Owls fan's switch sparks death threats

Exclusive SHEFFIELD Wednesday supporter John Hemmingham has received internet death threats after accepting Ken Bates's offer of a job with Yorkshire rivals Leeds United.

Hemmingham, who is also the leader of the celebrated England band, stepped down last week as chief executive of the Owls Trust to take up full-time employment at Elland Road.

His switch has sparked an outraged response on a website for Wednesday fans, with some postings carrying threats to attack or kill the former salesman.

Hemmingham insists that he is not taking the threats seriously and has not asked the police to investigate.

However, the messages have served to highlight the extent of the rivalry between the two clubs and the emotion that Hemmingham, a lifelong Wednesday supporter, has stirred by switching sides.

Former Chelsea chairman Bates took charge at Leeds three months ago after aborting a protracted battle for power at Hillsborough.

Hemmingham and the Trust went out on a limb by supporting Bates instead of chairman Dave Allen, a stance which had unwanted repercussions.

The Trust were booted out of their offices at Hillsborough, Hemmingham was banned from executive areas of the ground, and the celebrated Owls Band was told to reduce its numbers.

Hover, Hemmingham impressed Bates sufficiently to land the task of setting up a new members club for Leeds supporters.

"I knew there would be one or two people unhappy with my decision," said Hemmingham. "But the good wishes far out number the criticism by around 10 to one.

"Football is my life and I like to think that I understand being a fan and what it means. There has been no abuse directed personally at me, but I have been told about the threats on a website."

Bates believes Hemmingham's 'dynamism' and knowledge of supporter-related issues will be invaluable in setting up the new members scheme, full details of which are to be released in due course.

Ironically, Hemmingham has just finalised a deal that will have massive benefits for the Owls Trust for years to come.

The Trust has secured the lease of a seven-acre site on Penistone Road, opposite the Hillsborough stadium, currently used for travelling fairs.

This will now be used to provide matchday parking for Owls supporters and is likely to generate around 80,000 annual profit for the Trust.

"I would like to think this is my parting gift to Wednesday," said Hemmingham, who admitted that it would be difficult now for him to attend Owls' games.

"From the fans' view it will make it a lot easier to park on matchdays, straight over the road from the Kop, and for local residents it will mean less traffic congestion."

The formation of the new Leeds members club will not jeopardise the future of the existing supporters club, whose long-serving chairman Ray Fell will work closely with Hemmingham, but it will mean they are no longer in charge of distributing away tickets to their members.

United's chief executive Shaun Harvey said: "What we are hoping is that the new Leeds members scheme will bring the club and its supporters closer together.

"The details of our scheme will be announced when John has had the opportunity to fully evaluate the best way forward, but will look to include such things as social events and specific members facilities on matchdays.

"In addition, to obtain tickets for away games supporters will need to be members of the club and will also have priority for tickets for games at Elland Road before they go on general sale, which we hope supporters will see as a big benefit – particularly if success on the field returns."

Wednesday have announced the promotion of Kaven Walker to the position of chief executive.

Walker has been combining the roles of commercial director and club secretary since the departure of Alan Sykes 15 months ago.

"The past year has been an extremely difficult one at Sheffield Wednesday," said Walker. "But I am delighted to accept this appointment.

"We have reduced our operating costs but have a small team of staff who work extremely hard. I am hopeful that things continue to improve on the pitch and that the club continues to move in the right direction."

ian.appleyard@ypn.co.uk