Legendary Sheffield Wednesday skipper talks playing from the back, three centre-halves and Howard Wilkinson

Should Sheffield Wednesday achieve promotion this season, it will be the 12th time in the club’s esteemed history in which they’ve managed to do so.
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And while each of the sides have their own special places in the history of the club, few are held in quite as such high esteem as Howard Wilkinson’s triumphant 1983/84 side.

Iconic figures such as Martin Hodge, Imre Varardi, Lee Chapman and Mel Sterland were pulled together by Howard Wilkinson and led by Mick Lyons, known nearly five decades on as one of the club’s greatest ever captains.

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The story of the side’s return to the First Division is told in charming fashion in John Dyson’s new book ‘Back in the Big Time’, complete with interviews from Lyons and others touching on stories from the years 1984 to 1986 and those around them.

Mick Lyons and Howard Wilkinson are two legendary figures at Sheffield Wednesday.Mick Lyons and Howard Wilkinson are two legendary figures at Sheffield Wednesday.
Mick Lyons and Howard Wilkinson are two legendary figures at Sheffield Wednesday.

And amid chatter on the playing style of Darren Moore’s modern day Owls, the title revives memories for many of a distinct identity to that Wednesday side – one quite at odds with Moore’s preference for passing play, particularly playing ‘out from the back’.

Asked of the perceived snobbery of what was a keenly direct style of play under Wilkinson, Lyons said: “Well it got us promoted! No one could have a go at us, really, because it was successful and if a way of playing is successful, why not play that way?

“We loved it if teams ‘fannied about’ passing around at the back. We’d press and press, get the ball off them and score!

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“We had some good players as well though, you know. Hodgie was a great keeper, Chappy up front, Mel at the back and up and down the wing.

“We weren’t just journeymen, though Howard did mould us into a team.”

Wilkinson was and remains well known for a fierce management style and ‘headmasterly’ way of going about matters including training.

Some training sessions would never see a football as the former school teacher sought the title of fittest side in England and the Wednesday squad could often be seen running laps in the countryside of South Yorkshire.

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It’s an approach quite at odds with the data-heavy sports science of today of course.

“Howard got us to be the fittest team in the league, every Monday in training we would be running,” Lyons said. “He’d have us running up and down hills for an hour or more non-stop. He ran our b******s off!

“I loved it though. I’d always loved running, right back from being a kid in Liverpool.

“I used to love running the 800 or 1500 metres and winning those kind of races, it got us fit for the games.

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“We also played three centre-backs, which was new. It suited the squad we had.

“Mel Sterland and Nigel Worthington could really get up and down the wings in that system. I remember Mel absolutely bombing up and down the wing. It was great to play in.”

You can buy a copy of ‘Back in the Big Time: Sheffield Wednesday’s Return to the First Division 1984 – 1986’ direct from the publishers via pitchpublishing.co.uk.