Sheffield Wednesday v Norwich City: Barry Bannan on staying in touch with supporting roots ahead of milestone game for Owls

Sheffield Wednesday v Norwich CityFootballers love to talk about playing for the fans but with every passing year the professionals and those who, one way or another, pay their wages grow ever more distant.

It is what makes characters like Barry Bannan so important.

Last week the Sheffield Wednesday captain was at Doncaster Rovers' Eco-Power Stadium to watch his former team-mate Steven Fletcher, and also because he loves football.

Not all footballers do, and seeing them at matches their team is not involved in is rare, especially with so many on the television. When they do, most pop up in the comfort of the director's box or an executive suite. Some will be in a television studio or behind a microphone.

Either way, it is far removed from the real thing.

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Bannan would certainly have no problem blagging a comfy seat but his instinct was to watch from the busy Wrexham end with football's most passionate supporters, those who follow their team on the road.

Wrexham's were disappointed, losing 1-0, and Bannan doubly so, his mate only making it on in the 61st minute and unable to beat Thimothee Lu-Tutala when he did.

It means the midfielder, an Owls player since 2015, can speak with genuine authority about what makes fans tick as his club asks for an extra bit of help in the fight against relegation in Tuesday's landmark match against Norwich City.

FAN FARE: Sheffield Wednesday show their support from the Hillsborough stands in the recent Championship derby with Leeds UnitedFAN FARE: Sheffield Wednesday show their support from the Hillsborough stands in the recent Championship derby with Leeds United
FAN FARE: Sheffield Wednesday show their support from the Hillsborough stands in the recent Championship derby with Leeds United

The history books say it is the 5,000th league game for the 157-year-old club, a milestone only nine other Football League sides have reached. Legendary former figures are due to be there, some also on the cover of the special programme whose print run has been doubled for the night.

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But the evening will actually be more about the here and now as Wednesday look to build on Saturday's 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers and get out of the Championship relegation zone before the clock stops on the season on May 4.

Facing a Norwich side who have moved into the final play-off spot with five wins from their last seven games, they will need all the help they can get from the terraces.

INJURY CONCERN: Sheffield Wednesday's Leeds United loanee Ian PovedaINJURY CONCERN: Sheffield Wednesday's Leeds United loanee Ian Poveda
INJURY CONCERN: Sheffield Wednesday's Leeds United loanee Ian Poveda

"Without fans football would be nothing, we saw that in Covid years," says Bannan, a terrace favourite at Hillsborough. "Playing in front of nobody, it was not the same sport.

"Realistically you're playing for yourself but you're actually playing for those who are spending the biggest parts of their hard-earned money on football. Without them, football would be boring.

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"We need to realise that and take that onto the pitch. You're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for the 20-odd thousand people who come to Hillsborough week in, week out as well.

"I think the players are well aware of that, they've been in and around football a long time.

"The minimum requirement is to run around and put in a shift.

"When fans work extra shifts and spend most of their money on a weekend to come and watch us, if the players aren't giving their all they have got a right to be disappointed and voice their concerns."

His Doncaster trip was far from a one-off.

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"I go to quite a lot of games," he says. "I've been to quite a few Forest games because I live in Nottingham. I love football so any chance I get if there's games I can get to and I'm not busy being a dad, I'll go.

"It is interesting watching from the stands, seeing it the way a supporter sees it and hearing the shouts. It's quite funny.

"I enjoyed being in the Wrexham end although they're weren't too happy.

"We all grew up supporting some sort of team then you kind of get lost to that side of it as you start to turn professional.

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"I've never lost that side of it, I always try to go to games where I can and support my team or just go to games that are on in my city. It's all I do at home so if there's a game on nearby I like to go along, not so much to be in the crowd, just to watch a game of football."

Saturday saw Wednesday welcome back three players from injury but there is concern Ian Poveda's season could be over after coming off with a muscle problem.

Poveda withdrew from Colombia's games against Spain and Romania with what was also described as a muscle injury, returning as an Easter Monday substitute at Middlesbrough. He started at Loftus Road but was withdrawn inside the first half-hour for goalscorer Djeidi Gassama.

"We have just four weeks to go, so it could be not good for us," said manager Danny Rohl. "But the good thing for us was that Josh (Windass) got 60 minutes, Kristian Pedersen was back, Callum Paterson was back, and that’s always helpful."

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Poveda is on loan from Leeds United, where he is out of contract at the end of the season.

Birmingham City, level on points with the Owls do not play until Wednesday but Huddersfield Town, one ahead, are at Preston North End. Millwall and Plymouth Argyle are at home.

After tonight there will be just four games left.

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