As the phrase goes, hindsight is a funny thing.
Some Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers fans may feel that the 2011/2012 season is one of the worst they have seen.
Within the next decade, though, they may have changed their minds.
Just look at Sheffield Wednesday: the club was involved in a relegation battle during the 1995/1996 season, which would have disappointed many fans.
But they were competing in the Premier League.
They had signed Marc Degryse from R.S.C. Anderlecht. And, best of all, they played in the UEFA Intertoto Cup.
The build up
Sheffield Wednesday were one of three English teams who competed in 1995’s Intertoto Cup – the others being Wimbledon and Tottenham Hotspur – and, according to 90 Minutes journalists Kevin Palmer and Andy Strickland, the Owls were “[t]he only British team to take the Intertoto Cup seriously [that] summer”.
Judging from the build up, though, that statement could have been very different.
In May 1995, Sheffield Wednesday rejected the opportunity to join the competition and, earlier that month, Tottenham Hotspur and Wimbledon had also rebuffed UEFA’s offer.
In early June, though, all three sides agreed to play in the competition, which prevented UEFA from banning English clubs that would be participating in European competitions during the 1996/1997 season.
Sheffield Wednesday’s group was tough, though, as the Owls’ opponents Group One included Danish side Aarhus GF and Fußball-Bundesliga outfit Karlsruher SC.
A tough start
The preparations for the first match, against FC Basle at the St. Jakob Stadium on 24 June, were less than ideal.
For instance, Clive Baker was in temporary charge and many experienced players were still on their pre-season break.
The likes of Graham Hyde and Lee Briscoe started the match, but Baker was forced to rely on five guest loanees: Cardiff City’s John Pearson, Bradford City goalkeeper Ian Bowling, David German of Halifax Town, and Rotherham United duo Andy Williams and Tony Brien.
Pearson made a lively return to the club by creating chances, but a second-half strike by Alexandre Rey gave the experienced Swiss side a 1-0 victory.
With just one qualification place available, the club could not afford to lose another game.
A new manager
By the time they were due to play their next game, against Górnik Zabrze at Rotherham United’s Millmoor Stadium on 8 July, the Owls were in better shape.
David Pleat was ready for his first game as Sheffield Wednesday’s manager and several first-team players – including Chris Woods, Ian Nolan, Des Walker, Andy Sinton, Peter Atherton, Chris Waddle and Mark Bright – started the match, after returning for pre-season training just 24 hours before the match.
Star striker David Hirst, though, was completing a three-match European ban for his dismissal against 1.FC Kaiserslautern in 1992.
The Owls scored first when Julian Watts’ attack troubled defender Maciej Krzętowski, which led to an own goal, but Marek Szemoński soon equalised.
And, just before the half time break, some strong build-up play between Waddle, Hyde and Nolan found Bright’s head to give Sheffield Wednesday a 2-1 lead.
Bright nearly scored another goal in the second half, but his shot came back off the post and Waddle fired in the rebound.
Woods, however, made a howler after losing his balance and he fell over the line, while the ball was still in his hands, to give the visitors a consolation goal.
An early exit
Ahead of the group’s biggest match, against group leaders Karlsruher SC at the Wildparkstadion on 15 July, Sheffield Wednesday needed to avoid defeat in order to stay in the competition.
Danny Bergara, the club’s head coach, was in charge and the home side took an early lead when Slaven Bilić scored with a cracking 30-yard strike.
The Owls got a deserved equaliser and ended Karlsruher SC’s 100% record when Bright scored another header from close range after some excellent work by Waddle.
Millmoor hosted the final match, against Aarhus GF on 22 July, and both sides had to hope that results went their way, if they were to ensure qualification for the knockout stages.
New signing Mark Pembridge – and the club’s new crest and home kit – made their débuts and the Welshman made an immediate impact by setting up Bright’s third goal of the competition after 11 minutes.
Nocko Jokovic soon equalised but Bright scored again, during the opening period of the second half, after he was set-up by Sheridan.
Sheffield Wednesday’s best goal of the tournament was left until last, though.
Dan Petrescu dribbled past two defenders and the goalkeeper, and thus allowing an easy tap-in for the Romanian full back.
However, the match ended on a sour note.
Bright was sent-off for retaliating to Henrik Mortensen’s challenge and the Owls exited the tournament after Karlsruher SC hammered Górnik Zabrze 6-1.
Although Sheffield Wednesday did not progress to the next round, they were moral winners in comparison to Tottenham Hotspur and Wimbledon.
The two London sides were banned from European competitions for one season after fielding under-strength sides throughout the Intertoto Cup.
Tottenham Hotspur and Wimbledon got what they deserved, though, as both sides finished second-from-bottom in their groups.
On the other hand, Sheffield Wednesday won two matches and finished second in Group One with seven points.
And, if they had beaten Karlsruher SC and gained a point against FC Basle, they would have qualified for the knockout stages.
The Owls can look back at their Intertoto Cup campaign with pride, that’s for sure.
(NB: The embedded video has brief highlights of Sheffield Wednesday versus Aarhus GF between 4:00 to 4:35)