Skilled operators in centre of defence

Joe Shaw (second left) playing for Sheffield United
Joe Shaw (second left) playing for Sheffield United
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A QUALIFIED electrician, a diehard Sheffield Wednesday fan, a former Sheffield United ball-boy and an England stalwart make up the second quartet of centre-backs in contention for a spot in the Owls dream team.

Gerry Young richly merits his place on the four-man shortlist. Throughout his 16-year stint at the South Yorkshire club, Young oozed class.

Peter Shirtliff

Peter Shirtliff

Having completed his apprenticeship as an electrician, he turned professional and made his league debut in 1957.

South-Shields-born Young started off as a centre-forward before being converted into a centre-half. The positional change proved a major turning point in Young’s career and he earned international recognition 18 months later for England, winning his one cap in November 1964 against Wales at Wembley.

Young, who made almost 350 appearances for Wednesday, was a model professional on and off the pitch.

So much so, he got married on a Saturday morning, but, rather than taking a day off from work, he caught a train to Birmingham to play for the Owls at St Andrews in the afternoon! True dedication.

Gerry Young.

Gerry Young.

Some sections of fans will remember Young as the man who failed to cut out a long clearance which led to Everton’s winning goal in the 1966 FA Cup Final but that would be a harsh way to recall one of Wednesday’s all-time great defenders.

From one legend to another ... Peter Shirtliff came through the club’s youth system. The 6ft 1in defender played over 350 times in two separate spells, spanning 16 years in three different divisions.

He helped Wednesday gain promotion from the old Second Division in 1984 but he struggled to cement a regular starting spot at Hillsborough. Mick Lyons and Ian Knight were above Shirtliff in the pecking order and it was no surprise when he decided to go to Charlton two years later.

Re-signed by Ron Atkinson in 1989, Shirtliff chalked up a League Cup winners medal and added a promotion to his burgeoning CV. But the born and bred Wednesday fan endured some of the biggest disappointments of his footballing life at Hillsborough.

Peter Shirtliff, Sheffield Wednesday

Peter Shirtliff, Sheffield Wednesday

His lowest moment arguably came in 1993 when an arm injury ruled him out of the FA Cup Final clash with Arsenal.

Mark Smith is another strong candidate for a centre-back berth. Renowned for being a cultured, stylish defender, Smith helped Wednesday climb back into the top flight in the mid-80s and made 350 appearances for the club.

As a youngster, he trained sporadically with Sheffield United and was a ball-boy at Bramall Lane on several occasions. But, after leaving school, Smith pledged his allegiance to Wednesday.

From the penalty spot, Smith boasted a superb conversion rate, netting 11 out of 13 spot-kicks in his second year with the club. He was also named in the Third Division PFA team.

Sheffield United vs Manchester City, 'Sheff Utd Phil Jagielka,

Sheffield United vs Manchester City, 'Sheff Utd Phil Jagielka,

His promising performances prompted England’s selectors to include him in the England Under-21 side. Smith claimed five caps at that level but he never played for the senior team.

The tall, elegant player was given a testimonial in 1986. A year later, Shirecliffe-born Smith was offloaded to Plymouth, who paid a club-record £170,000 fee for him.

Last, but by no means least, in our roll call is Des Walker. The Owls captured the commanding centre-half in a £2.75 million raid, smashing their club transfer record to take him from Sampdoria in 1993.

Walker rediscovered his top form after swapping Italy for England and became a popular figure on the terraces at Wednesday after being snapped up by Trevor Francis.

In eight years of service, Walker shone like a beacon at the heart of the Owls defence. Cool and calm under pressure, he delivered consistently solid performances, making over 360 appearances for the club.

Despite his superb form, Walker earned just one out of his 59 caps while at Wednesday. His final appearance came against local rivals Barnsley in 2001.

Paul McGrath.....Sheffield Utd.

Paul McGrath.....Sheffield Utd.

Although he was named Player of the Year, Walker was released in the summer because Wednesday could not afford to offer him a new contract. He eventually rejoined Nottingham Forest.

Utds David Holdsworth celebrates putting the Blades 2-1 up with team-mate Graham Stuart

Utds David Holdsworth celebrates putting the Blades 2-1 up with team-mate Graham Stuart

Des Walker salutes an Owls victory

Des Walker salutes an Owls victory