Les is remembering his old Saturday routine. He played a match first and then he’d head down towards Hillsborough, lemonade and crisps while he waited for his dad outside the pub, then he’d be hoisted over the heads of fans in the kop so he could get to the front. Now 73 years old he goes with son and his brother, they live apart so the match is an opportunity to keep in touch.
Les has seen a lot at Hillsborough – the World Cup; Pelé in the flesh, twice – but it’s the games that changed him from a football fan into a dyed-in-the-wool Wednesdayite that stick in the memory. “The 4th division in 1976 playing Southend at Hillsborough. Even though it wasn’t a huge crowd, it was a passionate affair under the floodlights – Wednesday won and stayed up and the atmosphere was amazing.”
For someone whose formative memories were shaped in the 60s and 70s, you might assume that Les is nostalgic about the way football used to be, but while he misses “the kinship of having local lads in the team”, he loves the “culture” of the modern game. He talks with passion about the quality of football writing in newspapers like The Guardian, and how foreign players and managers have brought a new “flavour” to the sport. Les is certainly not stuck in the past. That said, he has his long-held superstitions and a match day ritual that is set in stone: “same parking spot on Cuthbert Bank; go to McDonalds for ‘lucky cuppa’; wear my lucky socks and lucky blue laces”. He even paid extra to get his new van in blue.
Dedication to the cause can sometimes go a little far, though. When their daughter lived in Hong Kong, Les and his wife Grace would take a Saturday night flight and return on the following Friday. “I look back and think – I’m stupid, we did that trip many times over ten years and had the opportunity to go and stay as long as we wanted for the same expensive air fare, but we used to go for five days because we had Ipswich at home or something. I don’t know how Grace put up with me.” When Les was 70 he had a birthday do with 70 guests. He recalls his speech: “there is something I’m going to say to Grace with 70 witnesses – ‘I do love you more than Sheffield Wednesday’ and there were 69 voices that shouted ‘Liar!’ – and they were wrong, but I guess I’ve built a bit of a reputation for myself”.