JUBILANT scenes at Hillsborough had barely subsided when Dave Jones, wearing a blue sweatshirt, was asked whether he expected financial backling from Milan Mandaric to keep Wednesday on the up.
“The first thing he’s got to do is buy me a new suit,” quipped the manager, his usual smart attire discarded and soaked in champagne.
It was that sort of occasion: a day for smiles, celebration, sheer enjoyment, maybe not a time just yet to examine too closely the challenges ahead.
The Owls have done it. Promotion after a gripping race against United, and celebrated in a crowd atmosphere that has probably never been bettered in my 32 years of covering the club.
The scale and aura of it all would befit the highest level.
“You see the fan base and the infrastructure ... there won’t be many teams in the Premer League that can fill 38,000 (home seats),” said Jones.
“The club itself deserves to be in the Premier League. It’s just whether you get a team that deserves it. That’s the hard part.”
But this will do for now: a brilliant run under Jones, a step up to the Championship and permission for the fans to start dreaming about doing a Norwich or a Southampton and going straight through to the top flight.
“The chairman has been nothing but supportive,” added the manager. “I wasn’t going to come here to say to him I was going to stabilise the club in League One. My remit was promotion. He asked me if I could deliver it and I said yes.
“Southampton and Norwich have done brilliantly. But the hardest part is staying in it. The easy part sometimes is getting there.
“This club has had a history for 15 years of being basically on the slide. That’s why the fans deserve their day.
“I didn’t come here just to consolidate. I came here to try to build a club. If it comes off, it will be fantastic and another notch on my CV.
“I’ve said to the chairman dreams do sometimes come true. Miracles might take a bit longer, but if you have the right infrastructure, the right backing and the right fan base, you’ve got those ticks in the box. The only one they haven’t got at the moment is the team, and that’s the hardest one.”
Yes it was a momentous day on Saturday, but there is no getting away from
thoughts about the future. With the singing and chanting having died down a bit, that was the subject of discussions overheard in pubs that night.
There will be meetings this week about shaping of the squad for Championship football: four of Saturday’s side, Nile Ranger, Danny Batth, Keith Treacy and Michail Antonio, have now ended their loan spells and their destiny will be dictated by their clubs. Jones confirmed that he will be looking for players; he is also preparing the retained list, and admitted that after the elation on Saturday for everyone there would come deflation for some players who would be going.
No-one had a broader grin than Mandaric. Paying tribute to the support, he said: “I feel incredible, especially when I see these smiles on these faces. I always said it would be my reward. I didn’t realise how big a reward it was going to be. I’m very proud of Dave Jones, his staff and players, a great bunch.”
The man who had his critics for sacking Gary Megson
heard his name chanted by the crowd - music to his ears: he had thought of quitting “a couple of times” after being unjustly accused of tax evasion and being “hurt” by the flak over the Megson affair. But no-one is saying now it was a wrong decision to bring in Jones, who took no offence when Megson refused to speak to him in the aftermath. “He did his job here,” said Jones. “He got them into a position. You put the undercoat on. I came in and glossed it.”
Mandaric said that money will be available for players, and he prefers good young ones who can be an investment: “I love the players for what they they have done but we are going to have to enhance quality. It’s going to cost money to buy players and pay bigger salaries, and do other things, to make the training ground better, support the academy and push everywhere towards the Premier League.”
The football was almost secondary on Saturday. Because Wednesday took control from the start, elated their fans with the first goal - which was followed by an equal roar after Exeter scored - and never looked like slipping up, it was more of an upwelling of emotion than a match.
Michail Antonio scored a fine goal, bursting through the middle to knock the ball home.
Ranger headed the second goal from a Chris Lines free-kick and had an earlier one wrongly disallowed for offside. Only three first-class saves by Nikki Bull thwarted Miguel Llera, and Gary Madine had an opportunity.
Many fans ignored repeated appeals to stay off the pitch after the final whistle. It took a shirtless Llera five minutes to fight his way through the crowd to the players’ tunnel.
He made it in the end, and so did Wednesday.