Retro: Exciting times for Trevor Francis at the helm for the Owls

Trevor Francis is appointed new manager of Sheffield Wednesday 18th June 1991
Trevor Francis is appointed new manager of Sheffield Wednesday 18th June 1991
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Trevor Francis, the first £1 million footballer, arrived at Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer in January 1990.

Owls manager Ron Atkinson saw his goal-scoring talent and experience an asset in the team’s fight to stave off relegation to the second tier of English football. Disappointingly, this was not achieved, but Francis played an important part in the team that helped the Owls bounce back immediately to Division One.

In time, he became the Owls manager and led them to a top three finish and two cup finals during his first two seasons in charge.

Queens Park Rangers had provided Francis with his first managerial opportunity in late 1988, while he was still on the club’s playing staff, and he replaced ‘bald eagle’ Jim Smith.

QPR won a third of their games and Francis was dismissed after just under a year in the hot seat. He decided to continue with his playing career and Atkinson did not hesitate to sign the veteran.

Francis made a 20-minute cameo for Sheffield Wednesday in the 1-1 draw against Millwall on February 3, 1990 and the first of his five league goals for the Owls came in the 1-0 away win over Bristol Rovers on October 6.

Atkinson left Sheffield Wednesday at the end of the 1990-1991 season and he recommended Francis as his successor.

Despite a number of other names being in the frame, Francis was appointed on June 17, 1991.

The new boss promised fans that Atkinson’s attractive style of football would be perpetuated and added: “I want to continue with that same type of football that supporters enjoy and that I enjoy playing and watching.”

Chris Woods and Paul Warhurst were brought in from Rangers and Oldham respectively for the new season, which started with a 3-2 loss at the hands of Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa.

Francis’ first win came in the third game of the season against Everton at Hillsborough. Danny Wilson scored the opener for the Owls before Dave Watson brought the visitors level.

Viv Anderson, who was at Forest with Francis, headed home in the 88th minute to give the new manager a “special win”.

The Owls only lost five games in the first half of the league campaign and it was at the start of the second period that Francis had French star Eric Cantona on trial for a few days.

He took part in two training sessions on an artificial pitch at Tinsley and a six-a-side match at Sheffield Arena.

Francis wanted to evaluate the player further on a grass pitch but Cantona and his advisors ruled out an extension to the trial and he subsequently signed for Leeds United.

Francis’ team only lost four games during the remainder of the season. The Owls’ third-place finish, behind Manchester United and champions Leeds United, was the highest since the 1960-1961 campaign and afforded Wednesday a place in the UEFA Cup.

New faces for the 1992-1993 season included Chris Waddle and Mark Bright, both being signed for £1 million fees, but the Owls had a slow start, winning only three of the first ten games.

In the opening round of the UEFA Cup Francis’ men demolished Spora Luxembourg 8-1 at Hillsborough and won the second leg to book a second-round tie against Kaiserslautern.

However, the German side were too good for Wednesday and their European adventure ended after a 5-3 aggregate loss.

After spending the first half of the season in the bottom half of the table, the Owls went 10 games unbeaten in the league between mid-December 1992 and early March 1993.

As the team won five and drew one game in January, Francis received the Premier League Manager of the Month award.

Wednesday were still involved in the League and FA Cups and by the end of March had reached the final and semi-final respectively.

The FA Cup semi-final arrived first and the opponents were city rivals Sheffield United.

The antagonism had not spread to the managers, however, as Francis and Dave Bassett, manager of the Blades, had a sojourn in Italy, together with their wives, during the international week before the tie.

Waddle, who was a constant threat to the Blades, opened the scoring with an early free kick. But just before half time Franz Carr slid a ball through to Alan Cork, who slotted home to bring the Blades level.

A disjointed second half led to extra time and in the final period Mark Bright was left unmarked at a corner to head home and send the Owls to the final.

Arsenal were Wednesday’s League Cup final opponents. John Harkes opened the scoring for the Owls as he latched on to a loose ball at the edge of the box.

Paul Merson equalised for Arsenal soon afterwards and Steve Morrow scored the winning goal with 20 minutes left.

These two visits to Wembley took its toll on the Owls’ league position as only three wins were registered in the final 12 games. The team went from fourth to 10th but finally managed seventh place.

Wednesday’s 62nd game of the season was the FA Cup Final, which saw the Owls play Arsenal once more.

Ian Wright had the Gunners in the lead on 20 minutes after he latched on to a header across goal from Andy Linighan. David Hirst brought the Owls level in the 61st minute after he pounced on a square ball from Harkes.

Neither side could find the winner after 120 minutes had been played and a replay was necessary.

Again Arsenal struck first as Alan Smith flicked the ball on for Ian Wright running behind the Owls’ defence and he calmly slotted the ball over a sprawling Chris Woods.

The Owls’ reply came in the second half as Waddle, who was lurking at the back post, latched on to the ball as it was half cleared by the Arsenal defence and put it past David Seaman at his far post.

Penalties looked likely, until in the last minute of extra time Linighan out-jumped everyone to meet Merson’s corner and head the ball at Woods, who could not keep it from spilling into the net.

Francis was disappointed at the outcome of the game, not only for himself and the players, but for the fans and he was eager to praise them when talking to the Sheffield Star a few days after the match.

He said; “I have been manager here for two years and to have won the FA Cup would have been something special for me, but from the bottom of my heart I wanted it more for the supporters.”

He added: “Since I have been here, I have had a good rapport with the fans, more so since I became manager, and whatever happens I shall always remember their fantastic backing at the Cup Final replay.”