On this day in 1992: Sheffield Wednesday sign Chris Waddle ... and so the legend begins

For a generation of supporters, he was the greatest player they have ever seen in the blue and white stripes.

Tuesday, 17th July 2018, 4:03 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th July 2018, 4:22 pm
Trevor Francis on the day Chris Waddle signed for Sheffield Wednesday

Dare I say, that will be the case for a few of the older generations too.

Twenty-six years ago today, Chris Waddle arrived at Sheffield Wednesday. And in all that time since, signing after signing has tried in vain to live up to the magic he brought to Hillsborough.

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One or two Italians came close but Waddle remains untouchable in the modern history of the Owls. Cards on the table, I am a member of that generation who holds Waddle in that God-like status.

When he landed in S6 for £1million from Marseille I was eight - the age when you're at your most impressionable as a young football fan and most in awe of the heroes who play for your club. He could do no wrong for me and was man of the match in every game he played. His name was on the back of my shirt. I came close to wearing out the video copy I had of a brilliant documentary on his time at Marseille.

But 20-odd years on, as a much more cynical man and a lot more detached from Wednesday than I would have dared to think as a child, the majesty of Chris Waddle has not diminished. He was the stand out individual, which took some doing in what was an excellent Wednesday team at the time.

Indeed, individual actually seems to be one of the best ways to describe him. Waddle seemed to operate on a completely different plain to everyone else. He was playing his own game and it was as though he didn't have a care in the world. Shirt untucked, his play was just as casual, slowing down and speeding up on his command.

Chris Waddle in action for Sheffield Wednesday against United in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley

Opposition players would be left for dead as he ghosted in off the right onto his dynamite left foot or bamboozled them with one of those step-overs. At times he was simply unplayable, never more so than THAT game against West Ham - a 5-0 demolition where he turned the opposition into gibbering wrecks with his sheer presence.

It was an iconic game and there were plenty more iconic moments - none more so than THAT free kick at Wembley. The true significance of that goal - coming against the opposition it did - probably did not strike me at the time. But the brilliance of it did. Inside the first minute, 40 yards out. United never expected him to shoot and stuck one man in the wall. Shoot he did, sending a bullet past Alan Kelly to score one of the most memorable goals in Wednesday history.

Iconic moments befitting of an iconic player. He may have remained at Hillsborough a little too long, with Wednesdayites witnessing a decline you don't ever really want to see from one of the best. In the end he went out on a whimper when he should have made a heroic ride off into the sunset. And Waddle may be remembered beyond the city limits for mullets and missed penalties.

But here, at least in one half of the city, his star continues to shine bright. I know more than a few of you will have given thought, just as I have, to whether we will ever see anyone as good as Waddle play for Wednesday in our lifetimes.

Chris Waddle

In a brilliant interview on the podcast of journalist Graham Hunter, Waddle described the noise of the retractable wooden seats at Hillsborough clattering shut as supporters rose to their feet when he carried the ball forward. It was an evocative recollection of something that sums him up as a player.

He made onlookers stand up and take notice, captivated with a mixture of awe and anticipation for what he would do next. It was a pleasure to watch him in action. His status as a club legend is by no means in doubt.

The greatest? He's undoubtedly in the conversation.

A version of this article first appeared on July 17, 2017