by Richard Brook
Cult status, in football is usually reserved for a player who for all his technical deficiencies is something of a fan’s favourite. Every once in a while maybe a manager or chairman might steal the hearts of a club’s fan sufficiently to be thought of in such a way. More rarely still it might be a static fixture such as Anfield’s famous Kop or, although not connected to a club, the twin towers of the old Wembley stadium. Cult status can never truly be understood by an outsider but even so once in a while cult status can be afforded to something really bizarre.
At, my club, Sheffield Wednesday some of the support, myself included, have a slightly peculiar regard for of all things; a scoreboard. I warned you it was odd. You see we haven’t gone in for a flash, new video screen type job showing replays of near misses and the like. No at Hillsborough our scoreboard looks like a slightly less reliable, scaled up version of the model that used to grace the edge of the hallowed astro-turf of my Subbuteo “Astropitch”, as a child in the early 90’s. Technical deficiencies? Check. Fan’s favourite? Check.
That’s right, at Wednesday we haven’t got a giant version of your flat screen TV in the corner we have a scoreboard that looks like a scoreboard should. Orange bulbs twinkling out of the dark, spelling out “The Owls” and the name of the opposing side, the score and the number of minutes played, like stars across a night sky. Just like the night sky there is the odd burned out star up there too, but that only adds character. It is not just the score either, a raft of now dated looking animations can be displayed, to signify goals and corners, and recently more bizarre animations have appeared such as flying saucer and an elephant accompanied by the words ‘never forget’ – likely to be a hint towards the scoreboard being replaced which has been rumoured to be imminent all season.
Hillsborough has not always lagged in the scoreboard technology department. Indeed when an electronic scoreboard was fitted at Wednesday’s ground in advance of the 1966 World Cup being hosted in England, it was declared a “tremendous success” in Charles Buchanan’s Football Monthly. The publication described the idea of similar boards being fitted around the country as “a boon to supporters”. The 1966 board was ahead of its time, and as well as giving the score would give goal scorers, details of injuries, substitutes and half time scores. Prior to the game adverts were displayed on the board – a pre-cursor to advertisements Wednesday fans now see regularly during the game, now for a local restaurant. Buchanan’s went as far as to say that “no fans in the country get a better service of on the spot information” than was on offer to Wednesday fans of the era.
I doubt that anyone would currently compare Wednesday’s scoreboard so favourably with all the others throughout the land, in terms of the information offered or how it is presented but many Owls fans would not have it any other way. Our current scoreboard still provides on the spot information, for example if there are other results likely to affect Wednesday, or to update fans on the latest scores of other local teams.
The hallmark of the scoreboard’s character, comes in regard to Wednesday’s fiercest rivals, city neighbours United. Whenever the Blades go into a losing position, while Wednesday are playing at home, the board famously, amongst Wednesday fans, mockingly displays “SHHHHHHH” and then as is customary “T”, before the predictable score update comes up. The “T” is apparently a fault that occurs during the transition from all animations back to a score update. So beloved is intended feature “SHHHHHHH” and the unintended “T” that Sheffield Wednesday fan site, Owlstalk, produced a black t-shirt with amber dots spelling out these letters.
The most memorable of the “SHHHHHHH T” moments that stands out was during the last game of last season which saw Wednesday teetering on the edge of promotion to the Championship, only able to be stopped if United’s result at Exeter bettered Wednesday’s against Wycombe at a packed Hillsborough. With score at 0-0 in S6 “SHHHHHHH” appeared on the board, “T” appeared on the board and the inevitable news came that Exeter City had taken the lead. The ball was in the centre of midfield, but the roar for what that goal meant to the 38,000 Wednesday supporters inside the ground, was as if the Owls had scored themselves. 22 players on the Hillsborough pitch stopped, for a split second, and looked at each other for a clue as to what had happened. Then suddenly you could almost see the penny drop as Wednesday kicked on renewed, spurred on to win the game and the race for automatic promotion.
Beyond such associations Wednesday’s old scoreboard was there through our most recent hay-day of the early 1990’s when we genuine challengers for the top club competitions in the country, with some of Britain and the world’s best players pulling on the stripes. People of my generation were approximately ten years old in during this time, and the quickly dating technology is a reminder of our childhoods as well as the glory days of Waddle et al. We had Commodore 64’s and original Nintendo Gameboys, which were roughly the size and weight of brick and battery pack that equated to two bricks and we had the scoreboard.
It has been rumoured for some time that Wednesday will be getting a new scoreboard soon. Whenever that happens, there will be a lot of people who have mixed feelings. Of course fans want the club to move with the times in pretty well every regard, but there is a lot of sentiment and reminiscences, footballing and otherwise, attached to the scoreboard Wednesday have. “SHHHHHHH T” is like a code word amongst Wednesday fans, an affectionate and celebratory tip of the hat to how wonderfully rubbish the Hillsborough scoreboard has become with time. There have even been suggestions of wilfully programming the accidental “T” into any replacement that might be in the offing. Whatever happens I will wear my “SHHHHHHH T” t-shirt with pride until it is past its best (and probably a bit after that – it seems somehow appropriate). It is part of my footballing heritage, and I do not think I am alone.