When John Sheridan scrapped a half-naked Ron Atkinson on a Sheffield Wednesday pre-season tour

Acqui Terme, Italy, summer 1990. Sheffield Wednesday players are relaxing at a bar after an afternoon on the beers.

Sunday, 12th December 2021, 6:00 pm

The trip, lodged in ahead of the start of a 1990/91 season that would go down in folklore, saw the Owls play a couple of mid-range friendlies in sweltering conditions.

Italy, like the rest of Europe, was enveloped by one of the hottest summers on record. Worked hard by their mercurial manager Ron Atkinson and his sidekick Richie Barker, it proved to be thirsty work.

This was a legendary team first and foremost on the field, despite a shock relegation with a record points tally the season before.

Off the field, it was equally notable, with famed characters such as David Hirst, Carlton Palmer, Phil King and John Sheridan known to hold court over a pint or three from time to time. And pre-season tours were often that time indeed.

And it was after a day on the beers in the Italian sunshine that a bond was born among that side in the most unusual of circumstances; after a fight between Sheridan and his manager.

“We were sat in the hotel with a bottle of wine and Ron walks in, tells us to go to bed,” Sheridan picked up the story on the Under The Cosh podcast.

“I said ‘come on gaffer, we’re in the hotel’, but he sends us to bed. As he does that, well he had this thing where he’d slap you on the back of the neck with his big sausage fingers – I remember Danny Wilson going mad at him once! He did that to me.”

Sheffield Wednesday legends Ron Atkinson, John Harkes and John Sheridan celebrate winning the 1991 Rumbelows Cup.

Sheridan thought little of it and those present dragged themselves up the stairs only to find a few more teammates at the end of a corridor, passing around a bottle of grappa and sniggering like schoolboys.

In the wide, marble halls of the mansion hotel, their noise bounced from wall to wall and their fun was soon quietened as Atkinson came bounding down the hall half-dressed.

“Some of the lads were having a fag and we were having a drink, big crowd of us,” Sheridan remembered.

“Next thing, you see this big figure with a towel wrapped around him coming down the corridor.

“He asks us all to come to bed and he does it again to me, doesn’t he? Slaps me around the back of the head.”

Sheridan wasn’t ready for the slap and stumbled down the corridor, headbutting the wall in the process. Pride and brow bruised a touch, he reacted as any young Mancunian would. There was no backing down where Shez came from.

“I’d just bought this new Armani shirt. Well I ripped it off and threw it at Kingy and went at Ron,” he laughed.

“We had a scuffle and we’re into it and I can just hear the lads ‘Go on Shez!’ I was thinking, if he gets a grip of me, he’ll rip my head off!”

Atkinson tell his recollection of the story in this year’s book ‘91 – The Story of Sheffield Wednesday’s 1990/91 Season’ with a knowing chuckle.

“There were three players, Shez, Carlton and little Paul Williams,” Atkinson smiled. “Richie and I were up watching a game on television, doing a bit of prep on something or other. And we heard some voices in the next room.

“Anyway, I bounded in there to find those three and let me tell you I had a right go at them. Poor Paul Williams didn’t drink, but the other two, bloody Laurel and Hardy, they’d lured him in I think.

“Anyway, me and Shez ended up having this bit of a row. And I loved Shez, he was a right scallywag and I loved that.

“He’s shouting and calling me all sorts. Well I couldn’t be doing with him and we got into it a little bit. I almost threw him across the room. All I could hear as he’s walking back along this corridor was all these lads with their doors ajar sniggering their heads off.”

The next day, he called a meeting with the rest of the squad and announced he was going to send Sheridan home. When – led by new boy Danny Wilson – the players stood up for their supremely talented midfield playmaker, he knew he had a band of brothers capable of taking on the Second Division and more.

The conduct of the players would be their own responsibility, he said, and though he and players knew this was a group that would get into scrapes from time to time, it proved to be a masterstroke that pulled his troops together.

By the time the next pre-season tour came around, they were promoted to the First Division and proud holders of the Rumbelows Cup.

“The season we had was unbelievable,” Sheridan said. “We got promoted, we won the cup and it was a brilliant atmosphere with him.

“He’d bring it up jokingly every now and then [the Acqui Terme scrap]. And when we were with the lads they’d bring it up more; ‘Ron, remember when Shez was going to knock f*** out of you?!’

“He’s a top, top bloke. So knowledgeable with football. Unfortunately I didn’t play for him for too long a time because he went to Villa the year after we had all that success.”

Two full episodes of John Sheridan’s stories throughout his career are available to listen to on the excellent Under The Cosh podcast.

‘91 – The Inside Story of Sheffield Wednesday’s 1990/91 Season is available to buy via Vertical Editions.