‘What a team’ - Imre Varadi’s Sheffield Wednesday journey, leaving Newcastle United and that goal

If it was up to Imre Varadi at the time, he’d never have even spoken to Sheffield Wednesday…

Sunday, 19th June 2022, 5:00 pm

In the two seasons before he joined the Owls, ‘Imre Banana’ as he would become known, was flying in black and white, so it was no surprise that he was a wanted man – but he wasn’t thinking about leaving.

“To be honest,” he told The Star. “I was at Newcastle United, wearing the famous number nine shirt and scoring goals regularly. I had a three-year contract, I was very happy, and I was playing with players like Kevin Keegan and Chris Waddle, and we were building a good team.

“But then Arthur Cox the manager came up to me and said they’d accepted an offer from Sheffield Wednesday just out of the blue.

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“I said to him, “I’m not going anywhere! I’m happy here, I’m settled.” And when he asked if I’d talk to them, I said no. It happened four times, and they even offered me money to leave. It wasn’t about the money, I just didn’t want to leave.”

But Wednesday were persistent, and didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer. Meanwhile, Newcastle seemed to have something up their sleeve as well.

Varadi continued, “On the fifth time I went and met Howard Wilkinson and Bert McGee, who took me to his home… I actually live four houses up from it now - talk about going full circle!

“But yeah, he took me there, sold me the club, explained how they were going for promotion and how they believed I was the man to score the goals. They hit all the right notes with me.

“After that, and taking the hint that Newcastle wanted me to go, I said yes… So I signed, and what a great time I had.”

Why though, after scoring 40+ goals in two seasons, were the Magpies so eager to cash in? It turns out they already had a plan for the money.

Imre Varadi came on board in 1983 when Sheffield Wednesday signed him from Newcastle United.

“Well they went and bought Peter Beardsley! What a mistake that proved to be!” he says with a laugh. “Jokes aside it was a great piece of business in the end, for both of us. They wanted to bring him in from Canada, and we all know how good he was.

“But I had a great season at Wednesday, and what a team we had…

“We had Mel Sterland, Gary Megson, Gary Shelton, Gary Bannister… We really had a good team, and we couldn’t stop winning.

“There was a great team spirit, a good way of playing… Everyone thinks three centre halves is new, but Howard was one of the first to have wingbacks with Mel and Nigel Worthington.

Sheffield Wednesday striker Imre Varadi playing a Division 1 match against Arsenal. (Photo by Getty Images)

“That season was tremendous, we just seemed to beat everybody. We were on top, I was scoring goals, and in the November we played my old club, Newcastle, and beat them 4-2 - I scored twice, but didn’t celebrate.

“We were good at playing in the opposition half rather than in our own - and we beat everybody - but I think our problem was that we got promotion too early, and were almost on holiday then.”

A defeat to Shrewsbury Town and a draw with Manchester City saw them leapfrogged at the death – missing out on the title by the smallest margin.

It was still an exciting time though, and the former West Bromwich Albion man went on to say, “After promotion we had a bit of a dip, and ended up losing out to Chelsea on the last day on goal difference.

“The day we got promoted is a day I’ll never forget though, Mel scored a penalty to take us up, and it was brilliant.

“There was a real team spirit and togetherness, even in the way that we trained. We trained really hard.

Varadi scored plenty of goals in Wednesday colours.

“Other teams would start to flake around 80 minutes, but we seemed to get strong and see games out. We were definitely the fittest team in the league, possibly in the UK.

“Some sessions we’d play 11 v 11 on a Friday, go home at 4.30pm and then play the next day. But we had real characters with guys like Mel, Gary, Nigel, Micky Lyons etc. Howard was spot on – I actually don’t think he gets enough credit as a manager.

But despite being the top goalscorer in that league campaign, arguably his most famous moment in blue and white came in the following season, on the first day of the 1984/85 campaign, when he picked up the ball up just outside the Owls box against Nottingham Forest.

Speaking of that hot afternoon in August, in the Owls’ first game back in the big time, Varadi said, “I headed it down, and then I just kept running… They were backing off and backing off, and then I just hit one from about 20 yards and it flew in. That was great.

It’s up there for me in terms of the goals I’ve scored, but I have scored some cracking goals in my time!

“With that one, it was the way that I just kept on running… I had no idea I was going to score, but when I was going it just kept opening up for me. Then I overran the ball before I struck it, but it flew in.

“It was a boiling hot day, shirts were off. It was excellent.”

It was one of 40 goals that Varadi scored in Wednesday colours before leaving for West Brom in 1995 – though he did grab six more during a short return in the late 80s – and it was a period of his career that he really enjoyed.

“We were winners in there, and we had a great coach,” he said. “And we could play when we had to play.”

Varadi had two spells with Wednesday, but it was his first where he really made an impact. (Photo by Getty Images)