The irrepressible Def Leppard are back with Mirrorball, the first official live album (complete with three brand new studio recordings and a bonus DVD!) in the veteran rockers’ thirty-year, multi-million record-selling run of success. As the band prepares for their latest wave of activity – including a second headline slot at Download Festival in three years – Sport.co.uk caught up with bassist Rick ‘Sav’ Savage to discuss his beloved Sheffield Wednesday...
Is it true that you were on Sheffield United’s books after you left school?
It is true, although it was before I left school, actually. They signed me on schoolboy forms, which was the step before signing as an apprentice back in the day. I played for Sheffield Boys and South Yorkshire Boys from the age of 11 through to 16 and I could have signed for Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday or any of the south Yorkshire clubs. This was back in 1976 and Sheffield United did have a really good side at that point, whereas Sheffield Wednesday, who are my love, had just had the worst season in their history. The logical thing to do was to sign for Sheffied United but unfortunately I never really played that well when I pulled the shirt on and consequently, at the age of 16, they decided not to take me on. It kind of ended right there.
Many millions of album sales later, this would seem to be a case of “all’s well that ends well”...!
Yeah. It coincided with me getting together with Joe, our singer, and starting to move in a musical direction.
What was your best position?
I was a centre-forward. A goal-scorer.
Onto a story concerning an Owls goal-scorer of yore: did you see today’s announcement that Swindon Town have appointed Paulo Di Canio as their new manager?
I didn’t, no. I don’t really know what to make of that! Obviously he’s untried and doesn’t have the experience but maybe he’s one of those star players who could attract bigger names to Swindon than they normally could, with all due respect to them. It’s an interesting appointment; historically, Swindon have always gone out and tried to play a brand of football which is refreshing. I remember when Glenn Hoddle was there and they had a great team then. Maybe Di Canio can do the same thing.
What do you think of the job Gary Megson’s done so far at Hillsborough?
I’ve got to be honest: I wouldn’t have chosen him if it had been my choice. You cannot argue with his record - he’s done great at West Brom and, more recently, Bolton – but I just wondered whether he was the right man for the job. You can have too many preconceptions about the style of football that he plays. It’s taken him a long time but he’s really gone in there and shaken up a lot of people that probably needed shaking up. It took him about eight weeks for the penny to drop with regards to the team but, with the whole club now on a more stable footing, I think he could be the right man. At the time, though, I would have gone for Gary Johnson because I thought he was a very good manager and I was surprised when Bristol City sacked him. But Megson’s come in and I think he’s slowly turning it round. I think it’s just about getting the right attitude within the club and I think Megson is the man to do that.
What did you make of his decision to offer a new contract to James O’Connor?
It’s a strange one with O’Connor because, in his first season, he really wasn’t that good; you couldn’t doubt his effort but he was running around, always being a yard short for the tackle or pass. Then he improved a lot in his second season – strangely enough, that was the season we got relegated! – and this season’s been strange because for the first six months he reverted back to how he used to be in his first season. Whether it’s because a new contract was in the offing I don’t know but he started playing really well during the last two months of the season. I’m not overly surprised that he was offered a new contract because his effort and commitment is there for all to see, and his work rate and attitude will rub off on other people. The biggest surprise for me was releasing Tommy Miller because he was our best midfield player. His goal tallies got into double figures, albeit most of them were penalties, and he was the captain. Megson made him the captain and he was one of the best players that we had so I must admit I was surprised that he was released.
He’s been quite injury prone, hasn’t he?
Actually, I think he’s done pretty well throughout his career. He had an horrendous time when he first joined Sheffield Wednesday – in his first season, he hardly played at all through injuries – but, ironically, he seemed like he was back to full fitness, had a regular place in the team and was starting to show his true worth. But, as I mentioned, they decided not to keep him on.
Jermaine Johnson looks like he’s set to sign a new deal...
Yeah, I read that. I’ll be pleased with that because Jermaine Johnson is one of those players who can win you a game single-handedly. He’s scored some incredible goals and he can beat people for fun but he’s just got this habit of shooting when he should pass and passing when he should shoot. If you could just instil a bit of common sense and composure into him then he’d be a Premier League player. No doubt about it, because he’s got all the other attributes. He can drive you mad at times but on other occasions he just looks head and shoulders above anybody on the park. He’s a player you really wouldn’t want to let go because he could go to somebody else and just be outstanding, so I’ll be pleased if he does sign a new contract.
Can you see Lewis Buxton signing a new contract?
I’m not too sure. I’d like him too, because he’s been one of our most consistent players. He can play anywhere on the park, probably other than centre-forward, and for that reason alone he’s worth keeping. He gives a hundred and ten per cent every game, he keeps it simple, he’s two-footed and I’ve seen him play at centre-half and he looks very composed there. Since he came back from injury recently, Gary’s been playing him at left-back and he’s slotted in perfectly so I certainly hope he signs, although he may be one of those players who’s interesting clubs from higher divisions.
'Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History', a collection of photographs taken by renowned hard rock photographer Ross Halfin, is out now
Would you also like to see the likes of Rob Jones and Neil Mellor signed permanently?
Yes, although the biggest impact player that we’ve had on loan for the last two months has been Danny Batth from Wolves. There’s no way we’ll be able to sign him because I believe he’s only recently signed a four-year contract at Wolves but he really does look like a top player in the making. If Wolves can stay up this season, maybe we could get him on another loan, which would be more than welcome. With regards to Rob Jones, I think he’d be a good buy; whether Alan Knill, the new manager at Scunthorpe, wants to give him a try I don’t know but he was a Wednesday fan as a boy and I think he’d be offered the job of captain if we do get him, so that would be another incentive. I think he wants to join so I’m sure we could work out a deal with Scunthorpe.
As for Mellor, in mid-season he didn’t look like he was interested, he looked overweight and we just weren’t sure that he was the right man. Since he got his chance up front with Gary Madine, however, he’s started knocking the goals in and he looks like a really useful striker, certainly in this league. He’s got another year on his contract at Preston and they’ve just been relegated so maybe Phil Brown would like to have another look at him. Again, Mellor’s said that he wants to come and join and I’d certainly like him to stay; the guy got twenty goals this season and that takes quite a bit of replacing.
Last year,I spoke with Joe about Sheffield United. Are you and he respectful of each other’s misery, or could you not help taking the mick when they got relegated?
We kind of take the mick a little bit but, from a Wednesday point of view, we’d probably have been more comfortable taking the mick if we’d got promoted. We didn’t really have a lot to shout about this season either, especially given the expectation and the way we started the season; I think Alan Irvine won two Manager of the Month awards in the first four months, or something, and still managed to get fired by Christmas! That kind of shows you the season that we’ve had. It’s a crying shame that one of the biggest derby matches in the country will be played in League One next season. It’s an absolute joke given the size of Sheffield and the support that both teams get. Both teams should probably be in the Premiership but we’re just nowhere near good enough at the minute. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s hark back to those top-flight days with a quick round of Who Was Better? Your starter for ten: Paulo Di Canio or Chris Waddle?
Oh, Chris Waddle without a doubt. He had all the skill, all the range of passing but there was also a reliability with Chris Waddle. Di Canio could be brilliant in certain parts of the game, just breathtaking, but I always felt that there was a slight attitude problem with him. Sometimes he didn’t look like he was trying; maybe that was just his style, I suppose only he could really know whether he was giving a hundred per cent. In fairness, Waddle played in a great Sheffield Wednesday team as well and that’s got to help. When Di Canio was at Hillsborough we were in decline; there was him and Benito Carbone and it was like a “let’s give the ball to those two and hope for the best” sort of thing because the rest were just trying to keep the score down!
Waddle was blessed to be in a great team with John Sheridan, David Hirst, Carlton Palmer; you know, from Chris Woods in goal through to Waddle, we had a great one to eleven and we played some great football, so it would have been easier for Waddle than for Di Canio. But if I had to choose between the two then certainly Chris Waddle, and not just because he’s a neighbour of mine!
Next up: Des Walker or Roland Nilsson?
That’s a tough one. I read recently that Roland Nilsson was voted as the best ever Sheffield Wednesday player; don’t get me wrong, he was a good player but was he that good? I’m not sure about that! I think Des Walker played in a more important position as a central defender; Nilsson at right-back was reliable and never, ever had a bad game but, then again, you could say the same about Des Walker. It’s a really tough call but if I had to choose between the two then I’d have to go for Des Walker.
Orlando Trustfull or Regi Blinker?
Er...both really inconsistent players. I’d go for Regi Blinker, just because every so often he did something that took your breath away. You’d kind of sit there and say: “Did I just see that??” So yeah, I’ll go for Regi Blinker.
Finally, if you could take just one memory of supporting Sheffield Wednesday to the grave with you, what would it be?
There are about four or five moments which instantly spring to mind: Eric Potts scoring against Southend in 1974 – or was it ’75? – to keep us in the old Third Division, Waddle scoring the free-kick against United at Wembley in the semi-final. I think I’d have to choose standing at Wembley seeing Nigel Pearson lift the League Cup. I remember thinking to myself, “Savour this, because you may not see it again in your lifetime!” It wasn’t a great game but that doesn’t matter when you win a final and actually being there to see Nigel Pearson lift that trophy is probably the best memory that I can think of.
Mirrorball will be released on the 20th June, available to pre-order from