Introducing the Sheffield Wednesday-supporting Mansfield Town man who puts Hillsborough up there with Wembley

There was a moment a few weeks back in which Mansfield Town’s strength and conditioning coach wandered up to a couple of players practising free-kicks at the end of a training session.
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Standing 30 yards back from the goal and asking a teammate to roll it back to him half-pace, David Waldie flicked the ball up to hit it on the volley and aimed for the bottom corner in the style of one of his childhood heroes John Sheridan – and his iconic goal at Luton Town in September 1991.

“I was trying to demonstrate that to them but I had to just show them on YouTube in the end,” he laughed in conversation with The Star. “They’ve not quite tried it yet but you never know – maybe Saturday is the one!”

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David Waldie has grown up a Wednesdayite - but will be all about Mansfield Town this weekend. Right pic: Dan Westwell.David Waldie has grown up a Wednesdayite - but will be all about Mansfield Town this weekend. Right pic: Dan Westwell.
David Waldie has grown up a Wednesdayite - but will be all about Mansfield Town this weekend. Right pic: Dan Westwell.
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The 39-year-old will be proudly wearing the badge of Mansfield Town on his chest come 3pm Saturday when The Stags arrive at Hillsborough with around 4,000 supporters and dreams of an FA Cup second round upset over Sheffield Wednesday.

And for Wednesdayite Waldie, the draw represents a career highlight he puts up there with any other – including Mansfield’s heartbreaking trip to Wembley for the League Two play-off final last season.

The sports science guru, who around a decade in the RAF started out life in the game at Sheffield United of all clubs as well as short stints at Notts County, Lincoln City and Carlisle United, remembers growing up in Doncaster in the halcyon years of the early 1990s – those years when many a Wednesdayite was made.

Having fallen in love with the game during the 1990 World Cup, a young Waldie turned not in the way of Rovers but towards S6. His first game came in the iconic 1990/91 season, his tenth birthday party was held at Hillsborough and the rest fell into place from there.

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“Growing up Sheffield Wednesday were always Premier League and Donny were in the Conference,” he said. “You split your loyalties a bit – I went to some Donny games – but my family weren’t hugely into football really and when you’re a kid you go for the bigger crowds and stuff, don’t you? There was no comparison.

“There were so many heroes. David Hirst was the first one but then Paul Warhurst, it was so exciting when he converted from defence to heading up front and I remember all that very clearly. Chris Waddle is still the best player I’ve ever seen and my favourite goal was the United goal at Wembley. I remember watching on my grandad’s telly. Unbelievable.

“I was the right sort of age for that sweet spot in the early 90s; Hirst, Sheridan, Waddle, all those guys. It was a great time to be a kid growing into loving football.”

Such is the relatively close proximity between Sheffield and Mansfield, it’s no surprise that there are several football links to the city in the Stags’ changing room.

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Manager Nigel Clough is a former Sheffield United boss and midfielder Stephen Quinn a former Blade of 238 appearances. Number 10 George Maris is a Wednesdayite, as is veteran goalkeeper Scott Flinders.

And then there’s Waldie, who watched the draw live and gave his partner something of a shock when his employers were drawn to play at Hillsborough.

“The missus was up giving the little one a bath so I flicked the telly on to watch it.

“I celebrated, gave it a “Yes!” and punched the air a bit. She wondered what was going on!

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“There’s a few Wednesdayites knocking about but we tend to keep ourselves to ourselves when it comes to Wednesday, to be fair,” he chuckled. “We talk about the results and what-not, but when you work in football you’re so immersed in the team you’re working for I suppose.

“We do talk about how they’re getting on or whatever and the gaffer and Quinny give us some grief if we lose, but it’s all in good spirits.”

A career highlight up with even an afternoon under the Wembley arch Saturday will be for Waldie, but there will be absolutely no split loyalty or mixed emotion when the whistle is blown to start the tie.

Mansfield have scalped Sunderland twice in back-to-back FA Cup runs and have got the taste for knocking out the bigger boys in League One football, with Clough having admitted there is none bigger than the Owls at this stage of the competition.

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With 4,000 or more Stags supporters set to pack out the away end, everyone connected to Mansfield are looking forward to the clash. None though, perhaps, more than Waldie.

“I’ve never worked at Hillsborough and it’s going to be good to experience that,” he said. “It’s the only game I’ve ever wanted Wednesday to lose.

“There’s no mixed feelings at all unfortunately. We all spend every working hour trying to make this team better and it’s such a good group of lads, the club is brilliant.

“I 100 per cent want to go to Hillsborough and win.

“We went to Wembley last season and that was incredible, but for me it’ll be exactly the same, maybe even better, getting to work at Hillsborough. It’ll be a great experience but I’m 100 per cent about winning.”

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With Chris Waddle among the Owls legends expected at Hillsborough on Saturday, Waldie may be tempted indulge himself in a couple of photo opportunities – but only, of course, once a job is done.

The 39-year-old admitted one of his career regrets was a near-miss in which he arrived at Carlisle just weeks after John Sheridan had been given the boot as manager.

Is Hillsborough the place for, say, George Maris to attempt the Shez free-kick routine rather dodgily re-enacted by his strength and conditioning coach those few weeks ago?

It would be a bit of an iconic moment, wouldn’t it?