By Leo Linden
Sheffield Wednesday have a rich history of top flight football in England and have competed for the nation's top honors more than most. However, a recent downturn has left Wednesday outside of the Premier League, and since the turn of the century, they have not experienced life in England’s elite division. This weekend, however, the Owls’ have a glorious chance to make their return to the Premiership, and it's certainly not an opportunity they want to waste.
Wednesday are one of the oldest clubs in the entire world, with their history dating back 149 years (when they were known as The Wednesday), third longest in England behind Notts County and Nottingham Forest. Originally formed as a cricket team, the club decided that it would add a footballing side to keep the cricketers in shape during the offseason. That was just the spark, however, as soon the football division of the club rose to greater prominence and won the Cromwell Cup (the world's second ever recorded football competition) in 1868.
Years of local competition and FA Cups ensued before the Football Alliance, which lasted for just three years (of which Wednesday won the first), paved the way for the Football League. In the very first season of united football in England, The Wednesday were placed in the top division and finished 11th.
Relegation struck in 1900, but the Owls immediately won their way back into the top flight and brought home England’s top trophy three years later, nicking Aston Villa and Sunderland by a point each. That was Wednesday’s first in a set of back-to-back championships, and the second season, which also included a run to the FA Cup semifinals, was one of the best in club history. Wednesday’s impressive stretch wasn’t over however, as three years after their second championship, in 1907, the Owls won their second FA Cup, beating Everton 2-1 in the final.
After that triumph, Wednesday spent a lot of time in the lower part of the division and even dipped down to the second flight for some seasons before capturing their third and fourth league titles in 1929 and 1930, again with the second season producing a run to the FA Cup semis. Their final piece of major hardware to date (besides a League Cup) came in 1935, when the Owls took the FA Cup trophy home for the third time, winning the final by scoring twice after the 85th minute to beat West Brom 4-2.
Two years later, Wednesday were relegated to the second tier, and that’s where they spent the idle
That was followed by the worst period in club history, however, as a relegation in 1970 began a nose dive for Wednesday. After slowly slipping down the ranks of the second division, Wednesday finally broke, finishing dead last in 1975, with just five wins, 14 points from safety.
It was the first time the club had ever entered the third tier, and it was a dangerous moment, as Wednesday were falling down the footballing ladder. Their first season in the third division could have been truly disastrous, with the Owls finishing 20th, safe by just a single point in a tight race at the bottom. That was the worst it got, however, as Wednesday battled their way back up the flight and, after an eighth-place finish was followed by successive 14th place finishes, Wednesday bolted up the table, finishing third in 1980, securing promotion by one point.
After their first year back in the second tier resulted in a 10th place finish, the rise continued, as Wednesday finished in fourth, narrowly missing promotion back the top flight. Two years later in 1985, they did earn their way back to the First Division, coming runners up in the second tier, only losing to Chelsea on goal differential.
A slight quiver presented itself in 1990, when the Owls were relegated back to the second tier, but as they had done many times before, Wednesday bounced back immediately, finishing third to make their way back to the Division 1 the year before its rebranding to the Premier League.
That began their most recent stint in England's top division, a nine-year run which ended in 2000. In total, Wednesday have spent 66 seasons in England’s top flight, good for 14th best all time. But, since that most recent relegation, the Owls have been bouncing between the second and third flights, never really coming close to making a run back to the Premiership … until this season.
A rough start left the side in the middle of the table, but that was turned on its head by a third quarter surge. After holding off the competition down the stretch, Wednesday finished sixth, securing their place in the promotion playoff.
They met Brighton and Hove Albion in the first round, a side that missed its chance at promotion by drawing second-place Middlesbrough on the last day (a win would have sent Boro to the play off and Brighton to the PL). Wednesday pounced on that failure and hit Brighton for a 2-0 home win the first leg before scoring a critical equalizer on the half-hour
Now, with a place in the playoff final, anything can happen this weekend when Sheffield Wednesday match up against Hull City in a one-off for promotion to the Premiership. On top of finishing two places better in the table, Hull will certainly be favourites having just been relegated from the Premiership a season ago.
None of that will matter come kickoff on Saturday, but given the new Premiership television deal, which will make it so even the bottom-feeders of the league make upwards of 100 Million pounds, this is one of the biggest promotion finals in recent history and a golden opportunity for Wednesday to return to the division long-time fans know they belong in.