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For many editions of GWTP, an obvious game (or maybe more than one) has presented itself for the team in question, usually a big win or an important game. Despite many games against Villa – mostly in the Owls’ Premier League era of course – there aren’t really that many that stand out. The opening day game in 1991 sprang to mind, despite being a defeat for Wednesday, but I thought I’d go back a bit further…..
So here we are in the 1980s (just) as Wednesday take on Villa on Saturday 16th September 1989. The Owls had just survived relegation from the Barclays League Division One the previous season, thanks in no small part to the appointment of Ron Atkinson as manager. Big Ron had made a few decent-looking signings and hopes were high for a major improvement in the 1989-90 season.

Unfortunately, things weren’t working out that way, as Wednesday sat rock bottom of the division with just one point from their opening five games. Not just that, but with just one goal scored and an eye-watering 14 conceded, it was becoming pretty clear that another season fighting relegation was likely to be in the offing.

Big Ron was scratching his head about the awful start, which had included drubbings of 4-0 at Chelsea and 5-0 at Arsenal, opening his programme notes with “I’m as surprised and disappointed as anybody by the start we’ve made”. It doesn’t take much detective work, however, to highlight the potential source of the problem : for three of the previous four games the midfield quartet consisted of Mark Taylor, Steve Whitton, Alan Harper and Craig Shakespeare. The one change to this in the game at Chelsea was that well-known midfielder Darren Wood for Harper.
Quite what Whitton was doing in there is unclear. He had been signed towards the end of the previous season as a target-man style striker, and scored a famous goal in the vital 1-0 win over Middlesbrough that secured the Owls’ safety. Whitton’s run in midfied arose due to a suspension for Carlton Palmer, who managed to get himself sent off in a pre-season friendly against the Blades. Only Carlton could get sent off in a friendly - whatever he did though, I’m sure it was worth it.

Taylor and Shakespeare had been recruited in a double swoop (© every single transfer the Owls have ever made) from Walsall in the summer, but neither really made it at Hillsborough. Shakespeare was off to West Brom before the season was even out and Taylor drifted out of the first team and left the following season.

And Alan Harper was, well, Alan Harper.

Palmer was the subject of what was then the feature interview in the programme ‘At Close Range with Alan Biggs’. As Biggs rightly pointed out “Minus the catalyst qualities of his drive and leadership, Wednesday have lacked a devil’s brew”. That “devil’s brew” seems to have been something that Wednesday have struggled to find over the years, with many of our midfielders since offering something rather hellish for different reasons.
Carlton had arrived shortly after Big Ron took over, and was proving a great signing. He had mainly played for his previous club, West Brom, as a centre back but was clearly a quality midfielder, and wanted to turn his four England under-21 caps into a full England appearance. Carlton pointed out that “In recent years, England have cried out for a midfield player who can score goals, apart from Bryan Robson”. Hmmm, a bit ambitious there Carlton.
In his attempts to improve the squad, Ron had taken on two triallists, both of whom had appeared in recent reserve matches. The first of these was a somewhat-past-his-best Gary Shaw, the ex-Villa striker, who had been playing for Klagenfurt. The other was a man blazing a trail for Frederico Venancio, the captain of Vitoria Setubal Jorge Rocadas. Big Ron certainly liked a triallist, with many of them bringing with them exotic sounding names and the promise of becoming a future Owls hero. Most of them, of course, disappeared without trace, but it kept the interest in the Pontin’s League games up at any rate.

Nestled away in a single untitled page was a seemingly innocent and dull article describing recent changes in the club’s Board of Directors that were in fact an ominous sign of things to come. Vice-chairman Matt Sheppard had decided to stand down after 18 years. Cue the announcement : “The Board of Sheffield Wednesday has, therefore, unanimously nominated Mr R.M. Grierson and Mr D.G. Richards to fill the vacancies”.

The article was accompanied by a photo of the two new recruits looking hopefully towards something off-camera being pointed out by director Ernest Barron. Underneath the picture, in the corner below Finance Director Bob, is the strange missive “D.C. Cook Hillsborough for £500 cash back”. Whether this is an obscure reference to what Bob intended to do with the books is not entirely clear.

The programme also mentions the fact that this was Lawrie Madden’s benefit year. Lawrie had been a real stalwart for the Owls at centre back, and had seen off many rivals for his spot in the team over the years. The one thing that always struck me about Lawrie is that, even in his playing days he looked like he was in his fifties. It’s almost impossible to look at a picture of him and consider that I’m older now than we was then. I suppose playing next to the likes of Larry May and Ian Cranson would be enough to age anyone.

In ‘Bob Gorrill’s Notice Board’, we find that new arrivals in the club shop include such tempting offers as “Soccer Injuries Prevention and First Aid by Alan Smith” for £7.95 and bath towels for £9.99. Also, young Helen Wragg of Sheffield advertised that she would “like a pen pal in Australia who is an avid fan Wednesday and Neighbours”. No doubt Helen was flooded with offers from the many Australians who read the Wednesday programme on a regular basis.

In opposition

Villa were in mid-table with one win and one defeat from their opening five games. They were under the management of the late Graham Taylor, whose relative success at Villa Park was enough to alert the FA when Bobby Robson left his role as England manager the following summer.
The star name in the Villa team was another player on the verge of a career with England, David Platt – whose form in this season was enough for him to make the squad for Italia ’90 (where he did quite well I seem to recall).
Platt was instrumental in a season that saw Villa finish second behind eventual champions Liverpool (the last time the Scousers won the title).
Also in the visitors’ squad were some familiar names in Nigel Spink, Paul McGrath, Nigel Callaghan and Adrian Heath, as well as somewhat less celebrated players like Ian Olney and Kevin Gage.

Villa’s captain, and oddly in the line up at number 10, was a certain Stuart Gray, who according to the programme scored 14 goals in a season once, which was almost as many as Wednesday scored at home in an entire season when he was manager.

The game

Wednesday were clearly desperate for a win to get their season going, and thankfully they got it, but it was a tight affair.
Two key changes in the Owls line-up seemed to make a difference, as Palmer returned from his suspension in midfield, replacing Harper, whilst Kevin Pressman replaced Chris Turner in goal.

The only goal of the game came after 10 minutes when Nigel Worthington’s high ball was headed back by Palmer for Dalian Atkinson to strike a firm low shot past Spink.

It would remiss not to pause at this point to mourn the passing of Dalian, a great player for Wednesday even if it was for only one season. RIP Dalian.
Wednesday hung on for the points, with Pressman having to make a couple of smart stops from Kent Nielsen. Big Ron was soon to bolster the squad with the signings of John Sheridan, Phil King and Roland Nilsson (oh the days before the transfer window). Despite a significant improvement in form, we all know not only what happened at the end of that season, but also what it ultimately led to…….

Next up

It’s the exciting prospect of a midweek game against Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich, I’m sure we can hardly wait. We struggle to beat Mick’s teams but we used to beat Ipswich fairly regularly in the nineties……  

Unread article 23/02/2018 at 09:38


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