WOTMT Book Review
A review of Wednesday V United - The Sheffield Derby by Richard Crooks, Pitch Publishing Ltd

So, let’s be clear from the start – if you are thinking of picking this up for a Wednesdayite this Christmas then absolutely do so – I’m sure that in that overfed lull between lunch and the Queen they will be purring dipping into this book and pulling out their best bits like festive sugarplums.

Richard Crooks is full-on Wednesdayite who now finds himself exiled in the south and like all those callers to 606 who want to talk about their team and mostly seem to live miles away from that team he feels his passion all the more keenly. That comes across, as does a mind-boggling level of research which appears to have involved the author in reading through all sorts of stuff including loads of “I used to  play right back for the Blades me” publications which can’t have broken the presses with the number being printed up.

The issue for me with this book though is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. After a chapter about last season’s Hillsborough derby we’re off with a few chapters in the style of all those Tell me mam me dad’s fallen int coil ‘oil books you used to be able to buy from The Star’s old offices – Richard’s boyhood growing up in Heeley, going to his first matches with his mates etc. Then we trundle through the history of Sheffield derbies split down by each decade with again well-researched press reports etc. from the time. These liven up as we reach the point where first Richard’s dad and then he himself were actually at the games under discussion.  In and amongst we get a satisfying enough chapter about the 93 semi.

It’s after that that Richard seems to start to run out of steam and you start to wonder whether he has agreed that a certain number of pages will be delivered to his publishers and he needs to find a way to get there. There is a very long chapter about the Br*m*ll L*ne return fixture from last season which Richard seems to regard as massively significant; Jos certainly got a decent outcome from his first match in charge but unless my memory is getting even worse than I think it is it really wasn’t anything special.

In fairness a chapter on Derek Dooley is probably my favourite and really captures the uniqueness and importance of the great man but the rest of the closing chapters feel like the author is trying to reach his word number commitment. Chapters promisingly entitled Players and Managers are a bit unsubstantial. There is a chapter about print and broadcast media (which references three Wednesday fanzines but not this one!) and there is an uplifting short chapter about how death and tragedy can transcend the bitter cross-city rivalry.

The closing chapters also see Richard revisiting his underlying theme about the real nature of the Steel City rivalry. Crucially important as this is, for me it does seem to involve the author making the same points in slightly different ways for chapter after chapter.

As I’ve hinted at above I suspect that the art of this book is not to read it cover to cover (unless of course you are doing a review of it) but simply to dip into it as it suits you. It’s a decent read, written with passion and it does unearth some interesting nuggets. And crucially it’s written from the perspective of a proper Wednesdayite.

Early on Richard says that the die is cast whether people are Wednesday or United pretty much as soon as they are born – it’s a lifelong thing. As someone who worships the Wednesday, but who only realised that love on moving to Sheffield at the age of 18, perhaps I’m not properly placed to comment…

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