From factory to final: How Sheffield Wednesday’s Drew Talbot nearly missed his date with destiny
“All I remember is a silence,” recalls former Sheffield Wednesday striker Drew Talbot. “And thinking, ‘Please don’t miss it now’.”
It was on this day 16 years ago that the Owls came back from behind against Hartlepool United to clinch promotion back into the Championship. But Talbot, just a teenager at the time, was nearly never playing professional at all, let alone breaking through to score the goal that sealed a famous Wednesday win.
Having broken his leg twice, the teenage forward had stepped back from the game as he pursued other options. If it hadn’t been for a welcome shove from his old man, then maybe he wouldn’t have been able to win that penalty that Steve MacLean slotted home to get SWFC back on level pegging in the 81st minute.
“I’d had a really bad injury,” he told the Star. “Mark Smith, who was the youth team coach at Wednesday at the time and had been my coach at Barnsley, asked me to come and play with Wednesday until the end of the season.
“I wasn’t bothered, I was working and I just thought I’d keep doing what I was doing… I was working in a factory. My uncle owned a factory and I was doing little bits and bobs in there, and then playing Saturday and Sunday league football - I loved it.
“There was no pressure, I was a young kid and I was doing well, scoring goals, then Mark bumped into my dad and spoke to him.
“I hadn’t played at any level for eight or nine months, but my dad threw me in a car and took me. We played Manchester United in the reserves and after that I was offered a short-term contract. It’s why I played liked I did, because I knew it was going to end at some point.”
But it didn’t, and Talbot – just 18 at the time – went on to play 24 games in his debut season at Hillsborough, scoring four times before making it five in extra-time at Millennium Stadium 16 years ago.
After a rarely-seen triple change from Wednesday manager, Paul Sturrock, Talbot came on alongside MacLean and Patrick Collins in the 77th minute as they chased an equaliser, and less than five minutes later he was tugged at by Chris Westwood – a challenge that led to a penalty and a red card – as the Owls took back control.
The penalty was a moment for ‘Macca’ to savour, but Talbot got his moment too…
“A lot of it is a big blur,” he says as he describes bearing down on Dimitrios Konstantopoulos’ goal in the 120th minute. “It didn’t really sink in for a long time. People even asked why I chased my own flick on, and to be honest, I don’t know!
“I was just trying to get as far up the pitch as possible, and I genuinely don’t remember going around the goalkeeper. All I remember is a silence, and thinking, ‘Please don’t miss it now’.
“As soon as I hit it, and if you watch the video you’ll see I turned away before the balls even hit the net, I knew I’d struck it well. I just remember being hit by noise, and the elation was just indescribable.
“As a young kid that, 18 months earlier, wasn’t even playing football, it was a special day.
“I’ve got a little boy now who’s six, and he’s obsessed with football - which is a problem for me because I can hardly move anymore! - and he watches it and says, ‘You know what, that was pretty good that, Dad’. And it’s nice to hear that.”
Sadly for Talbot, things didn’t quite pan out for the rest of his career in Sheffield, with an awful back injury seeing him miss the entire 2005/06 season back in the Championship, and he went on to make just eight more appearances before joining Scunthorpe United in January 2007.
His 2005 League One Play-Off final medal wasn’t his only accolade, though. At Chesterfield he got a day at Wembley as the Spireites lifted the Football League Trophy in 2012, and either side of that – in 2011 and 2014 – he helped them win the League Two title.
That day in the Welsh capital, however, pips them all he says.
“I was on the bench for both legs of the semifinal, and that was an amazing experience, and the gaffer had said that he was taking everyone to Cardiff. Just to travel with the squad was a massive deal for me at the time.
“People say you have an inkling, but I genuinely thought that I was just going to make up numbers as a young lad.
“But I remember him pulling me to one side saying I was in the squad, and ‘I’m going to use you if I need to’. At that point I needed to get my football head on. I think the pressure of that day toughened me up a bit…
“The memories will never go away, and nobody can take them away from me. I’ve won leagues, and titles, but that’s possibly the best day of my football career, something that I’ll cherish forever.
“The lads were great, some of them went on to do amazing things, and it was just really very nice to be a part of that Wednesday squad.”