There is no bitterness or a desire for them to fail, but each image of Sheffield Wednesday supporters walking down Wembley Way on their way to the Championship Play-Off Final is providing a rather large dose of jealously and a touch of injustice.
Not born out of a sense that Charlton Athletic have a right to feature at these big occasions, or that they belong in the Premier League. The second tier the level that fits best, and Wednesday fans would be quick to inform you, with enough evidence to support their claims, that they are a much bigger club.
But it is caused by the frustrating nature in which changes of ownership at both clubs, competitive rivals for an extended period of time, have had a very different impact. Frequently inseparable since 2011, the managerless and shambolic Addicks are preparing for a self-inflicted return to the third tier, while the rejuvenated Owls are a game away from a return to the top flight that appeared relatively unlikely at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign.
In fact, in the brief history of this competitive rivalry, probably born out of the way Chris Powell was able to get the upperhand over Wednesday both in terms of league position and results in a way supporters of the Owls weren’t necessarily fond of, Charlton have held the advantage. Johnnie Jackson’s free-kick, the League One title, and the FA Cup victory providing the Addicks with great moments at the expense of the Hillsborough club, and enhancing this competitive rivalry of sorts.
Since the reigns of Roland Duchatelet and Dejphon Chansiri began, however, the advantage has emphatically switched into the hands of the Owls.
Chansiri, the Thai owner of Wednesday, has overseen changes in personnel at Hillsborough that weren’t always universally popular when they were originally made. Stuart Gray, despite injecting a solid backbone into his side and leading the Owls to a 13th place finish in 2014/15, dismissed in favour of the relatively unknown Carlos Carvalhal.
But Chansiri’s decisions have not been experimental or for personal gain. The decision to appoint experienced Portuguese boss Carvalhal, who has been a huge hit at Hillsborough and not just because of the wonderful parker coat he wears, purely based on making the football club more competitive. Carvalhal not plucked from a network, or given the role on the basis that he’ll fulfil the needs of a controlling regime.
And when Wednesday’s owner suggests he has invested money, he can support that with actual results. Players of quality with experience of the Championship, such as Barry Bannan, Fernando Forestieri and Gary Hooper, vital to Wednesday’s sixth place finish and subsequent play-off final appearance.
That in some contrast to Duchatelet’s reign of terror in SE7. Horrendous failure, resulting in a drop to League One, and a disconnection with supporters coming as a consequence of a flawed strategy. A strategy that puts personal gain and the attempt to justify a clearly unworkable experiment ahead of the club’s success.
The failure “doesn’t mean that everything else is shit,” according to CEO Katrien Meire, who would have been dismissed by a competent ownership with the club’s best interests in mind, but it’s certainly shit that a club that we’ve locked horns with for so long are now streaks ahead of us. Are getting to enjoy an incredible day at Wembley, while we wonder which out of work English manager will be stupid enough to work under Duchatelet in League One.
I’m certainly not suggesting it should be us that should be at Wembley today, but Wednesday have proven it shouldn’t have been unrealistic to demand something of a challenge. Irrespective of whether they fall at the final hurdle or not, the Owls have proven that sensible ownership and intelligent investment can transform a relatively stale club into genuine promotion contenders.
What Chansiri has achieved, in propelling Wednesday forward from the relatively level state they were with Charlton, only reaffirms the extent of the failure of Duchatelet’s regime.
He and Meire will undoubtedly continue to attempt to justify those failings, or at least provide promise things will change, but seeing supporters of the Owls walk down Wembley Way makes it all rather meaningless.
We should not have fallen so far behind a club we once, at the very least, level with. And the reason we have lies at the feet of Duchatelet’s flawed strategy.