After the Reverend and the Makers toasted a fifth successive UK Top-20 album only last month with ‘Mirrors’, lead singer Jon McClure is optimistic his beloved Sheffield Wednesday will be back in the Premier League sooner rather than later.
The band’s latest release, ‘Mirrors’ hit the shelves back in October, with critics lauding their new material as their ‘best in a decade’ since being formed back in 2005.
McClure is now hopeful his support for Wednesday can mirror his own on stage achievements this year with the Owls looking to build on a decent start as they attempt to return to the Premier League for the first time since the turn of the millennium.
Shoot spoke exclusively to the vocalist about his love of the Hillsborough club, Carlos Carvalhal becoming their ‘Special One’, and how he celebrated defeating Arsenal 3-0 in the League Cup.
You released your fifth album, ‘Mirrors’ back in early October. What’s the reaction been like to it?
“Good! It is actually our fifth album that got into the Top-20 in a row! Being honest, the reaction to this album has been totally different to our other ones. The critics really like this one. They are all calling it a “masterpiece” and giving it nine out of ten, which has never really happened before. So it is really good. It is undoubtedly our best album. All the reviews have said that it is our best one and I think it is. Everyone is pretty much in agreement that it is a banger really!”
You’ve kicked off your UK tour. How exciting is this time for you?
“Yeah it is good because obviously this album sounds very different from our stuff before, so it will be interesting to see how they work together. I have been performing live for a long time now; regardless of whether you like our records [or not], we kind of love what we do live. It’s just one massive party.”
A selection of songs, including ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ and ‘Shine The Light’, are all too familiar for football fans. You must be proud of your work being so popular in the sporting world?
“Yeah it is good because I am a big Sheffield Wednesday fan, so sometimes I hear them at Wednesday matches, which is amazing! We have been lucky enough to meet a lot of footballers which has been amazing. I got asked to play in this all-star team by Chris Waddle, which I did. Chris Waddle was my hero when I was a kid, so it is a really big deal and it is just an amazing experience. I get to do stuff that I would have never done in my old job back in the call centre!”
How and when did you start supporting Sheffield Wednesday?
“I started supporting them as a young boy. I had my first season-ticket when I was probably around 10 or 11-years-old and I am still a season-ticket holder with my brother now. Obviously Wednesday have been through some bad times and perhaps they have been on a bit of a 20-year decline, but recently we have got a good manager and a good group of players. I sort of think about Wednesday like I think about my band. We have always being doing alright, but no one has really caught onto it. And then we go and thrash Arsenal 3-0 in the League Cup! We didn’t defeat them, we absolutely hammered them off the park! Now suddenly everyone is like, “Sheffield Wednesday are alright, aren’t they?” It is a bit like that with our band.”
Do you still remember your first-ever match?
“Yeah! Funnily enough, my first Sheffield Wednesday match was at Sheffield United’s ground because it was a derby game. Wednesday’s kit at the time was like green hoops, we were playing in like a Celtic-style away kit. We were in Bramall Lane in the day where they didn’t have a roof over the away stand. I was only about seven. Now, I have been to them all over the years. I was there when Paolo Di Canio pushed the referee over [1988 vs Arsenal] and I was there in 1991 when we beat [Manchester] United at Wembley [League Cup final]. I have seen everything.”
Do you get many chances to go and watch Wednesday play nowadays?
“As I said, I am a season-ticket holder, but the problem I have is that the band sometimes comes in the way of being a football fan. We were playing Nottingham Forest at home and I was on Soccer AM, so that finished at 12pm and I have got to get to Sheffield for 3pm! But Martyn Ware, who was the founding member of The Human League and Heaven 17, is a massive Sheffield Wednesday fan and he comes up from London every single game! So I think to myself, “I have got to make the effort”.
Last season, Wednesday finished 13th in the Championship. How much further can you see your team improving upon last year’s finish?
“Oh the sky is the limit for Wednesday really! I think we went 11 games unbeaten in the league and cup. We beat Newcastle [United] in the [League] cup, we beat Arsenal 3-0 at home and now we have got Gary Hooper in on loan. So we are looking good! We needed another striker. We have got this guy, Carlos Carvalhal as manager and he is good. He is Portuguese and he is like some sort of genius really, so I feel like we are in good hands and feel very confident about the future.”
Due to the club’s summer takeover, Stuart Gray was subsequently sacked as manager. Was that a fair decision do you think?
“I kind of feel sorry for Stuart Gray. It was a little bit like when Brad Pitt dumped Jennifer Aniston for Angeline Jolie! You felt bad for Jennifer Aniston, but you kind of didn’t blame Brad Pitt. It is a bit like that, ain’t it? Stuart Gray is a good manager and I would have liked to have seen him been given a bit more of a chance. But this guy Carvalhal has come in and it feels like when Jose Mourinho came to Chelsea and claimed he was the ‘Special One’ on the first day. He is a good friend of Carvalhal. I look at this guy and think that he has got us playing so well. Overall I think it was the right move. It is not nice to see, especially with British managers getting sacked, but ultimately we are in a better place.”
