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GET WITH THE PROGRAMME - MILLWALL

GET WITH THE PROGRAMME - MILLWALL

After a run of games against local rivals, the Owls now face a team from that London as we host everyone's favourites, Millwall, and their merry band of trick or treaters. And for the first time in GWTP, we're going back to the 80s. It's April Fool’s Day 1989 and Wednesday host Millwall in the Barclays League Division One.

Hard to believe now, but this was a top flight fixture for a couple of seasons, and the Lions were actually a pretty good team. Nowadays it's easy to think that football began in 1992, but the Premier League and everything that came with it was still a few years away, and the programme gives some insight into what seems to be very different times……

Firstly, I hear you all ask, who the hell is that on the front cover and what exactly is he wearing? Bonus points to anyone who could identify Darren Wood, pictured in one of only 11 appearances he made in an Owls shirt. Darren was signed by Peter Eustace not long before he was sacked, and had a reasonably good reputation at his previous club Chelsea. His Wednesday career was, however, ruined by a back injury, which he never recovered from, and he retired at the age of just 26 in 1990 . I must confess I can't remember seeing him play, but hopefully someone might be able to enlighten us as to whether he was any good. (I suspect not).

This was a season of struggle for the Owls, with the aforementioned Eustace proving completely out of his depth after replacing Howard Wilkinson earlier in the season. Coming into this game, we had scored the grand total of 26 goals in 30 games, a record of which Stuart Gray would have been proud. Thankfully for Wednesday, none other than Ron Atkinson - then a really big name - became available and the club’s directors were unusually quick to act in recruiting Big Ron and we all know what followed…..

In his notes, Ron reviewed the previous Easter weekend’s fixtures, a home defeat to QPR and a crucial win at Newcastle. More on the latter in a moment, but Ron was keen to close his column by praising the fans : “We were delighted by the backing we got from you……and it proved that you can play a crucial role in the next weeks. So keep cheering!”. Somehow I can't imagine any other manager signing off with that final comment, certainly if Carlos tried it these days I can guess the response…..

The 3-1 win at relegation bound Newcastle featured heavily in the programme, with one particular highlight being a dream debut for young Dean Barrick, who scored with his second touch after three minutes before setting up another for Nigel Pearson ten minutes later.

Dean was one of those players who seemed to disappear as quickly as he arrived as, after his run in the team at the end of the 88-89 season he never really made it with Wednesday. But he did go on to play nearly 500 league games with Rotherham and Preston amongst others.

As well as bringing Barrick into the team, Big Ron had also necessarily delved into the transfer market, bringing in Carlton Palmer, Steve Whitton and, most recently, winger Dave Bennett. Bennett, with his tache and shiny perm, looked like he had just walked straight in from a disco band. Dave was yet another player whose career was ruined by injury. He had broken his leg the previous season, and was to do so twice more, in his second game for next club Swindon and then again on loan at Shrewsbury.

As well as recalling these slightly obscure old players, it's great looking through a programme of this age just to see some of the other bits that remind you of the day (if you're of a certain vintage like me anyway). For example:
- renewal of membership, the grand sum of £2 for two years, plus 50p if you wanted your photograph to be taken in ‘the office’ (wherever that was)
- the club's new ‘over 25s’ night : “ Good news for all you over 25s….held in the Riverside Suite every Thursday featuring records past and present”. I assume ‘records’ refers to music rather than a visit from Norris McWhirter (another reference for those of a certain age) but who knows?
- home shirts on sale for £10.99 or £13.99 depending on size.
- Gilders Score Check, where 15 fixtures were listed in the programme and some poor bloke used to hang the scores on hooks at the bottom of the North Stand. Not so useful if you sat in the North Stand though.
- an advert for the new Seat Elite available at Portland Autofair and featuring such stunning extras as a rear wash wipe, rear parcel shelf and head restraints.

One, darker, sign of the times, was a small article tucked in right at the end : “What the Government’s Identity Card Scheme will mean to you”. This was a really thorny issue of the day, when it seemed to be more socially acceptable to be a drink driver than a football fan. Whatever your political leanings, there can be no denying that Margaret Thatcher had something against football and its culture and wanted to destroy it. This was, of course, not helped by the behaviour of certain brain dead supporters which gave the Government all the ammo it wanted. The planned scheme was to make it compulsory for supporters to have an ID card if they wanted to enter a ground. Thankfully the scheme never transpired.

It would be remiss of me to review a programme from this period and not acknowledge the tragic events that were to happen at our ground just three weeks later. One of the few good things to come from it all was the start of a shift in the attitudes towards football supporters that saw things like the ID scheme be seen for what they really were.

In opposition

Millwall were 4th in the table going into this game and were still in with an outside shot at the title. Their success was based on a number of key partnerships. Firstly there was the management team of John Docherty and Frank McLintock.

Secondly, in attack they had the impressive front pairing of a young Teddy Sheringham (always good for a goal against the Owls, although not in this game) and everyone’s favourite Irishman, Tony Cascarino, whose Grandma apparently had a pint of Guinness once, thereby qualifying him to represent the Emerald Isle.

Finally, in midfield they had the, let's say, battling qualities of Terry Hurlock and Les Briley. Looking at their photos in the programme it is hard to believe they were younger then than I am now. It's one of the strange things of getting older that you always somehow think of footballers as being older than you. Those two looked in their early fifties at best, maybe that's what playing for Millwall does to you I guess.

The game

For the second successive match, the Owls scored three goals, and this was to be their biggest win of the season. It was Atkinson’s signings that did the trick, with firstly Palmer getting his first goal for the club following good work from Bennett and Whitton, before then having to drop back into defence to replace the injured Ian Cranson.

The game remained in the balance until the last 20 minutes, when two goals from Whitton saw the Owls clear and up to the dizzy heights of 13th in the table. Whitton was to endear himself further with a crucial goal against Middlesbrough in the penultimate game of the season to secure safety and send the visitors down.

Next up

Another gap of a few weeks now before we finally get a Saturday 3pm kick off, and a visit from Bristol City. Last minute drama awaits…….  

Unread article 30/10/2017 at 20:33

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