A Terrific Goal for Sheridan… A Terrific Goal for Sheffield Wednesday.
In 1982, I paid a small fortune to go and see the Rolling Stones at Wembley. Having begun watching Sheffield Wednesday in the mid 1970s, as they gradually slid down the football league, in front of ever dwindling but still passionate crowds, I had decided there was little chance of ever seeing Wednesday at Wembley and, as a substitute, watching a bunch of old rockers was the only chance I would ever get to see the fabled Twin Towers.
Subsequently hopes had been raised as fortunes improved with but FA Cup semi-final defeats against Brighton in 1983 and Everton in 1986 meant the dream seemed as far off as ever.
A decade later, in 1991 amazingly I got my chance to see Wednesday at Wembley. For the first time since 1966, when they had squandered a 2-0 lead vs Everton, Wednesday were at Wembley - this time in the final of the League Cup, known at that time as the Rumbelows League Cup.
The previous season had not ended well, despite a wealth of solid and skilful players, David Hirst, John Sheridan. Roland Nilsson and Carlton Palmer special favourites, defensive complacency had seen Wednesday relegated in 1989-90 and Wednesday were back in Division 2 for the first time since 1984. Managed by the larger than life Ron Atkinson, the Board had stuck by Big Ron and allowed him to keep the talented squad together, save for the sale of the late Dalian Atkinson.
During the 1990-91 season the team gradually gelled together and the season would see a fantastic League Cup win and Promotion double.
Living in London at the time I had been lucky and managed to get a ticket for the final thanks to the £10 share in the club my Dad had given me as a birthday present in the dark days of the mid 1970s and this entitled me to a ticket. I remember my mum sending me the advert that explained ticketing details from the ‘Sheffield Star’. I splashed out £38.00, applying by post (pre-online booking) thinking that it would probably be the first and last time I would get the chance to see the Owls on the hallowed turf.
Drawn against the previous season’s FA Cup winners Manchester United, Wednesday were underdogs, but few outside Hillsborough realised the amazing team spirit that Big Ron had instilled in the team.
Not knowing any other Wednesday fans in London, I travelled up to Wembley on the tube and train and bumped into a few Owls fans on the journey up. In fact, the tube was packed with Wednesday fans as was as Wembley Way when I finally arrived. I assumed the United fans were blasé about it I can’t remember seeing any before the game - It was a fantastic sight – blue, white and a smattering of yellow was all you could see as we approached the famous stadium. I also remember buying a scarf and programme as we waited for the team coach – still treasured possessions.
When the Wednesday team coach arrived, the crowd erupted and must have been an inspiration to the players. I went into the ground as soon as I could as the team had made their way to savour every moment and the anticipation grew and grew as Atkinson’s Barmy Army gave full voice to the Wednesday cause – particularly loud cheers were reserved for Carlton Palmer whose spirited performances had helped get Wednesday there but was sadly suspended for the final. Carlton looked on the verge of tears as the Wednesday fans sang his name. The Wednesday end seemed full long before the Manchester United fans turned up and throughout the Blue and White out-sang the Red and White. I remember thousands of stuffed toys flying around the Wednesday end amongst the waving flags.
The teams emerged on to the pitch with Alex Ferguson and Big Ron leading the teams out to a wall of Wednesday noise. Rather bizarrely the cup would not be presented by a royal or politician but by Tracey Bateman, Rumbelows ‘Employee of the Year’ in a memorably striking turquoise suit.
The match was a tense affair - there had been much talk of how Lee Sharpe, a wonder on the Manchester wing was going to shine but any threat he posed was nullified by the fantastic performance of Roland Nilsson, ably assisted by John Harkes. To this day Wednesday fans still ask “is Lee Sharpe still in Roly’s pocket?”.
Much of the match is a hazy blur now but was sparked into life when, in the 38th minute a free kick on the right was headed clear to the sweet boot of John Sheridan and his thumping half volley made the now famous, amongst Wednesdayites, “Dink” noise as the ball hit the back of the net beyond a despairing Les Sealy. Wednesday fans went wild hugging complete strangers and set us wondering - was this going to be our day.
The second half seemed to go past so slowly and painfully and I remember near the end Chris Turner making an absolutely fantastic save from a Brian McClair header.
Then it was all over - the final whistle Wembley resounding to “Barmy Army” – Big Ron hugging all the players on the pitch and watching in disbelief as Nigel Pearson, wiping away tears of joy, climbed those famous stairs to collect the Rumbelows Cup from Tracey. Then the lap of honour, victory photos on the pitch in front of the faithful, the United fans having mostly disappeared. Slowly the Wednesdayites began to leave – reluctant to give up the Wembley experience. I travelled back to central London and managed to board a train full of United fans most still disbelieving but acknowledging that Big Ron and his amazing team spirit had won the day. A day I still rank as one of the best of my life!
As for Wembley, by the end of the 1993 season, after four visits we would be sick of the place, except of course for that never to be forgotten FA Cup Semi Final annihilation of Sheffield United which has since entered into Sheffield football folk law.
Written by Sheffield Wednesday fan Paul Whitaker