Where you lead, I will i-follow
Wednesday behind closed doors - how is for you?

As the rigours of Lockdown got under way, Steve and I floated the idea of us running an online version of WOTMT which people could get by giving £1 towards charity. However the overwhelming feedback from our online subscribers and the Twittersphere was that this wouldn’t really fly; people said that buying a fanzine is part of the whole match-day experience and if it was separated from that it just wouldn’t be the same.

We didn’t know then that the whole separation from the match-day experience thing would be taken to an unprecedented level when football eventually returned, with all of the games taking place behind closed doors. Everyone I know who is a season ticket holder took up the club’s offer to translate any monies owed into the i-follow package, meaning that we could all watch the games nearly live; a couple of minutes after things actually happen and with a commentary added which appears to be a further ten seconds behind that (for the Bristol City game I forgot to turn off my BBC Sport notifications and knew about our first goal before I saw it go in).

So three games in and how is it for us? The first day against Forest was a nightmare as so many people struggled to get in. In my case I spent the first seven minutes of the game with the Radio Sheff commentary on the radio whilst swearing at that little spinning football on the screen. A mate of mine didn’t get in until the 25th minute. Although I understand that the issues have now been sorted, for the next two I have logged in very early and found myself staring at players warming up with just the bellowing of the coaches to listen to (against Bristol City one of the clubs appeared to have brought in Mr Proper-Sweary who gave it full-on eff and jeff for a good ten minutes).

Tuning in early has sorted the access problem though the West Brom game was a bit spoiled (as well as by the result) by little sets of numbers which kept bouncing around on the screen. I have to say that the whole i-follow malarkey still feels like a bit of an evolving science.

But what about the match-day experience? Well it’s football Jim but nothing like we know it. For me the home matches are definitely harder than the away ones. It is so hard to stare at an empty Hillsborough. All the bits are in the right place and even the adverts speeding by are the same, but seeing a competitive game going on in that empty stadium is something I just cannot get my head around. My ask for a cardboard cut-out for Father’s Day fell on deaf ears (“do you not think we’ve bloody spent enough on them”) but to be honest – and despite the best of intentions – they just look like a load of cardboard cut-outs.      

The main camera view is of course against the backdrop of the North Stand, making for particularly exquisite suffering if that is where your season ticket is. If you go to away games you will find yourself sitting in different seats every time (unless you are spectacularly OCD and always first in the queue when tickets go on sale), but for some people you can actually see your seat but without you in it. My seat is way up the top of the North, but even getting a distant glance of the entrance where I come within sight of the pitch gives me a proper pang.

Also of course there is the echoing noise of just the coaches and players talking and yelling at each other. I have to say that I was fully against any hint of dubbed crowd noise when the season finally came back. However I now think that MoTD and 5Live have helped to ease the artificiality a bit by dubbing on some crowd noise (even if when Norwich played Man U in the cup my son was convinced that he twice heard someone shout “Come on Wednesday!”). My sense though is that this takes a fair bit of work behind the scenes and I can’t see it happening on i-follow.

But ultimately it comes back to the whole match-day experience, especially for the home matches. I get a heady buzz just walking down Penistone Road on match-days; the shared frisson of excitement, the snatches of other peoples’ conversations, the occasional outbreak of people chanting “We’re All Wednesday Aren’t We”. And of course on those days when we’re selling WOTMT that whole 90 minutes or so of selling, chatting with our buyers and in my case also with the nearby John Burkhill (bet the great man’s fundraising effort has taken a hit during all this lot).

I love just going into the ground, seeing the pitch, the players running out with Bannan zig-zagging towards the North Stand, and of course the whole shared experience of watching the Wednesday.

I don’t tend to do pre-match ale, though that will be a big missing component for many Wednesdayites, but the other massive missing bit for me is heading back to the Barracks and spending the best part of three hours dissecting all things Wednesday (and a fair bit of other stuff) whilst chugging down pints of dark beer. Before the pubs closed but after gatherings had been stopped, a few of us gathered in the Barracks on a Saturday afternoon. It was nice but it wasn’t match-day. Once the restart was announced I had this really vivid dream where we all came out of the Barracks to go to the match and then remembered that it was behind closed doors. Now that pubs are reopening we will find ourselves with Wednesday back and the Barracks back but not both in the same sentence.

So, not a lot we can do but get on with it and hope that by next season (whenever that starts? September?) there is some sort of change, though I’m not holding my breath; TBH the main concern at the moment is that we at least start that season still in the Championship. At the end of the day Wednesday are playing competitive matches again and – however different it may be – we are able to at least watch it and carry on any banter via a WhatsApp group. And yes I did send the words “Scab Scab Scab” to all of my mates once I finally got access to the Forest game. Come on Wednesday!

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