Barnsley v Sheffield Wednesday – Proud Keiren Westwood battling to avoid fall with Owls

KEIREN WESTWOOD may well leave Sheffield Wednesday this summer. But Sheffield Wednesday will never leave him.

The Owls goalkeeper is reminded of that whenever he surveys the vast empty expanses of a deserted Hillsborough during lockdown – and pauses for brief thought and recalls happier times when one of England’s grand old stadiums was crammed full on intoxicating days and nights against the likes of Newcastle, Leeds and above all else, Brighton.

He is reminded of that when he recalls the annual Owls in the Park event at Hillsborough when he signed in the summer of 2014.

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The 36-year-old was also served with a reminder when he was on the school run on Friday. Little moments like this show why the Owls will always be part of him, even if he leaves when his contract expires in June.

PROUD: Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper, Keiren Westwood. Picture: Steve Ellis

Westwood told The Yorkshire Post: “One million per cent.... My kids had a ‘super hero’ day at school. It was not the normal super hero day of super-heroes wearing capes. The little fella had gone dressed in Sheffield Wednesday (colours).

“He is proud to be part of Sheffield Wednesday and loves it and I do.

“Doing the school run, I have gone like this (grabbed his training ground jersey) and I am proud to play for Sheffield Wednesday and all the lads are proud.

“They would not come here if they did not want to play for Sheffield Wednesday and it is a big part of me and it will define me.”

Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Keiren Westwood is desperate to help the club avoid relegation from the Championship. Picture: Steve Ellis

Fancy dress events to mark Comic Relief Day took place at schools across the land on Friday.

There has been precious little comedy at Hillsborough in recent times – make that the last few years – and their dire situation is certainly no laughing matter. In truth, it is pitiful.

Today, Wednesday make the short trip to Barnsley – a club whose mood is the polar opposite to the prevailing wind at S6 – on a desperate sequence of form.

Many Wednesdayites have given up on the club’s prospects of staving off the drop, reinforced by events in midweek when they were pegged back in a home draw with Huddersfield Town.

LATE BLOW: Sheffield Wednesday's Callum Paterson (left) scores an own goal to give Huddersfield Town a late equaliser at Hillsborough. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Criticism from fans has been the mood music for some time for the Owls’ browbeaten players.

But for any who throw the damning charge that players do not care at the dressing room door, Westwood has a message.

He said: “They don’t know me very well if they pinpoint that on me. I know these lads in there and you should have seen the dressing room on Wednesday night and people don’t see the mental and physical (effort) we all go through to try and win a game and get out of a rut.

“To say we don’t care is hurtful. It has not been great, the season has not gone well and we have not won enough games. I accept all that. Speaking from me and the lads I know, I would be devastated that I could potentially finish my Sheffield Wednesday career on a relegation. Nearly 20 years in the game and I have never been relegated.

“I know that a lot of lads are out of contract, but having a relegation on your CV is not nice.”

Alongside Barry Bannan, Tom Lees and Sam Hutchinson, sampling some brutal lows with the club is all the more harrowing given how close that they and their team-mates came to achieving ecstasy against Hull City at Wembley in May, 2016.

More play-off pain arrived against Yorkshire opponents the next Spring against Huddersfield. Wednesday have not been the same since and it has felt like death by a thousand cuts.

Ultimately, players come and go, even if a club seeps into the soul with some as Wednesday will with Westwood when he leaves.

It is for the supporters for whom Sheffield Wednesday is the biggest thing in their lives and those people who have had blue and white in their veins since birth who Westwood feels for –should the club be relegated.

Westwood added: “I would be devastated for everyone involved with the club. The fans and people who work here.

“When I first signed, we had an Owls in the Park and that is when I knew how big this club was and how much it meant to so many people. We were a mid-table, solid team when I first came in and there were 20,000 people on that park. That was when I knew how much it meant to people.

“You try and embrace that. Nobody wants you to do badly, but when fans have a go at you, it is sort of understandable.

“It is just coming from pure emotion and a love for their club. It is not a hatred towards you as a player, but just that they are so frustrated.

“We are exactly the same. I don’t want to lose and when I concede a goal or we have come off and have lost a game or whatever, you can see that it hurts.

“I have been here a long time and know how much it means to so many people on so many different levels.”