How he signed, a ‘bitter’ taste and Cardiff: David Lucas on his ups and downs at Sheffield Wednesday

On a cold, rainy night in front of a crowd of dozens, David Lucas plucked the towel from the back of his net and wandered towards the Hillsborough changing rooms.

The then 26-year-old, nine years into a career with his hometown club Preston North End, had found himself tumbling down the pecking order at Deepdale, falling from the club’s number one spot as one of the brightest young keepers in the football league to Monday nights playing in front of empty stadiums for the reserves.

His career at a standstill, it was after a shower that night that his career changed forever. Within 36 hours he was picking his towel from the back of the same net, this time in front of over 20,000 as the goalkeeper of Sheffield Wednesday.

“It was a Monday night I was there for Preston reserves and straight after the game I got asked if I fancied coming across play,” he told The Star, seconds off the training field in his role as goalkeeping coach at Fleetwood Town. “Straight away I just said ‘Damn right I would!’

“Pressy [Kevin Pressman] was injured I think so they needed someone to come in and do a job.

“So I played for Preston reserves at Hillsborough on the Monday and then for Wednesday on the Wednesday night against Notts County – I played at Hillsborough twice, for two different teams in three days!”

It was the first of three stints with the club that in 75 Owls appearances would see Lucas experience the highest of football highs and the lowest of lows; of playoff glory and a knee injury he felt could have seen him retire before his 30th birthday.

After two successful loan spells, he signed for Wednesday on a permanent basis in 2004 as part of a Chris Turner-inspired squad overhaul that would see the Owls taste glory at the Millennium Stadium under Paul Sturrock the following May.

David Lucas celebrates Lee Peacock's goal during the League One playoff semi-final between Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday at Griffin Park.

Lucas had played 17 times for the Owls on that temporary basis and had a year left on his Preston deal, one his home club were happy to pass over. But it didn’t prove to be that easy.

The keeper was getting married that summer and was considering his future from a personal basis. Dave Allen’s ruling that every player had to live within 15 miles of Hillsborough would cause him considerable upheaval.

“It was a tough one for me because being from Preston and having been at Preston for nine years, with hindsight it should’ve been an easy decision but it wasn’t,” he remembers.

“But I had a picture in mind of seeing out my year where I was and watching the lads, all my mates at Sheffield Wednesday running round the pitch celebrating promotion.

“I couldn’t get it out of my head and once that was in there I just couldn’t have that regret. It became an easy decision once I’d thought about it more logically.”

What followed is the stuff of legend. Lucas became a central figure in the Owls changing room and one of the most dependable stoppers in the football league as Wednesday were promoted to the Championship in Cardiff after an unforgettable 4-2 win over Hartlepool.

As well as quality all over the pitch, Lucas said, it was the character of the changing room that got them through.

“We all had a point to prove,” he said. “You had Glenn Whelan and Chris Brunt coming down from the Premier League and were looking to forge a career for themselves.

“I’d been at Preston for years and was trying to get back into playing, into a new challenge. Everyone wanted to get back on track.

“We bonded really quickly and it all came together at the right time.”

Life in the Championship started slowly for the club but well for Lucas, who put together a string of creditable performances as he started the first 18 matches of the season.

But then disaster struck as he suffered the first of two knee injuries that would ultimately see his time at the club come to an end at the end of the season.

The offer of a contract extension was taken back and though he was permitted the use of their Middlewood Road training facilities throughout his recovery, he felt it was time for both he and the club to move on.

“I was doing really well and I was offered a three-year deal, but then I damaged pretty much every major structure in my knee,” he said. “That was the end of that. It was a horrible experience.

“The club is a business at the end of the day. I continued to train at Wednesday, they did everything they could to look after me that way.

“When I did get back to being fit again I felt as though I needed to move on, they offered me the option of a talk, but I said no. I’d decided at that point I needed something to freshen me up.

“I did feel a little bit bitter about things at the time if I’m honest, but I understand it now.”

A short stint at Barnsley and promotion with Leeds United followed before a spell at Swindon saw his playing career slow down. Lucas has been at Fleetwood for over seven years and saw them narrowly miss out on promotion to the Championship last season.

So how is working under Joey Barton?

Lucas said: “I genuinely believe we have a top, top Premier League manager in waiting and it’s been great to see his evolution and development.

“He’s nothing like the persona some people have him as. He’s warm, he’s funny, he’s hugely supportive of his players and staff, he’s hugely, hugely knowledgeable of football.

“One of the biggest things is how tactically astute he is, he’s so tactically versatile and he’s got masses of potential. Honestly, I have no doubt, he’ll be very, very successful.”

MORE FROM OUR WEDNESDAY WRITING TEAM

*

Thank you for reading this article, one of dozens we publish every single day to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative coverage of YOUR club. This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to from the football team at The Star, please consider taking out a subscription to our new discounted sports-only package. You'll find all the details at www.thestar.co.uk/subscriptions/sports.

Your support is much appreciated.

Chris Holt, Football Editor