BAND AID BIND­ING OWLS AND LIONS

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO - By Jamie Holt

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

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