At a general meeting held on, yes, Wednesday 4 September 1867, at the Adelphi Hotel, it was decided to form a football club from the membership of the Sheffield Wednesday Cricket Club with the object of keeping together during the winter season the members of this cricket club. “From the great unanimity which prevailed as to the desirability of forming the club, there is every reason to expect that it will take first rank.” That modest announcement in the Sheffield Independent began the story of one of the most respected and cherished football clubs in England, springing from the spiritual home of football itself.
Even before the foundation of the Football Association in 1863, Sheffield had been at the forefront of what is now regarded the national game – with the world’s two oldest football clubs, Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 and Hallam FC , formed in 1860, leading a rising tide of interest in Association Football, or soccer as it was commonly called. We can of course ask ourselves whom the original Sheffield Club played, but we will leave that for other minds to dwell upon. However, we do know that the unique name was derived from the fact that when the club was set up the members met on a Wednesday, the day when many of them, as local traders, were free from their daily toil.
The Wednesday Football Club took part in their first ever game in December 1867, with a victory over the Mechanics Club at Norfolk Park, Dronfield. The next decade and a half saw a gradual evolution towards fully-fledged professional status, marked by the acquisition of a Scottish winger, James Lang, acknowledged as the country’s first ever-professional footballer. In those days Sheffield Wednesday played at the Myrtle Road Ground, Heeley, the Sheaf House Ground, Hunter’s Bar and Endcliffe. Since these grounds lacked any facilities high profile matches were played at Bramall Lane.
In April 1887, The Wednesday became a professional football club. The next step was to procure a permanent home ground. A site alongside the railway tracks on Queens Road was leased from the Duke of Norfolk and given the title of Olive Grove. Over £5,000 was lavished on converting this swampland into a proper enclosure. When the lease for Olive Grove had expired on 29 September 1898, a new home had to found for the following season. Sheffield Wednesday, rather than keeping to the town area, made a long trek north to the suburb of Owlerton and took residence at what was then called the Owlerton Stadium. In 1914, this area of the city was taken into the parliamentary constituency of Hillsborough, and hence the ground was renamed.
Sheffield Wednesday were known as the Groveites during their spell at Olive Grove. However, later on they, along with their rivals Sheffield United, carried the nickname of “The Blades”, respecting the town’s premier industry. Interestingly, in view of the way things have turned out, it is they, Wednesday who believed, as the senior club in the town, should have the sobriquet. Luckily for us in producing this book Wednesday became known as ‘The Owls’ , for obvious reasons, when they moved to the Owlerton district. The club’s alternative nickname in those far off times was the slightly less complimentary title of ‘The Pigs’ as the site where Hillsborough is now was originally a porcine slaughterhouse, built in Owlerton because the prevailing South Westerly winds carried the stench away from the main centres of population. Wednesday fans cottoned onto this ‘compliment’ and claimed that they called Sheffield United fans ‘pigs’ because their red and white kit made them look like rashers of bacon.
During that memorable meeting at The Adelphi, back in 1867, the playing colours of blue and white were selected – a colour scheme which has remained inextricably linked with the club to this day. For the first two decades the players wore blue shirts and a stunning blue and white quartered design. By 1887, the introduction of the world famous blue and white striped marked the acquisition of their professional status. Stripes remained de rigueur throughout the club’s history, apart from a short spell in the Sixties, which coincidentally coincided with a Cup final appearance, when the stripes were replaced by plain blue shirts with white sleeves.
The district of Owlerton not only gave Wednesday their nickname, it was also the inspiration for the design of the club’s badge. The first version shows us an owl, perched on a branch, accompanied by the Yorkshire rose and the sheaves of the council’s arms (one of those heraldic puns – sheaves/Sheffield), completed by the motto ‘Consilio et Animis’ .
By 1970 Wednesday introduced a plain owl design, giving way for a more familiar looking owl in 1995, perched on a branch underneath a blue rose, flanked by SWFC. Today’s badge is a modern variation and certainly easier to recognize at first glance, apparently designed to meet a more sophisticated image. Our owl, looking rather suspiciously at us is now set on a blue and white shield, perched on the letters SWFC and 1867, reminding us of the date of establishment of this grand club.