From the Busby Babes to Chelsea’s lack of “history,” we all know quite a bit about the Premier League regulars Aston Villa are used to seeing on the fixture list. But this season brings a new challenge, and with it, a host of clubs the Villans haven’t seen in a while — if ever.
So before Sunday’s season opener in Yorkshire, let’s get to know Sheffield Wednesday, the club.
The basics: Wednesday are one of the oldest clubs in football, so they’ve got a fair bit of history behind them. Founded in 1867 as the football section of The Wednesday Cricket Club, the club are four-time English top-flight champions (last in 1930), three-time FA Cup winners (last in 1935) and the winner of the 1991 League Cup, their most recent major honour. The club got its nickname, the Owls, thanks to playing in Sheffield’s Owlerton district, and traditionally wears white-and-blue striped kits with black shorts and any number of sock combos. But as they’ve done fairly recently, Wednesday are diverting from that kit this year, opting instead for a blue pinstriped shirt, blue shorts and blue-and-white hooped socks.
How they got here: The Owls finished sixth in last year’s Championship, falling to Hull City, 1-0, in the play-off final at Wembley. Wednesday’s last spell in the top flight ended in 2000, and since, they’ve spent a pair of two-season stints in the third tier, last winning promotion to the Championship in 2012.
Brightest moments: Wednesday’s brightest day of the last 80 years probably comes down to one of two moments: Their 1991 League Cup final triumph over Manchester United, 1-0, or their 4-0 slaughtering of rival Sheffield United on Boxing Day in 1979. The former is fairly self-explanatory as the only piece of major silverware the Owls have won in that time period, but the latter requires a bit more explanation. A record Third Division crowd of 49,309 was on hand at Hillsborough that day to see Wednesday carry out the “Boxing Day Massacre,” a result still sung about by Wednesdayites to this day.
Major rivals: Well ain’t that a nice segue? Wednesday’s major rivalry is easy: the Steel City Derby with Sheffield United. Other rivals in the division include fellow Yorkshire clubs Barnsley, Leeds United and Rotherham United.
Home ground: It’s a lovely, old-fashioned ground, but Hillsborough will never simply be known as that — a common FA Cup semi-final site in the 1980s, the ground is best known as the site of the 1989 disaster that killed 96 Liverpool supporters. With a capacity of 39,732, Hillsborough was previously the largest ground in the Championship, until Villa and Newcastle United’s relegations pushed it to third on the list. Thanks to that large capacity, Wednesdayites struggled to fill Hillsborough, averaging just 22,640 supporters per match — though that total placed them fourth in the division.
History with Villa: There’ve been eras where Wednesday and Villa met quite often, but it’s been nearly 15 years since the last meeting, a 1-0 Wednesday win in the 2001/02 League Cup. On the whole though, Villa hold the advantage in the well-played series with 65 wins; Wednesday’s won 51, with just 17 matches drawn.
Players to watch: This is something we’ll rehash in our match previews, but I’ll have my eyes on two players Sunday: former Villan Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri. The duo had great seasons a year ago, and were a huge part of Wednesday getting to Wembley for the final. If they’re to push for promotion again, they’ll have to be top-notch again. New signing Steven Fletcher could also play a significant role in any promotion push.
Season outlook: Like last year, Wednesday should be in the running for promotion, but there’s probably still a bit of a gap between them and top sides in the division. Bookies have them between 7/2 and 5/1 for promotion, making them sixth- or seventh-favourite to go up, in line with their 2015/16 result. But in what will be the club’s 17th straight season outside the top flight, promotion expectations are as high as ever at Hillsborough.
For those of you among the masses going away to Hillsborough — and getting ripped off by Wednesday — this weekend, James’ll have a travel guide for you tomorrow, and as always, we’ll have our slew of match previews for you as well later this week.
But for now, hopefully you know a bit more about our opponent’s backstory before we meet in three days.