Warnock will face tougher time than Wilson if he manages Owls

Danny Wilson
Danny Wilson
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“I’m not foolish enough to think it’s going to be anything other then very difficult to come across the divide, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a massive privilege to come to a club of this size with its tradition and the support of the chairman and the directors.

“It’s not going to be easy. We have to play a certain brand of football and win games to win the fans over – but you have to do that anywhere.

“It will be difficult. We understand that, but every manager is in a difficult position. We always are and always will be, while some [jobs] are more difficult than others.

“But I promise you we’ll work very, very hard for this football club. I’m very determined and I think eventually we’ll win people over.”

This could be Neil Warnock’s opening speech to the assembled media if he gets Sheffield Wednesday chairman Milan Mandaric’s vote to be the new Owls manager.

But it is actually the prophetic words of Danny Wilson after he became the first manager to cross the Steel City.

A Hillsborough favourite, both as a player then manager, Wilson stunned the Sheffield footballing world when he was appointed Blades boss back in 2011.

Eleven long years had elapsed, taking Wilson to managerial outposts at Bristol City, MK Dons, Hartlepool United and Swindon Town, since leaving Hillsborough.

But that did not stop a car park protest from Blades supporters, furious at the announcement of a manager with such strong links to their bitter rivals. “We hate Wilson” and “You don’t know what you’re doing” were chants drifting through Bramall Lane.

The response since Warnock was confirmed by Wednesday chairman Mandaric as a contender to replace Dave Jones has been predictable.

A lifelong Blades fan and former Lane boss, Warnock fits the role of villain in many Owls supporters’ eyes.

Fans have taken to social media to air their views, some vowing never to set foot inside Hillsborough, others saying they would tolerate Warnock, but never support him.

Mandaric was interviewing the other contenders yesterday, but first-team coach Stuart Gray is expected to remain in charge tomorrow when Nottingham Forest visit Hillsborough.

Wilson has since left United, and is currently on the lookout for a new challenge, but he produced a successful team at the Lane.

Twice they went close to promotion, only to miss out at the play-offs on both occasions, and this season’s troubled start makes Wilson’s achievements all the more impressive.

What hurt the red-and-white half of Sheffield though was that first year when Wilson was in charge.

A stunning late rally, inspired by Jones’s arrival at Hillsborough, meant Wednesday pipped United for automatic promotion.

The Owls went up to the Championship and the Blades went on to suffer penalty shootout agony in the play-off final against Huddersfield Town.

That earned the Blades chief the mischievous tag of ‘Agent Wilson’ by gloating Owls supporters.

If Wednesday were to be relegated under Warnock, and they currently have just two wins in 18 games, you can be certain Blades fans will get payback with their own jibes.

While Wilson is the only manager to have taken charge of both clubs – Sheffield footballing legend Derek Dooley was Owls manager before taking on several jobs at United, including chairman – numerous players have donned the two strips.

Current Blades boss Nigel Clough had a brief stint on loan at Hillsborough in his playing days.

Two others turned out in blue and white before crossing the city to manage United, in Teddy Davison (played for Owls from 1908-26 before managing Blades 1932-52) and Ian Porterfield (played for Owls 1977-79 and managed Blades 1981-86).

Over two dozen players have played for both Wednesday and United over the decades, with current Blades right-back Tony McMahon and Owls left-back Joe Mattock the latest to represent both Steel City rivals.

But where Warnock differs from the vast majority of them is he is a badge-carrying Blades fan who has often used his allegiance to fuel the rivalry in the city.

He is the epitome of a Blades fan in Owls’ fans eyes.

Where Wilson eventually won over Blades fans, who even chanted “He used to be sh***, now he’s alright” in grudging acknowledgement of his success, whatever Warnock might achieve at Hillsborough in a short-term deal until the end of the season, he would always be fighting a losing battle in the popularity stakes. At least he knows he would be walking into a hornets’ nest, where only regular wins – needed to see the Owls climb away from the Championship relegation zone – would keep the locals from turning nasty.

Wilson admitted to being taken aback when he arrived to those Bramall Lane demonstrations back in 2011.

“Does it surprise me? Yes, it does in a way, but it’s possibly understandable,” said Wilson.

“There’s a great tradition and great rivalry here as I know as well as anybody having lived in the area for 25 years, so I know what the clubs mean to people of Sheffield.”

As does Warnock.

The 65-year-old is probably the man best suited to taking on the ‘firefighting’ role required at Hillsborough this season, even allowing for his recent unsuccessful period in charge at Leeds United.

Maybe, like Wilson took on Blades favourite Chris Morgan as his No 2, Warnock could recruit an up-and-coming Owls coach to soften the resistance and create a “dream ticket”.

Whatever route Wednesday take, Mandaric would be a brave man to reach across the Steel City divide in search of Wednesday’s saviour.