Clearly you have been impressed with Carvalhal’s appointment at Hillsborough. Just how good has his impact been?
“He is a total dude! I weren’t too sure at first because I went to Portugal over the summer and this taxi driver was like, “Carvalhal is a very special man”. But then he has come in and just smashed it. He is also very stylish. I don’t know whether you saw us play Rotherham [United] on Sky last month? He had this coat on, he looked like Liam Gallagher from like 1996. His coat was immense. I want one!”
The last time your club was in the top-flight was back in 2000. Do you think you Owls fans will have to wait too much longer before returning to the Premier League?
“The way we are going, not long! Because we just look great at the minute. Now I don’t think we will go up this season. We have got a lot of young players as well who just look great. We have got [Fernando] Forestieri and [Lucas] Joao, who is only 22 and who is only going to get better and better. We have also obviously got this financial backing now. And the other thing is, Sheffield Wednesday is a massive club. We had 38,000 people here the other night. Like Chelsea don’t get more than that in the Premier League! When we came up from League One a couple of seasons ago, we had 38,000 again and you just think, “A club that size deserves better football”. We call our ground the “Old Lady” because it is like a magnificent place to watch your football, but it is not like one of these generic stadiums that look all the same. It is a classic old stadium.
“We are getting back to what we deserve, bit by bit we are getting there. We need to look after clubs like Wednesday, we are old fashioned. Unfortunately nowadays, with the way that football works, things have become so concentrated in London and Manchester. Like even when Sheffield United play at home, they get 30,000 people, meaning there are 68,000 people in Sheffield watching football in one city at once. We need to look after these big clubs and cherish them because they are part of the community as well.”
You have recently signed Norwich City striker Gary Hooper on loan until January. Is he what you would consider the “final piece of the jigsaw” in your bid for promotion?
“Possibly, but I just want us to buy Jordan Rhodes, man! To be honest, Lucas Joao could well end up being that guy because he has already got quite a few goals, but he is a bit untested because he is still young. But ultimately, in order to get promoted, we need a striker that is going to score 25 to 30 goals. Jordan Rhodes has been scoring plenty of goals for the past six seasons right and his dad is Sheffield Wednesday’s goalkeeping coach [Andy Rhodes]. So if he is reading this, do the sensible thing Jordan, come and join Sheffield Wednesday mate and let’s have it!”
Wednesday pulled off the shock of the fourth round in the League Cup by defeating Arsenal 3-0. What was your reaction to that resounding win?
“I rang up every single person that I knew supported Arsenal and said “take that!” I think their team cost like £74m and ours was like £3m. Now my nephew is an Arsenal fan, so the first thing I did was to get straight on the phone to him and hammer him. Although I don’t actually mind Arsenal!”
That was a great moment but what’s been your most memorable moment as a Wednesday fan?
“It was in 1993; the FA Cup semi-final with three minutes gone, Chris Waddle’s left-footed free-kick into the top corner against Sheffield United. Boom!”
The January transfer window will soon be upon us. If you were manager of Sheffield Wednesday, which position would you strengthen?
“Up front, man. I would definitely go and buy Jordan Rhodes. I would break the bank to buy him. I think if you put Jordan Rhodes in the Sheffield Wednesday side now, you wouldn’t be able to beat them. They would be unbelievable. The thing is, even at Championship level, you need premium players who are going to score you ‘x’ amount of goals to get you into the Premier League. But with Jordan Rhodes, at Championship level, I don’t think you can get a better player.
“The other player I would probably go and take a look at if I were Sheffield Wednesday manager would be that Leicester [City] guy [Leonardo] Ulloa. He hasn’t really been getting a game because Jamie Vardy has been playing so well. He is a great lad, I would probably have a look at him, perhaps on a loan deal. But I am actually hoping that Gary Hooper could score a few goals, I’m hoping he could do the business. But I have got beef with Gary now though. He is getting paid a ridiculous wage and we wanted to get him in on loan earlier. But the only reason he didn’t want to come was because we didn’t give him a [corporate] box. I’m like, “Gary, you earn like £30,000-a-week. Buy your own bloody box!”
Who is your favourite current player and why?
“Kieran Lee! Like whenever we get a new manager, Kieran Lee is always good off the bench, so they don’t think he is quite as good as he really is. So it isn’t until they have had about a month in charge that they actually realise he is brilliant. He was at Manchester United for a long time, but he ended up at Wednesday. He is like Andres Iniesta or something, his passing and work rate is ridiculous. He is unbelievable. I love him!”
And who is your favourite all-time player and why?
“Chris Waddle! He is just the coolest man ever. You don’t really see them kind of players anymore because all of these modern players want to be like James Milner or Danny Welbeck don’t they? So they are all like technically good, but they are boring. Players like Waddle would just like walk around then when he got the ball, he would take on about 10 men. You don’t see that anymore. I watched him when he was at the peak of his powers and when he played against West Ham United when Wednesday won 5-0. He absolutely destroyed them. I have seen [Zinedine] Zidane play, but my mate Waddle played better than that!”