BAND AID BINDING OWLS AND LIONS
JOHN HEMMINGHAM is used to blowing his own trumpet, but the leader of England’s band says Stuart Gray has orchestrated something special this season at his beloved Sheffield Wednesday.
Hemmingham, a regular at Hillsborough since he was nine, has become a household sound – if not name – across the country over the past two decades.
He founded and has subsequently led the England band for the past 18 years, home and away, and not missed a competitive game since 1996.
Indeed, the only friendly games the 51-year-old had to skip came in May 2005 – with the Owls in the middle of an ultimately unsuccessful League One play-off campaign.
Hemmingham, who was at Wembley as England beat Norway 1-0 on Wednesday, believes boss Gray has got the squad singing from the same hymn sheet this season – despite their unbeaten start coming to a halt against Nottingham Forest last week.
“We’re playing some brilliant stuff at the moment, the best for a long time,” said Hemmingham, who started playing music at matches in 1993 away at Everton’s Goodison Park.
“I can’t believe we lost to Forest last week. Stuart has brought together a complete team, not just individuals, and it bodes well for this season.”
For a man who has taken in five World Cups supporting his country, it’s somewhat surprising to hear Hemmingham say a return to the Premier League for Wednesday would not necessarily be a good thing for fans.
“It’s a double-edged sword really, I know a lot of fans who don’t want us to get promotion because of higher ticket prices,” added Hemmingham, who is in Switzerland for Eng- land’s first Euro 2016 qualifier.
“To go home and away you get priced out – look at Arsenal and some £100 tickets, it’s frightening for fans. But I’d personally love to see Wednesday up there again.”
Hemmingham’s band was born when Alan Shearer score twice in Glenn Hoddle’s first game as England boss against Poland at the old Wembley.
Yet the famous ‘Great Escape’ theme tune which accompanies them at every major international tournament could become a thing of the past.
It wasn’t heard in Brazil because of FIFA regulations, but more pressing sponsorship concerns could force Hemmingham and his squad of 20 musicians to hang up their instruments.
“We would certainly welcome some help,” adds Hemmingham, whose band’s eight-year association with Pukka Pies ended in January.
“Some of the lads couldn’t come to Brazil because of finances, and we’re in a load of debt now, so sponsorship is a big help to us. A lot of the lads are on minimum wage so it’s tough, but we’re like players in the sense we just look forward to the next major championship and follow them every step of the way.”
HEMMING BIRDS: Owls fan John Hemmingham, centre, with his band on England duty