BARRY BANNAN knew what shirt number he wanted the moment he signed for Sheffield Wednesday.
The Scotland international had worn 25 for much of his career so was delighted to be told that the number was, indeed, free. An hour later, however, and there had been an unexpected change of plan.
“I was told that the chairman (Dejphon Chansiri) wanted me to wear 41,” recalls the 26-year-old with a chuckle. “I got this ’phone call an hour after I had been told I was getting 25 and was basically told that the chairman had looked at my birthday and said ‘41’ was my lucky number in Thailand.
“To be fair, if we beat Hull in the play-off final then he will have been proved right. I have enjoyed this season, I feel to have had a good season and so I think I will be keeping ‘41’ for the rest of my career.”
Bannan has, indeed, had a fine campaign at Hillsborough. Persuaded to take a step down after four years in the Premier League, the Airdrie-born midfielder has brought graft and craft to an Owls side who were in the bottom half of the table when he arrived from Crystal Palace during the first international break.
His Wednesday bow at Burnley brought a further slip in league position to 19th, but the manner of not only his display but also those of fellow debutants Fernando Forestieri and Daniel Pudil suggested better times lay ahead, a point head coach Carlos Carvalhal acknowledged afterwards when he told his players: “Today we lost a game but we won a team.”
Results since that September afternoon have backed up those post-match words in the Turf Moor dressing room by the Portuguese and today the Owls stand potentially 90 minutes away from the Premier League.
For Bannan, promotion would justify his decision to leave Crystal Palace and return to a level he had last played at when helping on loan at Leeds United in 2011.
“Every player wants to be playing in the best league in the world and that is the Premier League,” added the Scot. “To come here, I took a step back and said it was a big season for me. Now I am one game away from being back to where I want to be.
“To be honest, no one had to sell Sheffield Wednesday to me. I know football and I love football, it is all I have on TV back home.
“I look at everything that is going on in football so I knew that, even though they were lower down in the league, Sheffield Wednesday were going to have a real go this season – and next season if needed, too.
“I liked the thought of that so it didn’t take much selling, to be fair. I definitely see this as the start of something big. The chairman showed his backing and his power from the start. He also brought the manager in and he has been brilliant. The chairman has obviously spent money on players that have come through the door and been brilliant as well. He (Chansiri) has turned this club on its head.
“The chairman is very ambitious so I think that there is only one way – up – for this club. Hopefully, we can start by getting into the Premier League by beating Hull.”
Come tonight, Bannan is hoping to be celebrating his second Championship play-off success at Wembley. The first came six years ago when Ian Holloway’s Blackpool edged out Cardiff City by the odd goal in five. A repeat against Steve Bruce’s Tigers would do very nicely, especially as this time around Bannan has been a much more integral part of the run to the final.
“Blackpool winning promotion was a great day,” said the former Aston Villa midfielder, whose involvement in that 2010 final was restricted to coming off the bench in stoppage time as the Seasiders successfully saw out the game.
“But this one will be that little bit better because I have been a big part of the team this season and played in almost all the games – whereas the last time I was young, not really playing and only came on in the final. Obviously, it was still an unbelievable moment in my career but I think this one will be even better.
“I was on loan at Blackpool at the time, which makes it a little bit different as well. This time I am going to be here for the next couple of years so it is a big, big game for me. If we win it will be the highest (achievement of my career), no doubt about it. I have felt a big part of this club since I walked through the door. To help them to the best league in the world, I don’t think anything can beat it.”
The two previous meetings between today’s finalists ended in draws, Wednesday going ahead at Hillsborough before being pegged back and the KC Stadium clash ending goalless. A similarly tight affair is likely at Wembley, according to Bannan.
“Hull will rightly go into the game as favourites because they finished above us in the league,” he added. “But we know what we have got in the changing room and what we are capable of.
“It is going to take a bit of brilliance from someone on the pitch to separate the two teams, I think the two previous games show that. They were really close and maybe could have gone either way.
“That is why Fernando (Forestieri) is going to be massive for us. He has been one of our best players this season. We have had loads of top, top players this season but I think Fernando stands out. He has scored loads of important goals and so, hopefully, we can get Fernando on his A-game. I am certain he will be a problem and someone who Hull will try and stop.
“The players we have in the changing room are some of the best players in the Championship so there is no reason why we can’t go up.”