Top positive review
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A Great Book that Combines Insider Understanding and Knowledge of History/Culture/Mentality and Violence of Football Supporters
on 1 February 2013
This book by Anthony Cronshaw and Steven Cowens entitled: "Steel City Rivals" - is about Sheffield one city, two football clubs (Wednesday & United), one mutually shared hatred. On reading whole of the book, I must say that it is cleverly laid out in that it caters for "Owls" and "Blades". However, Steve Cowens (United Supporter) section of book gives an insight to the regular violent clashes between Blades Business Crew (BBC) and Owls Crime Squad (OCS) and Anthony Cronshaw (Wednesday) combine their inside knowledge and fans anecdotes with a dark humour and bitter fascination with football violence. Hence the ultimate struggle for supremacy, between red (United) and blue (Wednesday), 'blade' versus 'owl', is absolute. To the majority of the protagonists (football fans) i.e., people of Sheffield, Britain's fourth largest city, it's never just a game but a matter of pride. Therefore, I can easily understand this bitter enmity, rivalry and passion between Wednesday and United supporters. The book highlights some of the many confusing and puzzling facts in great detail with regards as to why Owls fans are referred to in derogatory terms as "Pigs" and Blades in vice-versa terms as "Pigs". Historically, the Hillsborough ground and land was located on a pig farm prior to its purchase and relocation from Olive Grove in 1899. Whilst for owls fans blade are "Pigs" because the Blades' red-and-white-striped shirt resembles a strip of bacon. It is clear that both Sheffield teams were known as the blades until October 1912 and it was only when a mascot in the form on an owl was given to Wednesday and placed in the roof of the North Stand that seemed to have exerted some extra luck and they beat Sheffield United 1-0, but also beat Liverpool and Oldham! This point onwards, The Wednesday new nickname was "Owls" and the logo became an owl as well. In 1929, 'The Wednesday' was officially known as: the "Sheffield Wednesday Football Club".
As a football supporter and as an insider and as according to the testimonies of the authors in this book of their first taste of being a football supporter. I can confirm that I watched my first-ever football match at Hillsborough in 1975 from the Kop end when England XI team played in Sheffield with Peter Shilton in goal and in the 1980s when I was working as a Mechanical Engineer in the Steel Industry at the Edgar Allen Foundry (present location of Meadowhall Centre, Sheffield). I was constantly berated by rival United fans for supporting a very bad Wednesday team that could not score goals and kept losing matches and got relegated and even at home because my brother supported United! The key moment for me was when I came across the Sheffield Star's campaign: "Save Our Owls" and I eventually became a Wednesday supporter, shareholder and season ticket holder in the North-Stand. This campaign is mentioned in this book and in hindsight, the Sheffield Star did not have a similar campaign to "Save our Blades" to the dismay of United supporters. As mentioned in this book, I also watched Wednesday avoid relegation to the fourth Division through this 'Great Escape' in May, 1976 by beating Southend 2-1 at Hillsborough in the final game of the season. In contrast, in May, 1981, I went to watch my first ever match at Bramall Lane (enemy territory!) and witnessed one of the saddest days in Sheffield football - watching Don Givens miss a crucial penalty-kick which meant that Walsall escaped the drop and United were relegated to the fourth division.
This book comprehensively charts all the key League and Cup matches both Wednesday and United have played including the Steel City derbies from 1890s to 2010. Although during the mid 1980s to early 1990s, I wasn't able to watch Wednesday - as much as I would have liked and this was mainly due to work and study commitments and also the bringing up my very young children in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The book mentioned the many Steel City derbies from 1890s to the present day and I can honestly say that I have watched around two steel city derby matches involving Wednesday and United and both at Hillsborough in 2002 and 2003 when Wednesday drew 0-0 and won 2-0 respectively. More recently, in 2005-2006, I went to watch Wednesday with my young children in the South Stand and purchased a season ticket for the South Stand during 2005-2006 season and watched Wednesday often as I could.
Sadly, the book makes a fleeting reference to the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989. Coincidentally, the first time, I watched a match from Wednesday's Leppings Lane End was during the 1988 FA Cup Semi-Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and I was so scared when I entered the Leppings lane behind the goal - there was too much crushing and I made for the safer area to the South Stand side - after the match I vowed to never watch a match from that end of the ground or anywhere else. The following year, April 1989, ironically, the same teams were in the same FA Cup Semi-final at the same ground and tragedy struck with 96 Liverpool fans being crushed to death in the Hillsborough Disaster and I was listening to the unfolding of events on BBC Radio Sheffield's live match commentary.
Overall, a great book that combines inside knowledge and understanding of football history, supporter culture and mentality of football supporters in terms of why there seems to be an obsession to fighting for their piece of turf that ultimately leads to violence and even death as is the culture in today's street gang culture of Sheffield's postcode gang wars. Compelling reading and a must buy book!