Date: 8th June 2009 at 10:13pm
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Many of us take going to Hillsborough for granted – heck, some of us see it as a chore, but for one Owl – a cold Tuesday night clash with Plymouth was one to remember.

Vital Wednesday forum member Mike made the long trip over to Sheffield last year for a, shall we say, less memorable clash with Plymouth Argyle, but for the exiled Owl, it was one that will live long in his memory.

Here, Mike tells us the story of how he finally made it to Hillsborough after years of seeing his stars in blue and white on the computer screen, rather than in the flesh…

Wednesdayites, I propose to you that loving a football team thousands of miles away has its advantages and disadvantages.

Obviously, the disadvantages are many. Picture the scene in my living room on game night (or for me, 2:00am game morning).

The computer dimly lights the room and I’m sitting quietly in my old Owls scarf, trying to tune into radio transmissions of the game which are usually interrupted by seconds of static.

The next 90 minutes involve a nervous and well practiced routine of repeatedly refreshing the match day thread here on Vital SWFC, revealing curses and celebrations involving phrases that I usually don’t understand (this is another article unto itself).

These nervous and stress filled moments are, however, more than worth it. Especially for the time I was recently treated to upon my first visit to Sheffield and Hillsborough. I’d spent three lonely months in the US, doing research for my degree and was ready for a well earned break. Of course, these three months were spent fantasising about my upcoming holiday.

Driving up from London, we arrived in Sheffield on a chilly, windy day (by my standards). Having already checked into our hotel, it was my duty to take the missus to Chatsworth House, for tea and scones as bribery for sitting through 90 frozen minutes of football and spending a small fortune in the Superstore. Unfortunately there weren’t any cash machines at Chatsworth, so tea and scones were substituted for two sausage rolls. Classy.

Later that day, I was to have my first encounter with Hillsborough.

We decided to drive by early on match day to spend some money at the Superstore. Seeing Hillsborough emerge in the distance made me feel like I was completing some sort of rite of passage. Here I was, approaching the ground that I had dreamt of visiting for years. Even as a youngster, I’d stay up late and watch Premier League highlights and dream of one day making it to Hillsborough for a game.

Being a big Owls fan, I’m sure my old Grandfather would have wanted to visit as well. He never got the chance to during his life, so it felt to me as though I was not just doing this for me, but also for him. I can understand how this may seem a little tacky for you to be taking me seriously, but just imagine how you would feel if you were in my shoes, and visiting Hillsborough for the first time in your life.

Maybe it would be like listening to your favourite album for the first time all over again.. or dare I say – losing your virginity again!

So here I was, breaking my Hillsborough cherry with a huge grin on my face. We entered the Superstore to find all the Owls stuff that I could ever hope to buy. Needless to say, buy I did. After that little shopping spree, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new loan signing coming in next season. Eight months later and I’m still paying off my credit card.

Post shopping spree, we dropped off my bounty at the hotel, donned as many layers of clothing as possible and headed out to meet our host for the evening, the lovely NicNac.

Nic greeted us in downtown Sheffield with a welcoming hug and gave us the Sheffield tram-tour on our way back to Hillsborough.

Arriving back at Hillsborough again and the smile crept its way back onto my face as we were met by our guide from the club at the front of the store. “Well, come on then, we’ll get you inside the ground,” was all I remembered hearing before I found myself speechless, and with good cause, as we were standing in front of the Kop, right on the edge of the pitch.

Saying I was speechless doesn’t seem to cover what I was feeling at that stage. Although Hillsborough was still empty and no one else was inside yet, the sinking feeling in my chest, standing in front of the Kop, proved that I was feeling the history and legacy of a true football ground.

It was at that point that I finally felt like I’d made it. If I had to leave right then and go home, I could at least say that I’d been there, stood in front of the Kop and that (in my mind) would be enough.

Luckily for me though, that wasn’t enough. The next words from our host, imprinted into my memory were; “Okay, we’ll get you in the dressing room..”

He wasn’t lying either. There I was, standing in the dressing room with players I had only ever seen on my computer screen or read about on the internet. While I know they were preparing for the game, the players in the dressing room still took the time to pose for photos and talk for a while. We had about 10 minutes in the dressing room before we left for our seats in the North Stand and 90 minutes of my first home game at Hillsborough.

So there it is, the story of my first home game, Sheffield Wednesday vs Plymouth Argyle, Tuesday 28th October, 2008.

I wish to send an enormous thank you to NicNac and WIEH for organising this wonderful experience and showing us around Sheffield.

I’m proud to be a Wednesdayite, and the treatment we received from the club and players is proof that our club has sound moral values and an appreciation for its fans second to none. We’re on our way back up!