Football: Praise is reserved at second coming of Big Ron

Fan's Eye View No 233: Sheffield Wednesday
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The Independent Online
"...And finally, it is expected that Sheffield Wednesday will announce Ron Atkinson as their new manager..." Something tells me that the prophets might just have had something a little more grandiose in mind when planning the announcement of the Second Coming. Nevertheless, that early morning radio broadcast was sufficient to signal to me, and thousands of other followers of the Blue and White variety, that the Messiah had returned.

But is it really the return of the Prodigal Son or is Judas simply riding back into town on the Premiership gravy train? In reality, we did not have much of a choice when it came to replacing the beleaguered David Pleat; the array of charismatically challenged hopefuls that was an offer did not exactly inspire. Anybody we did fancy was either unapproachable, washing their hair or had conveniently looked the other way to avoid making eye contact.

So my immediate response was one of unbridled joy, after all only six years had passed since we had, under Atkinson's astute guidance, conquered all before us, won the only piece of silverware of any note in the last 60 years of the club's history. It is undoubtedly a measure of his influence that after the manner of his well-documented departure we are, albeit slightly more cautiously, prepared to accept him back in our latest hour of need. But that's the magic of Big Ron. Even now, in the pages of the fanzine Spitting Feathers, the club's recent failings are still compared with what was and might have been had Ron not been lured away by Doug Ellis's 40 pieces of silver.

OK, so perhaps his first stint at Hillsborough was not always as miraculous as we would have you believe. His make-shift team of Wilko cast-offs, ageing journeymen and the infantile Boy Wonder barely retained its First Division status at the first attempt. It then, comically, contrived to lose it a year later in a farcical end-of-season run in that saw miracles and the impossible happen with frightening regularity. However, through the despair of the summer of 1990 when inspiration and hope were desperately lacking in the Blue half of the Steel City, a force and belief of such magnitude and resolution was forged. Big Ron's self-proclaimed "Barmy Army" was born.

The opening day of the 1990-91 season at Ipswich bore witness to the growing religion and the legion of disciples that were to follow the Messiah and his 11 skilful, ball-playing Apostles to the four corners of the globe. On that day 6,000 believers made the first of many pilgrimages. To say it was a spiritual occasion would not be overstating the mark. Ask anyone who was there. The self-belief that was evident that day almost single- handedly carried us through the whole season and as we progressed, so the belief grew. Promotion and League Cup glory followed, but as we all know there was to be a sting in the tail.

This time round Atkinson's brief is once again a simple one: survival. The only difference being that this time he has at his disposal a far stronger and more gifted squad than the one he inherited from the much maligned Peter Eustace. In Beni Carbone and Paolo Di Canio he has the type of players who will thrive under his style of management. The real test will be to lift the rest of Pleat's demoralised troops.

Like most football fans, we Wednesdayites are a fickle bunch but perhaps for the time being at least we are prepared to forgive. Just how forgiving we will be will remain to be seen. In the meantime judgement will be reserved of course, but if the miracles can still be performed, and if there is a chance that we can carry on where we left off back in the Summer of '91, we may just find it in our hearts to forget.