The four sleeping giants of English Football - Part 1 Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday - The Owls

A look at why Nottingham Forest, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United should be in the Premier League: Part 1 - Sheffield Wednesday.

The top four average away attendances in the Football League are as follows;

1) Leeds United

2) Nottingham Forest

3) Wolverhampton Wanderers

4) Sheffield Wednesday

The definition of the phrase 'sleeping giant' is something or someone who holds great power but is still waiting for their big moment.

The phrase in football has been around for decades and many a club has been labelled as such. This isn't a discussion of who is the best footballing side outside of the Premier League, as none of these clubs can claim that.

It is much more than that, its having the fanbase, structure, history and heritage in place. It isn't just about having the most dedicated away fans, although these four clubs do have that all in common. Its about silverware, icons who have turned out for these clubs, days out at Wembley and wonderful European nights. 

Most countries have at least one team who has had huge success in the past and since fallen. Such as the most successful side in French football history in AS Saint-Etienne, winning 10 Ligue 1 titles.

In England, perhaps, we are blessed with so many great clubs, so much history, it is difficult to distinguish between the clubs who are under-achieving or over-achieving.

Take my club for example, Ipswich Town, although based in sleepy Suffolk, I consider the Tractor Boys to have a rich history, with UEFA and FA Cups sitting in their trophy cabinet.

Great managers have worked their magic at Portman Road such as Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey. Whilst most clubs in England have hosted great former players, that great cup run to speak of, but like Ipswich, they are still not I would consider a sleeping giant.

This is what makes these four clubs, for different reason, the most special outside of the Premier League. 

First of all, lets take Sheffield Wednesday, perhaps the least 'successful' historically out of the four. Fans of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club or “Wednesdayites” as they are commonly known around Sheffield are some of the most passionate, loyal supporters in the country.

They are consistently amongst the top clubs in the country in terms of home and away attendances which has led to their self-declaration of “The Massive” due to their prestigious history and large fan base.

The Owls haven’t appeared in the Premier League since 2000 and have even struggled to hold down a place in the second tier of English football at times.

Based in the country's fifth biggest city, Sheffield, the Owls have one of the most recognisable football grounds in the world. Hillsborough. It is the largest ground outside of the Premier League and the local 'Wednesdayites' fill a large proportion of the stadium on a regular basis. The ground itself has hosted FA Cup semi-finals, the European Championship in 1996 and unfortunately was the venue of one of the most notable sporting tragedies of all in 1989, the infamous Hillsborough Disaster. 

There have been notable former players such as Chris Waddle, Roland Nilsson and John Sheridan to pull on the famous blue and white stripes at Hillsborough. Ex-managers include the first ever £1 million pound player, Trevor Francis and England World Cup winner, Jack Charlton. This demonstrates the calibre of Wednesday's potential.

For a club with so much heritage,it is a shame that they are currently stuck in a rut and not enjoying life in England's top flight. Their current chairman, Former Portsmouth owner, Milan Mandaric, is reportedly looking for a way out of the club and the South Yorkshire based club seems to be lacking direction on and off the pitch. The perennial underachievers have the infrastructure to be mixing it with the finest in England, but in recent years they have struggled staying afloat in the Championship. This year they look safe, but even a late push for the play-offs appears out of reach.

One of the fundamental components to a successful football club in the long term is having a good youth set up, one that the club can either use to sell up and coming players to keep afloat or to reinvest the transfer funds to produce a better squad.

While many may disagree, this is what I consider to be Wednesday's main issue, they lack a real club identity off the pitch and, unfortunately, on it too.

Over the last decade, Wednesday fans have seen their side invest in quick fixes on the field, different ownership and their fair share of managerial appointments.

Wednesday, since their relegation from the Premier League in 2000 have been unable to reinvent themselves, built the club from the bottom up again. Why is 'identity' so important for a football club, you only have to look at Swansea City or Southampton to realise why.   

After all football is about the fans, the local community and there is nothing better for a club than having a home grown talent coming through its system and playing a role in the team success. This just hasn't happened at Wednesday, and it's just not good enough for a club this size not to be bringing through top talent.

The Owls' biggest rivals Sheffield United have produced talent over the years such as Matt Lowton, Phil Jagelika and Kyle Walker. This proves that the players are out there for the Owls. Why aren't they producing them, and in the process giving something the fans can relate to?

Despite all of this, Wednesday have so much untouched potential to really impact the landscape of English football.

The club may get sold by Milan Mandaric, who knows it could happen sooner than we think, but the reality is that this wonderful, historic football club really needs some major, perhaps radical changes to finally wake up.  

image: © Niki Odolphie

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