FA Cup final day holds bittersweet memories for former Sheffield Wednesday manager Trevor Francis.
For while Francis never claimed FA Cup glory as a player – he was more than compensated by being a European Cup winner – English football’s showpiece occasion brings mixed emotions for the 58-year-old.
For, in 1993, Francis managed the Owls to an amazing four Wembley trips, culminating in a FA Cup final meeting with Arsenal.
The original game finished 1-1, and the replay looked destined for penalties until Andy Linighan’s stoppage-time winner clinched the trophy for the Gunners.
Despite defeat, Francis cherishes the memories. Having been a League Cup winner as a player with the Owls, and having won the Coppa Italia twice with Sampdoria and the Scottish League Cup with Rangers, being involved on FA Cup final day is still one of his career highlights.
In a cruel and ironic twist, two years later he was sacked by Wednesday on the morning of the FA Cup final, but Francis remembers how close the Owls came to lifting the trophy.
“Losing the cup final hurt. What hurt most of all was the goal that we conceded in the last minute of extra time could have been avoided.
“Linighan got above Mark Bright with the header and Chris Woods should have saved it. If it had gone to penalties, of course, then who knows what the outcome would have been.”
Ian Wright had put the Gunners in front in the first half only for Chris Waddle to equalise after the break to force extra time.
Wright had also scored in the original meeting only for David Hirst to level on 61 minutes.
The Owls had chances to win the Thursday night replay themselves – this would be the last FA Cup final to go to a replay after the game’s authorities decided the final should be decided on the day – with striker Mark Bright coming closest to settling the contest as Francis recalls.
“It was only about three months ago, for I am not one to be looking back, I tend to look forward, I was doing some TV work at Sheffield Wednesday v Blackpool and they showed one or two little highlights from the FA Cup replay.
“I never realised just what a good chance it was for Mark Bright. It was so late in the game that Mark could have won the game for us.”
Just like this season, both FA Cup semi-finals were held at Wembley and produced derby matches. Then it was Wednesday v United and Tottenham v Arsenal.
Francis was hoping for a Spurs win, reckoning the Owls would have a better chance of beating them in the final.
“Going into the FA Cup final against Arsenal they were the favourites,” said Francis, whose Owls side also lost to Arsenal in the League Cup final that year. “I really wanted to play Spurs.
“I know that we would have been able to impose ourselves on the game as we would have wanted.
“It would have been a much more open game. We were up against an Arsenal side that smothered us and had a very good tactician in George Graham.”
One of the success stories of that season was Paul Warhurst. Signed by Francis as a defender from Oldham the previous summer, Warhurst was converted into a striker due to injuries and, alongside Chris Bart-Williams, proved a huge success.
His 12 goals in as many games even earned Warhurst an England call-up, although injury forced him to miss out on a cap.
Francis was fortunate to have inherited a talented squad when he took over after Ron Atkinson’s departure to Aston Villa in 1991.
Not wanting to rock the boat, he brought in just three players during that first summer, Warhurst, goalkeeper Chris Woods from Rangers and striker Nigel Jemson from Nottingham Forest.
“I didn’t want to change too much from Ron’s methods because he was a very popular guy at Hillsborough. Players liked him very much and I felt that I had to tread very carefully when I started and that is what I did. I brought in one or two players and it proved to be a good season.”