Wembley 25: Wednesday wizards are simply the best

Skipper Nigel Pearson celebrates with boss Ron Atkinson
Skipper Nigel Pearson celebrates with boss Ron Atkinson
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Star sports writer Tony Pritchett was at Wembley to watch Sheffield Wednesday’s Rumbelows Cup triumph over Manchester United. Here is how he summed the day up back in 1991.

Indisputably the better team – with a bigger heart, the greater ambition, the fiercer hunger for glory and the support of the more fanatical crowd – won the Rumbelows Cup at Wembley.

Ron Atkinson knew it and, I suspect, in the depth of his despair and disappointment, Alex Ferguson of Manchester United knew it.

The famous Sheffield Wednesday went to Wembley as a supporting cast – and ruined the script.

They billed it as Manchester United v Sheffield Wednesday and the first half of the match programme was devoted entirely to the stars from Old Trafford.

Wednesday were allocated the back half – it was an indication of the way the final was supposed to go.

But Wembley is no place for foregone conclusions.

Didn’t Sunderland, all those years ago, beat Leeds? Didn’t Coventry upset Spurs. And didn’t Wimbledon in the biggest upset of all, spoil the party for Liverpool?

So it has been and so gloriously it will be at Wembley, now and forever more.

Wednesday won a famous thrilling victory yesterday and surely not a soul in the stadium begrudged them their triumph.

Quite simply they were superbly prepared, tactically intelligent and irresistibly determined.

They had not come all this way to lose and, in truth, save for a spell in the second half and near the end, never looked like doing so.

Manager Atkinson expressed the fear that his team might freeze. Instead they were red hot from the first kick to the last and if the final was no classic, so what?

This game is all about winning and the goal that won it was a classic to be remembered down the years.

John Sheridan, hissed and booed off at Hillsborough only a few weeks ago, volleyed Gary Pallister’s header in off the post to delete David Ford from the record boos as the last Hillsborough player to score a goal at Wembley all of 25 years ago and thousands, unborn on that day, arose in triumph to celebrate it.

Ford, of course, was there to see it, as was goalkeeper Ron Springett who was somehow beaten three times in that final of 1966.

Ron Atkinson and his staff had done their homework and the players responded nobly.

But, with due respect to Ron and his team, Wednesday won because 30,000 people from Sheffield simply willed that this is the way it should be and would be.

Defeat was never in their thoughts and when Wednesday settled down, instantly, they knew that this was their day.

Proudly they acclaimed themselves as Ron’s Barmy Army and they were barmy in truth twice in the day – first when Sheridan scored and when that splendid referee Ray Lewis blew his whistle to end it all.

Along the way there uncanny memories of the past. In the FA Cup final of 1958, Nat Lofthouse charged Harry Gregg of Manchester United over the line and the goal was given. At the same end yesterday, Chris Turner of Wednesday was bundled over and briefly Manchester United briefly celebrated – but times have changed, goalkeepers are a protected species nowadays and Mr Lewis firmly declined all Manchester’s pleading to allow the goal to stand.

There was time yet for Turner, so unhappy early in the season, to become one of Wednesday’s immortals.

Ian Porterfield has lived on the fame of scoring the only goal for Leeds in the Cup final of 1973 – and quite rightly too.

But on that day Sunderland were equally indebted to a stupendous save by their goalkeeper Jim Montgomery.

And here at Wembley yesterday, Turner did for Wednesday what Montgomery had done for Sunderland all those years ago. He made a brilliant save to protect Wednesday’s lead and his contribution at this moment was every bit as decisive in settling the destination of the Rumbelows Cup as Sheridan’s volley an hour earlier.

United, of course, had their moments and came close to making a match of it. But it was not meant to be.

This indeed was a glorious day in the history of Sheffield and Sheffield Wednesday.

And when it was over John Sheridan, alongside Ron Atkinson, faced the press.

Bryan Robson, so often the inspirational skipper of Manchester United and England, politely declined to do so.

And that, as much as anything, summed it all up.

The TV experts made Wednesday’s splendid skipper Nigel Pearson the man of the match and indeed he played magnificently in blotting out Mark Hughes.

But for me, Wednesday’s star performer was striker Paul Williams who put in one of the finest exhibitions of non-stop running and foraging I have seen all season.

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