Gary Lineker, Jean-Pierre Papin, pub tales and cleaning changing rooms: When Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United legend Chris Waddle went to Worksop

Kirk Jackson rolled the ball across the hard, dusty early-season ground to the 39-year-old man in slightly ill-fitting shorts.

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 5:30 pm
Sheffield Wednesday legend Chris Waddle played two seasons at Worksop Town.

It bobbled once, twice, and as Jackson turned to make a run towards goal, he expected more time. UniBond League players, he thought, would require a touch or two, the attack would be gone and they’d spin it out wide. But not his new teammate.

He soon learned that Chris Waddle didn’t need extra touches.

It was in the summer of 2000 that the man they call the greatest player to ever wear a Sheffield Wednesday shirt arrived at the non-league club by accident, as a means of filling his time having left Hillsborough after relegation from the Premier League and the appointment of Paul Jewell.

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He’d been involved in the coaching of the Owls’ reserve side and a handful of his former charges were by then playing at Sandy Lane. Watching turned to training and within a few weeks, La Magicien was a Worksop player. He’d make over 60 appearances over two seasons.

“I just remember him at that first training,” said Jackson, the released former Wednesday striker who would go on to get more than most out of Waddle’s greying genius.

“You can imagine it, can’t you, pre-season training with Worksop Town. We loved it but it we were training on a park pitch, it was bobbly and horrible. And Chris Waddle was there.

“We were talking and he mentioned something he’d worked on with Papin at Marseille. That hadn’t been mentioned at many Worksop training sessions before, working with Jean-Pierre Papin!”

Keith Illet, a director and secretary at Worksop still heavily involved in the club to this day, recalls the signing of Waddle with a skip in his voice.

The former England international joined training at first to get fit, but then got the bug for football back. And aside from the obvious touch of class, he said there was nothing to separate him with the other players.

“One game turned into two and-a-half years,” said Illet. “He was paid a pittance, expenses that was all, nothing. He made a fortune for the club.

“He used to come early and it was nothing for him to hang the kit up, get involved with cleaning the changing room. He got his hands dirty like anyone else, he was absolutely top class I can tell you. Nothing was too much trouble.

“I can remember going to play at Marine in Liverpool and we stopped at a pub on the way back on the outskirts, we were in Evertonian land. It was dead quiet, and within 10 minutes, the pub was absolutely full.

“Someone had obviously put word round that Chris Waddle was in and he was sat entertaining the pub telling stories of Gazza. It's that sort of thing that set him apart, it was just the type of guy he was. It was the same at every service station we went to, he had no problem stopping and signing autographs. Class apart.”

Waddle was yet to make his way into the media commitments he carries now and gave no half-measures when it came to his commitment to the Tigers, playing 40 times in that first season. One moment that sticks out to both Jackson and Illet was one of only four goals he scored for the club, belted from his own half in a clash at Emley.

The goal a special moment in itself, it was his reaction in the seconds after, Jackson said, that proved what a special character Waddle was.

“He turned and sprinted half the pitch to celebrate with the Worksop fans,” he laughed. “There were six of them. His passion was scary really. We all thrived on him.

“He was Chris Waddle. He'd played for Marseille, he'd played in World Cups, in the Premier League, done so much. But he walked in as a Worksop Town player like everyone else. He's a genuine football man. People were in awe of him because of what he is and what he's done, he just made people look very good.”

None more than Jackson. In the run-up to Christmas Worksop were top and the then-23-year-old had scored 40 goals, a great many assisted by you-know-who. A move to the Football League followed with Waddle once again pulling the strings.

“He pulled me to one side before an FA Trophy game at Bashley,” he said. “He said wanted to try this thing he said he'd done with Lineker. I just thought, this is ridiculous.

“I had to put my hand on my chest and point to whichever way I wanted to ball to go. He'd look at me whenever the ball was still coming to him, I'd point, turn and start running.

“All he told me was to turn and sprint, the ball would be there. I went on the turn and kept running and was thinking, where is this ball? All of a sudden it hit me on the back of the head. I turned around and he was just laughing. That's how good he was.

“It was down to him that I got a move to Darlington. He had some connections there and I used his agent who did the deal for me. I can't say how much I owe to him really.

“My only regret is that he didn’t come with me! I didn’t score many up there to be fair, I’d had my supply chain cut off!”

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