Sheffield Wednesday legend Don Megson recalls life in a golden era for football

Gary and Don with Gary's son
Gary and Don with Gary's son
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His journey to the top of his profession was one great adventure. But it took Don Megson a long time to get his big break.

After joining Sheffield Wednesday as an amateur in 1952, Don spent five years working as a joiner’s apprentice in his home city of Manchester. He played more than a hundred matches in the amateur and reserves leagues.

Lap of Honour - Wilf Smith and Johnny Quinn

Lap of Honour - Wilf Smith and Johnny Quinn

“I used to commute from Manchester to Sheffield, play the game, pick up my £2.50 match fee and then comeback in the evening,” he said. “I played a part in the reserves every week.

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“The first-team were on £14 a week. I signed part-time and used to get a fiver for playing in the reserves. I never missed a game and played every week.”

At the end of his apprenticeship, Don worked in the army for two years, completing his National Service in 1959. It was at that point where he had to decide what he wanted to do with his life.

“I had only been out of the army a matter of weeks when Harry Catterick (Wednesday manager) signed me full time,” said Don. “My career took off from there.”

Don waited over seven years before finally making his senior Owls debut at the relatively old age of 23.

.Page 5b - Don Kicks the Ball out for a Corner against Leeds.jpg

.Page 5b - Don Kicks the Ball out for a Corner against Leeds.jpg

He admitted: “That is the type of thing that would never happen in today’s football. At that particular time, Owls had four teams. They had 40 to 50 players on their books which they had to have.

“I still can’t believe to this day why Wednesday kept me for that length of time. They must have seen something in me that was of value. They refused to sell me on a couple of occasions.

“When you look at my career, I was a part-time player for seven years. I never got a game. Once I signed a full-time contract, within four months, I had made my debut and virtually never missed a game after that.”

Catterick switched Don to left-back and he flourished after the positional change. Over the next decade, the strong, athletic, no nonsense defender marshalled the Owls to five consecutive top six finishes, captaining them six years, including the 1966 FA Cup Final as Wednesday lost 3-2 to Everton.

“The cup final was the biggest game of my career and it was great to be a part of it,” said Don. “I loved every minute with Wednesday. They were a great club and I would not have changed anything about my time there.”

His last appearance in Owls colours came in their shock FA Cup loss to Scunthorpe United in January 1970. Don wishes he had bowed out in style.

“I was injured at the end of my career and we played a home game against Scunthorpe in the cup, which was my passion,” he said. “We lost 2-1 and I got substituted for the first time ever and that was my last game at Hillsborough.”

After leaving the South Yorkshire club, Don played and managed Bristol Rovers for seven years before heading to the United States to manage Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League.

He said: “I’ve been lucky to be involved with some great clubs. I loved Bristol Rovers. I enjoyed America and I wish it had gone better so I could have stayed out there longer. Bournemouth didn’t fly after that but I enjoyed being in football.”

Don, who signed copies of his autobiography A Life In Football at the Owls Megastore before Saturday’s goalless draw with Rotherham United, is regarded as one of the finest full-backs of his generation.

What does he think of the modern game in comparison to the Swinging Sixties?

“It is light years different,” he said. “The game has moved on and rightly so.

“It is twice as fast and there is a greater emphasis on possession now.

“I played at quite a few grounds and even the ones that are still in place have changed so much.

“For me, the tackling is not as hard. Everyone knew how to look after themselves in my day and you used to tackle as hard as you could. Tackling has disappeared from the game. I like a little more cut and thrust and that entails tackling.”

Don Megson: A Life in Football is priced at £11.99.