A wrench wrapped in blue and white and meeting Jack Charlton - The Sheffield Wednesday story of Coronation Street’s Tommy Craig
Craig Thompson’s link to Sheffield Wednesday is so deep that his acting name is inspired by one of his Owls heroes, and fans of Coronation Street may well have noticed plenty of blue and white in Weatherfield during his time there – turns out there was some in his coffin as well.
In the latest edition of our delve into the list of famous Wednesdayites, we spoke to Tommy Craig – currently filming Murdoch Mysteries in Toronto – about his story of going from a kid running through the Hillsborough stands in the 1960s to becoming friends with Chris Waddle and receiving some strong passes from David Hirst.
The former Where The Heart Is star has seen plenty of good – and plenty of bad – over the years, but where did it all begin?
“It’s always been there for me, I can’t remember a time without them,” he tells The Star. “I was born in S6, my dad was a Wednesdayite, so was my grandad, and I’ve been going for as long as I can remember.
“My first was September 1965. I know that because I’ve got a programme – it was Wednesday against Preston North End’s reserves – that my dad wrote on saying it was my first game. I was about three.
“The reserve games were quite good back in the day, but to be honest I think I just used to run through the stand whacking the seats up and down.
“My first proper games were in the late 60s though, I went to see us against West Ham and Liverpool - both ended 1-1. I just thought every game ended 1-1 then… I wish we were drawing 1-1 with Liverpool now.”
He’s come a long way since, and while his job makes it difficult to get to too many games these days, he still gets back to Hillsborough as much as he can, and his job did land him a chance of a lifetime back in 1997.
He was working on Soldier Soldier for ITV, and the PR team managed to get him in at Middlewood Road for a session. He did alright, he says. Despite David Hirst’s best efforts.
“David Pleat was a bit cheeky with me!” he recalls. “He was almost condescendingly impressed that I could actually trap a ball and pass it accurately. Hirsty too, because I knew him a little bit, so he kept firing passes at me in a drill to catch me out. Think I held my own though.”
But Hirsty wasn’t the only Owls legend he got pally with, and he says he’s still mates with Chris Waddle to this day after the Geordie superstar recognised him from a Radion advert that was on at the time.
He laughed as he said, “I got to know him after me and my mate had been to a great game where we drew 3-3 with Leeds… We went to Josephine’s, and I told him I knew there’d be some players in there.
“We were in the ten bob millionaire bar, and Waddle walked in with Gordon Watson. I had an ad on at the time where I got dragged by a tractor, and he said, “My kids love the advert!”. I was just like, ‘Oh my God, he knows me. Chris Waddle knows me!’.
“He’s been to see me in the theatre on stage and stuff since. He’s a great fella.”
Another Wednesday meeting was a bit more fleeting, but just as memorable for him. As a Wednesdayite who remembers the 1970s under Jack Charlton as his favourite spell, he was grinning from ear to ear when he got the chance to meet ‘Big Jack’ years down the line.
The England and Leeds United legend, however, had a question.
“I was doing Where The Heart Is at the time,” he says with a smile. “And Sarah Lancashire played my wife at the time. I got introduced to Jack, and he just said, ‘So, what’s she like then, that Sarah Lancashire?’ That’s all he said to me.
“I think he fancied her a bit, it was quite funny. I loved Jack, he was so interesting away from football.”
In his time as an Owl, Craig has seen everything from relegation to the old Third Division to cup finals at Wembley, and he has never tried to hide the fact that he’s a Wednesdayite.
Not even on national television.
He didn’t know his character, Tommy Harris, was going to be from Sheffield. But he wasted no time slipping them into view when he found out.
“I knew he was on witness protection, but not that he was from Sheffield,” he laughs. “I did a lot with Kevin and Tyrone in the garage, and they were big football fans. I asked why they never mentioned United or City, and they said the producers didn’t want to alienate any fans in Manchester.
“But they let you buy your own t-shirts, and you could wear what you wanted. So I used to get shirts with like ‘Hirst’ or ‘Owusu’ on them. Then the writers started picking up on it, and started mentioning. The regulars got a bit annoyed because they couldn’t mention their teams.
“Then when I got killed, they wrapped the wrench up in a Wednesday shirt and put it in the coffin. That was funny.”
To end off, we couldn’t let him go without finding out who tops his list of all-time Wednesday players. For somebody who’s seen some true stars come and go, he’s not short of options.
“Ohh that’s tough…” he grimaced. “It’d be a toss-up between Terry Curran and John Sheridan… I always wish Sheridan hadn’t hit the bar in 1994 – because if it’d had been 2-0 he’d have been as much of a legend as Ray Houghton.”
Both good choices, Tommy. Right, your next challenge is to get an early 1900s Owls shirt to sneak into Murdoch Mysteries.