Sheffield Wednesday's ice-cool American hero calls for Steel City derby calm on the pitch
Stay calm in the heat of the battle.
That is John Harkes’ one piece of advice to Wednesday’s current team as they prepare to face arch rivals Sheffield United for the first time since February 2012.
Harkes, who played in the Owls’ famous FA Cup semi-final victory over the Blades 24 years ago, said: “Cool heads will always prevail.
“On the day, you have to manage your emotions.
“It will be a challenge because the crowd will get right into it. Everyone knows what is on the line.
“But you have to be clear about your own thoughts and how you approach the game. You have to be prepared. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
“You have to know everything about that club and their weaknesses and how to exploit them. If you can do that, then you will walk away victorious.”
Harkes enjoyed nothing more than playing against the team from the red half of the city. The former US international still fondly remembers the 1993 derby at Wembley like it was yesterday.
More than 75,000 fans packed into the old ground to witness the Owls claim the local bragging rights and book a place in the final.
It was an unforgettable trip to the capital for Wednesday as a majestic Chris Waddle free kick and a Mark Bright tap in helped them clinch a 2-1 victory.
Harkes conceded: “It was special to be a part of that game. Sheffield was like a ghost town!”
He doubts there will ever be another all Sheffield semi-final.
“I hope it does happen again because it would be a tremendous occasion but I don’t think it ever will,” he said. “If it does happen, I will be there!”
The derbies are unique fixtures to play in, according to Harkes.
“It is not an ordinary game and it never will be,” he stressed. “Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday splits the city right down the middle.
“They are nerve-wracking to play in. You know there is pride at stake.
“You want to send the fans into work happy on a Monday morning. You want them to be talking about how well their team performed.
“Playing against United was one of the best experiences of my career. I loved the city and the challenge of playing them. It was fantastic.
“As players, we would go out after games and stuff and sometimes you would see other players out and about. When I saw United players, I would stop and say hello. We would talk and some people said to me ‘what are you doing and why are you speaking to him?’
“At the end of the day, we were footballers. When you crossed the line, you competed. When you were off the field, you became mates and respected each other.
“All of the lads that I knew back in the day were quality and I loved it.”
Harkes, a League Cup and promotion winner with Wednesday in 1991, attended the club’s 150th anniversary dinner earlier this month. He joined a raft of club legends, including Waddle, John Sheridan and Nigel Pearson.
He said: “Sheffield Wednesday are like my second family. I had some great times at the club.
“We all understood our roles and we had leadership with the likes of Ron Atkinson and Nigel Pearson. We had the perfect balance of pleasure and work. We got on so well as a team.
“We would get together off the field and sort our problems out by having a meal together. We were such a close knit team.
“When we stepped on to the pitch, we already knew what we had to do.”
Does he still keep a close eye on their results?
“I follow them quite a bit,” said Harkes.
“I was absolutely gutted when they lost to Hull in the play-offs. I thought that was our chance to go back up. I really did.
“I thought we had a good enough team. I was stick to my stomach seeing the result.
“I hope they go up this year.
“I was part of a group who gained promotion to the top-flight and I think it would raise the city up to a whole new level. I really do.
“But you have to earn it. It is not going to be given to you. You have to work for it and I hope they pull it off.”