Loyalty in Short Supply at Hillsborough
Ahead of journeying up to Spotland, Wednesday supporter John Leigh tries to come to terms with Gary Megson’s extraordinary sacking at Hillsborough.
Not since Christmas Eve, 1973, the day on which former goalscoring legend Derek Dooley received the sack, can there have been a more ill-timed expulsion from Hillsborough.
Gary Megson, like Dooley and, subsequently, Howard Wilkinson, John Eustace and Chris Turner, was a Wednesday player. And if neither of his two stints at the club marked him out as a folk hero like Dooley, he was, unlike Wilkinson, a highly effective, respected footballer. Moreover, his father, Don, captained the Owls in the late 60s, that era when the spirit of iconoclastic renewal did away with the traditional stripes and turned the Wednesday, if only visually, into a blue Arsenal. Megson was there in ‘66 when the world came to Hillsborough and the Owls went to Wembley. This past does matter, or ought to have done so, in Sheffield 6.
Under the direction of a new owner, and with the club still collectively somewhat embarrassed just to be playing, let alone losing to, the likes of Stevenage, the very presence of Gary Megson, back near the halfwayline that was once his domain, was a reminder of what Wednesday were.
Megson was there in 1983 when, after 13 long years in the lower leagues, the Owls reached the top division by beating Crystal Palace. 49,357 people saw him open the scoring for Wednesday against Liverpool in the Milk Cup (The League Cup was going through a rare teetotal phase) a year later. Along with Shelton and Bannister, he was part of a popular trinity of Garys, a redhead who was a true Blue.
Megson also had the decency to reserve his best football for Wednesday. Spells at Man City and Newcastle did not bring the best out of him. It would be an understatement to say that this was also the case at Nottingham Forest, where he made a total of zero appearances. While the formative influence of Brian Clough on the managerial careers of his signings like Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane has been much discussed, it seems his brutal neglect of Megson, like that of John Sheridan, another Clough signing who never played, may have helped in its own way.
So Megson will cope and find another job. It also seems unlikely that he will feel the need to run into the welcoming arms of Sheffield United, as Dooley then did. Nevertheless, it is a cruel irony that, whereas he enjoyed the support of the board at Bolton while the fans largely detested him, Megson should now fall victim to an owner who has ignored his popularity with the supporters.
At a moment when Mandaric’s dealings have so recently been under suspicion in the courts, the absence of loyalty and transparency seems particularly provocative. Moreover, the timing of the sacking, when the Owls are third and have just beaten the Blades is extraordinary: Mandaric may, one suspects, have watched the derby hoping that the Wednesday would lose, in order to provide a retrospective justification for a decision already hatched. After all, a loss seemed possible, even plausible. But that important victory for the Wednesday has actually permitted an all the more ostentatious display of indifference to the wishes and the feelings of the fans. That chant in vogue – We’ll do what we want – has just bounced back in our ears from the directors’ box.