Weekend interview: When Wembley proved the ‘temple of doom’ for Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday's players wave to fans afters their 1966 Wembley defeat - David Ford, second from left.
Sheffield Wednesday's players wave to fans afters their 1966 Wembley defeat - David Ford, second from left.
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MENTION ‘1966’ and ‘Wembley’ to most football fans in this country and, regardless of age, thoughts of Geoff Hurst, Kenneth Wolstenholme and Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet aloft will invariably come to mind.

Talk to Sheffield Wednesday supporters of a certain vintage, however, and an altogether different train of thought will be stirred.

Exactly 50 years ago today, the Owls lost one of the most memorable FA Cup finals of all time to Everton. On a true ‘what might have been?’ afternoon, Wednesday looked to have one hand on the famous old trophy after opening up a two-goal lead early in the second half only to then fall victim to perhaps the most unlikely goal-scoring hero of all time.

Throw in a pitch invasion at a critical juncture that left several police helmets littering the turf along with a jacket belonging to one of the interlopers, sacrificed in an attempt to evade the long arm of the law, and it added up to one of the more remarkable days that the old Wembley had seen. Not that this was of much consolation to the Owls, at least in the immediate aftermath of the final.

“It was a gut-wrencher,” Don Megson told The Yorkshire Post when looking back to the afternoon, as captain, he had led the Yorkshire club out at Wembley. “We’d fought like hell, given everything but the final whistle blew and there was nothing we could do.”

Wednesday’s despair at letting what was then the most prized trophy in English football slip from their grasp was understandable.

Unlike today when finishing fourth in the Premier League is preferable to reaching Wembley to most managers, Cup final day was the biggest day in the football calendar. Booking a Wembley date with Everton was, therefore, a huge thing for the blue and white half of the Steel City.

“Sheffield went crazy the moment we reached the final,” recalls Megson, father of former Wednesday manager Gary, with a smile. “The publicity was huge. Reporters were everywhere, all wanting interviews, and we all enjoyed the attention. Even if, as captain, I got a bit of unwanted attention. I was sitting in The Squirrel, Dave Layne’s cafe near Hillsborough, one lunchtime when some London lads, all wearing Crombies, came in.

“One of them put £4,000 on the table in front of me and said, ‘That will make sure we get all the tickets’. I told them I wasn’t accepting it and that, anyway, we didn’t even know how many tickets we were getting. One of them just replied, ‘Everyone knows you’ll get 100 each’. We got nothing like that, in the end. But we’d made it clear straight away that those London lads weren’t getting anywhere near any tickets.”

Just why those touts from the capital had been so keen to get their hands on any spares was underlined come Cup final day. A capacity crowd of 100,000 was packed inside Wembley and Megson admits the roar as the two teams emerged from the tunnel “made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck”.

Having had his front teeth knocked out in an aerial challenge with Denis Law, the Wednesday captain made sure he was fit to be introduced to Princess Margaret before kick-off.

“I put false teeth in to come out of the tunnel,” laughs Megson. “Then, once we’d met Princess Margaret, I gave them to Bob Little, our physio, to look after during the match and give back to me before I had to walk up the steps to the Royal Box.”

For the best part an hour, Megson looked destined to collect the Cup off the Queen’s sister. Fast, fit and direct – as any side led by the martinet Alan Brown, a former policeman, was going to be – the Owls took the lead on four minutes through Jim McCalliog and doubled that advantage 12 minutes into the second half when David Ford fired in after Gordon West had spilt a low drive from Johnny Fantham.

“That first goal was down to the drills that Alan Brown made us practice time and time again,” recalls Megson, who made 442 appearances for the Owls. “He was not a manager willing to leave anything to chance. We worked on everything, from how best to close down the opposition to routines at free-kicks, corners and throw-ins.

“If I went out on to Hillsborough with the lads from that Cup final team today, we would be able to run through our free-kicks and throw-ins. It was one of those planned throw-ins that led to the first goal.”

Two goals to the good, Yorkshire’s first Cup triumph since 1935 – when the Owls had beaten West Bromwich Albion – looked to have been sealed. Then, though, it all started to go wrong.

Within 60 seconds of Ford firing the rebound past West, Mike Trebilcock – a surprise inclusion in the Everton line-up ahead of England international Fred Pickering – had pulled a goal back for the Merseysiders with a searing 12-yard volley.

Five minutes later, Trebilcock, destined to play only a handful more games for Everton before joining Portsmouth and Torquay United, had another thanks to a ferocious shot that Ron Springett could not keep out despite getting a hand to the ball.

Cue that infamous pitch invasion by two Everton supporters that saw the first one detained quickly but the second evade several of London’s finest before finally being brought down by a tackle that deserved to grace Twickenham and not Wembley. Ask Megson about the miscreants and his views are uncompromising.

“I hate those bloody idiots,” he says. “The hold-up completely disrupted us. When you concede an equaliser, the biggest desire is get back into it and make amends.

“But play was held up for a few minutes and it just wasn’t the same as kicking off straight away. People might laugh at one of them losing his jacket to shake off the policeman but it was bad news for us.”

Everton, by now firmly in the ascendancy, snatched the winner 10 minutes from time through Derek Temple and the Cup was on its way to Merseyside. However, even amid the dejection of becoming just the second team to lose a final after being two goals ahead, Megson was determined the Owls would leave with their heads held high.

“I’d said after the semi-final against Chelsea that, win or lose at Wembley, we were going to do a lap of honour,” said Megson. “Back then, only the winners did that as the losers just headed straight for the dressing room. I wasn’t having that for our lads. I was proud of every single one of them.

“So, even though as I got to the bottom of the steps leading to the Royal Box there was someone from Wembley pointing us towards the tunnel, we set off on a lap of honour. The losing team had never done that at a Cup final but I felt the lads deserved it.”

The Road to Wembley ... OWLS captain Don Megson recalls the run to the Cup final:

Round 3 Reading (a) 3-2: Probably the closest we came to going out as we were behind.

Round 4 Newcastle United (a) 2-1: Alan Brown drove us all mad at times by getting us to practice set-pieces but one of them worked at St James’ Park.

Round 5 Huddersfield Town (a) 2-1: Our outside right Brian Usher scored at Leeds Road but he missed out on Wembley along with Colin Dobson. I felt sorry for them both.

Quarter-final Blackburn Rovers (a) 2-1: We must have been the only team to get to Wembley without playing at home. But another good, solid win.

Semi-final Chelsea (Villa Park) 2-0: The pitch was a mudbath and Chelsea, who had eight internationals, just couldn’t settle, whereas we were a much more direct team. Vic Mobley broke his ankle but played on, the bravest thing I saw – especially as he helped create the second goal. He didn’t find out the extent of the injury until Argentina were at Hillsborough in the World Cup and their physio X-rayed his foot. He thought it had been a ligament injury. After the semi-final, Tommy Docherty, their manager, marched up to me on the pitch and said, ‘You are a f****** butcher!’ He didn’t like me putting myself about. I just told him I’d seen him do worse as a player!