn’t have wished for a better week, as an Owls devotee and a politician who had seen her party’s majority more than doubled in the council elections.

“As a lifelong Wednesday supporter I’m ecstatic about the achievement of the club,” she said. “I want to thank them for their contribution to the city - they do a lot of educational work with young people. There’s also an economic benefit, and they are raising morale at a time when people are facing difficult times.

“And I want to thank the fans. Sheffield Wednesday have some of the best supporters in the world.”

Meanwhile, Milan Mandaric was describing the supporters as the “driving force” behind the club. “There are not enough words to describe their loyalty,” he said. “I have tremendous admiration for them. Everybody is wanting to reward them.”

The man who rescued the club from administration said promotion brings a lot of pressure, “but it’s positive pressure. We know we are going in the right direction. You can’t build a house on sandy foundations. I think we have sound foundations.”

While the glasses were being raised to Wednesday, the Owls chairman said he sincerely hoped that United would join them in the Championship after the play-offs.

“This city needs them as well. This city is a football city and it should have two football clubs going neck and neck.”

As the reception continued, the crowd evaporated, the security barriers were taken down and the rain swept across the city centre.

For one half of Sheffield, though, the outlook was nothing but bright.