WOTMT
The Passion of 3 Wednesdayites
Thoughts on the passing of 3 Wednesdayites and passion for the club

The current public health and economic situation proves that football isn’t more important than life and death, contrary to Bill Shankly’s famous words. That said, football is still important and to some people it is a major part of their life whether they be managers, coaches, players and in many cases fans. Despite all the current sad and frightening news football still manages to make its way in there whether due to the inability of those in charge to regulate their own industry; the clumsy actions of clubs, organisations, individuals and Government; and because some good stuff happens too. The lack of trust in the system appears to me to be the biggest problem. The PFA doesn't trust the clubs, clubs don’t trust each other and clubs don’t trust the leagues to do the right thing. In 18/19 PL clubs had total income of £4.8bn, £3bn of that went to 6 clubs, the average wages to turnover is 64% (but 3 clubs were over 80%). The Championship, with clubs chasing the PL cash, are even worse with many clubs paying out more in wages than they earn in income. As the money comes in clubs shovel it out as fast as they can to players and their agents, but they leave themselves no safety net with little money stashed away for a rainy day. Clubs are on a knife-edge and are desperate for the 19/20 season to be completed because they need the TV money and because to voiding the season would result in a vicious legal battle.

Football and our clubs are important to fans’ not because of the money but because clubs are part of our local community - they add to a town’s or city’s sense of place. Those running the industry have lost that connection – money is what is valued, not history, community or belonging. They say never waste the opportunity that a crisis offers and a real potential crisis now faces football and many clubs that sit outside the top 6. Football needs a total reset in which the whole game works out what really is of value; where money is shared more evenly, where wages are reduced exponentially and where ticket prices follow suit, where money grabbing agents are driven out of the game, and where an Independent Regulator regulates the industry with real teeth. The industry will not do this for itself; rather than score points about PL players wages Government should be pressurising the industry to reform itself along the lines described here. I cannot see the industry rising above self-interest to do what’s in the collective interest unless some greater authority forces them to.

We have recently lost 3 Wednesdayites to whom football and our club was massively important. I used to attend games home and away with a group that included Howard Knight, the former Sheffield councillor who recently passed away. I remember many away trips with Howard, setting off last minute, lunch eaten in the car, pub on the way home for beer, food and pub games. I also remember standing on The Kop with him, with his son sat on the crush barrier watching Colin West blaze that famous penalty high into the Kop. Howard’s young son simply said “he wasn’t supposed to do that was he Daddy”. Enough said. Howard at least managed to see us beat Charlton in February before he passed. RIP Howard. Joe Ashton also recently passed away too. Like my dad he was born in Attercliffe and had strong working-class roots and like my dad he was a Wednesdayite. Joe was passionately committed to the club and rose to sit on the board, from that position he was a key persuader in convincing shareholders to vote for the re-structuring of the club that resulted in the Charterhouse investment. When he came off the board he was always a thorn in the side of the club establishment, I didn’t always agree with him but there was never doubting his passion for the club and his commitment to hold to account those that were running it. RIP Joe.

Most recently we have lost a mate of both Paul and I in Barry Birks. Barry was Wednesday to his very core – he not only supported the team he also worried about and cared for the club with a passion. That often placed him on a collision course with those who were running the club whom Barry never trusted, he was a passionate advocate for fans owning and controlling their club. He played a key part in setting up WISA to openly challenge those running the club, WISA didn’t go out to win friends but it did set out to try to make those in power shuffle around a bit. He also loved WOTMT and I shall always remember him sat in the New Barrack Tavern reading the fanzine and laughing away to himself – one of the Gerald Sibon’s Diary articles near caused him to pass out because he laughed so much. As did a caption concerning a one-time Chairman of the Shareholders Association!

In the words of his wife Wendy “Barry was one of the kindest, most caring people you would ever wish to meet. He was so committed and principled, always looking to help others more vulnerable than him. He loved his job as a nurse and was so well-respected by his colleagues and the patients he cared for. People came up to him in the street to thank him for his care in hospital. He never shirked things, as his time in Social Work proved. He also volunteered as a Samaritan to help those in crisis and gave so much to others until he had to give this up through worsening health after 5 years in the role. He also had to retire from his nursing career in 2010 after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, which I know really hurt him. He never let his disability hinder him, and I never heard him complain.” We echo all that and more. His spirit will always be with us. RIP Bazza.

So, football isn’t more important than life and death. But it’s important to fans of their clubs like Howard, Joe and Barry. We owe it to them and thousands of other fans to seek a viable and sustainable future for our club out of the current position. Yes we want to play at high levels and watch great players, but the identity, togetherness and collectiveness of feeling part of a club are more important.

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15.07.2020
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