Wembley at last for legend in both camps

Keith Edwards (Picture: Martyn Harrison.

Keith Edwards (Picture: Martyn Harrison.

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IT would not, of course, be allowed to happen nowadays.

Come the final day of a season, every match in the same division is made to kick off at the same time to avoid giving anyone an unfair advantage.

Thirty years ago, however, no such rule existed. Which is how the previous biggest shoot-out before tomorrow’s Wembley date between Sheffield United and Hull City – to decide which of the White Rose duo would claim the third and final promotion slot in Division Three – came to be settled on a night when the Blades had already completed their own campaign.

As United waited anxiously, the Tigers travelled to Turf Moor knowing that a three-goal victory would be enough to pip their South Yorkshire rivals. Anything less, though, and it was the Blades who would be celebrating.

Keith Edwards, who played for both clubs twice during a career that yielded a phenomenal 256 league goals, remembers the night well.

“I was at Sheffield United at the time,” says the 56-year-old, who will be at Wembley tomorrow in his guise as an expert summariser for BBC Radio Sheffield.

“We’d finished our games the previous week and all we could do was wait. A few of the lads did decide to go to Burnley, but I didn’t fancy that.

“A few of the other lads were going to a little boozer in town and part of me wanted to go with them. But then, if things had gone against us, I would have been heartbroken so, in the end, I decided to sit at home and listen to the radio. I don’t think I’ve ever been as tense.”

Edwards, who had rejoined United from Hull three years earlier, may have been put through the emotional wringer that night in May, 1984. But the agony proved to be worth it as the Tigers, despite taking a 2-0 lead early on, were unable to add that all -important third goal.

With the two Yorkshire clubs locked on 83 points and boasting an identical goal difference, United joined champions Oxford United and Wimbledon in winning promotion by virtue of scoring more goals than Hull, 86 to 71.

“That was incredible,” recalls Edwards, whose autobiography will be published in the autumn.

“To go up by such a slim margin, well that just doesn’t usually happen. I was obviously delighted to go up, but I did feel for my pals at Hull. Lads like Brian Marwood and my best pal Gareth Roberts.”

Edwards had enjoyed his three years at Boothferry Park after signing from the Blades for £60,000, quite a sum in 1978.

Hull had just been relegated from Division Two, but Edwards soon hit the goal trail.

An early hat-trick against Chester set the tone and by the time he returned to Bramall Lane early in the 1981-82 season, the Stockton-on-Tees-born striker had netted 57 times in 132 league appearances.

As Hull had struggled throughout that time and even dropped into the basement division in his final few months, Edwards’s tally was impressive.

Once back at the Blades he proved even more prolific, winning the Golden Boot in Division Four (1981-82) with 36 goals and then Division Three (1983-84) with 33.

Edwards returned to Hull in 1988, after a memorable albeit disappointing spell at Leeds United that included an appearance in an FA Cup semi-final.

“We played Coventry City (in 1987),” he says, “and the beauty of the occasion for me is it was held in Sheffield, where I still lived.

“I am the first to admit that things didn’t go as well as I planned at Leeds and that is why I started at Hillsborough on the bench.

“I was disappointed but I had grown up by that stage of my career and didn’t fall out with managers. Plus, I loved (then Leeds manager) Billy Bremner to bits. Big John Pearson started ahead of me. He is a great friend of mine and we travelled through from Sheffield to Leeds every day. But three minutes in, I leaned over to Billy and said, ‘Pearson is having a nightmare, I think you need me on’. Billy doubled up with laughter.

“Eventually, though, Billy saw sense and brought me on. Coventry were 2-1 ahead when Andy Ritchie got round his defender on the right and I made it 2-2 with a header. The Leeds fans just went mental and so did I, which wasn’t usually me.

“At Sheffield United, I had a reputation for being quite calm after a goal. But I went crackers that day which probably showed what it meant.”

Edwards’s day was set to end in heartache, as David Bennett settled a pulsating contest in extra-time.

“I wish that semi-final could have been played at Wembley, like they are today,” said the former striker.

“I’d love to have played there. I got to Wembley eventually but it was a Friday night and the dogs were running.”

Edwards left Elland Road for Aberdeen a few weeks later, but it was not long until he was back on familiar ground after being signed by Hull. “Eddie Gray was manager,” he says, “and like Billy at Leeds, he was first-class.

“The one regret I have from my career is that I didn’t have very long with either of them as my manager. Billy had to sell me because it wasn’t working out, and Eddie got sacked for some reason I still don’t really understand. That killed it for me with Hull City.

“But while he was manager, Hull had a great Cup run to the fifth round where we played Liverpool, the best team around back then.

“It was the only time I played at Boothferry Park in front of a full house. A great thrill, particularly for me as it was the eighth consecutive game that I scored in.

“That was a record I also had at Sheffield United, when I scored 14 goals in those eight games. That is an all-time record. Or it was at the time; Jermain Defoe spoilt it when at Bournemouth.

“To do the same for Hull against Liverpool was very special. The Cup run came just after my Mum died, too. It meant a lot to me.

“We unfortunately lost the game 3-2. Funnily enough, all my stories seem to end in defeat – even the night at Wembley dogs.”

One of a select band to score more than 250 goals in his career, Edwards understandably has plenty of good memories, and he cites his partnership with Billy Whitehurst as the best.

“What a partner to have up front,” said Edwards. “Opposition centre-halves were terrified of Billy and that certainly helped me as his mate.

“We had a lot of common interests. We’d have a pint together and talk about the greyhounds. If there was one thing lacking in our partnership it was that I didn’t create enough goals for him.

“Mind, I always used to say, ‘I created them, you just didn’t put them away, Billy’. But I’d say it from a safe distance.

“It wasn’t just goals but the fun we had together as well. We played Bournemouth once, and we spent the whole game talking to each other as (comedian) Tommy Cooper. Dennis Booth (former Tigers defender and assistant manager) talked like Tommy so we decided to do the same.

“I can’t imagine any of the Hull or Sheffield United lads doing anything like that at Wembley.”

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