Sex, bread and indigestion: the Paul Sturrock teamtalk that changed Sheffield Wednesday history 15 years ago today
The away changing room at Brentford’s Griffin Park isn’t too far removed from the cramped, cold, concrete box rooms that play host to teams on Sunday mornings up and down the country.
Set in the corner bowels of the charming 114-year-old ground, mod-cons are at short supply to the extent that teams take battery-powered speakers as the plugs don’t always work.
It’s an experience Sheffield Wednesday won’t get again, of course, their last outing in March the final time they’ll play there before the Bees’ move to a flashy new stadium.
Shoulders rubbing, tension building, the air reeking of Lee Bullen’s requirement for Deep Heat, that soon-to-be-demolished little room played host to one of the seminal speeches in the modern history of the club 15 years ago today.
Sensing a side freezing up ahead of a second-led League One playoff semi-final that saw them take a 1-0 Hillsborough lead down south, then-Wednesday boss Paul Sturrock pulled up a medical box and waited for the noise to die down.
One conversation slowed to a stop, then another. And then it was over to him.
“Before the game the players were all tetchy and bickering with each other,” Sturrock would later tell Tom Whitworth for his book ‘Owls: Sheffield Wednesday Through the Modern Era’.
“You could tell they were worried, so I sat down and gave them a wee speech, just to break the ice.
“I talked about everything apart from the game. Talked about myself, actually. How I was nearly 50 years old. How when I ate bread I got heartburn. How sex wasn't as good as it used to be.
“They were all looking at me like I was an alien. Then at the end I said, 'Boys, this is a day to be enjoyed, you've all got these things coming to you, so just live for the day and enjoy it while you're young.'
“We had a good laugh about it and definitely took the pressure off them before they went out.”
Speaking from his home in Kansas, midfield man Craig Rocastle chuckled to The Star when reminded of the pep-talk 15 years on.
“There were loads of giggles. And the giggles were loud,” he laughed. “David Lucas was laughing, JP (Jon-Paul McGovern) was laughing loud, Matty Hamshaw was loud! Once he told that story it changed the atmosphere.
“Sturrock was Sturrock. He never really shouted a lot. I heard him do that maybe once or twice. He had this ability to ease the mood with a story. He had so many stories! Some were about him, some were about his staff.”
A 2-1 win was to follow of course with a famous playoff final at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium coming a fortnight later. And while Sturrock’s recollection of proceedings give the impression of an ice-cool assessment of the situation, Rocastle’s is anything but.
“He was a nervous wreck,” he laughed. “Playoffs are pressurising for a coach as well.
“We could tell he was nervous too and I think it helped him to lighten the mood. That was his style. He'd often tell a story or use a funny analogy, then get down to the little details.”
Sturrock was by then well-known for his relaxed and occasionally left-field approach to man-management. As Wednesday approached their vital and penultimate match of the regular season against already promoted Hull City a fortnight earlier, they hadn’t won in seven matches and pressure on a once-safe playoff spot was mounting.
Arriving at their Middlewood Road training ground the day before the players arrived to a note telling them not to get changed into their training gear.
Winger Matt Hamshaw told The Star: “Paul did something I’d never seen before and will never see again.
“We were all sat chattering and Kevin Summerfield (Sturrock’s long-time assistant) came down and said, ‘right lads you can all go through now’. We went up and there was beer, pizza, chips all over.
“Paul said he thought it was time we all had a bit of a get-together and had a drink! It was a Friday afternoon! You’d never do that now. We sat and had some beers and then went across to Hull.”
Wednesday won the Hull game in extra-time thanks to James Quinn’s instinctive goal-line toe-poke and sealed their playoff fate with a match to spare.
From there, for a week the two weeks leading into the Brentford double, Sturrock’s methods were more conventional, remembers Hamshaw: “We didn't change much, it was training as usual. I remember we did a bit more on corners but it wasn't anything like the Hull game.
“We never really feared anybody. We felt we were a good team in a good frame of mind. Paul had got us really fit, we got some good loans in and we felt if we played as well as we could play we'd get promoted.”
And with tales of sex, bread and indigestion ringing in their ears they went one step further at Griffin Park. The 1-0 lead from the home leg was enhanced by a first-half Lee Peacock strike and by the time Chris Brunt’s free-kick found it’s way into the net in the 53rd minute it was party time on the packed and uncovered away terrace.
“Going into that second game Sturrock wanted us to go at them straight away,” Rocastle said. “He wanted the game put to bed because he felt once we scored a couple of goals it was over.
“From the warm-up it just felt like a home game. You can't explain that feeling. It felt like we'd won the final.”