‘Big Ron’ the key as Owls had last laugh in Wembley triumph

Sheffield Wednesday's cup-winning team.
Sheffield Wednesday's cup-winning team.
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Chris Turner, still in his Sheffield Wednesday tracksuit, wondered around the London park on Monday morning, the previous 24 hours a haze.

The Sheffield-born goalkeeper had spent the night partying in the capital with his Owls team-mates after creating history in the Rumbelows League Cup final.

John Sheridan scores the winner.

John Sheridan scores the winner.

In beating Manchester United at Wembley on April 21, 1991, courtesy of John Sheridan’s solitary goal, Second Division Wednesday had shocked the footballing world. Twenty-five years later, and the Owls are still the last team from outside the top tier of English football to win a major Cup final.

Several clubs outside of the Premier League have come close – including Middlesbrough (1998) and Bradford City (2013) – but none have been able to match the feat of Ron Atkinson’s side.

For Turner, that Spring day 25 years ago was even more memorable, for he grew up in the shadow of Hillsborough stadium and went on to enjoy two successful spells as a player at S6.

Watching from the stands at Wembley were his family, all Wednesday fans, and the former Sunderland and Manchester United No 1 admits it was “one of my proudest days in football”.

Turner, now 57, recalled: “Climbing up the steps and picking up the trophy, those are the moments that will stick in my head forever.

“Standing next to Nigel Pearson as he raised the trophy to the supporters, doing the lap of hour...

“Then going back in the changing room, just sitting there thinking about what had just happened. Wow, it was unbelievable.

“We had not only just beaten somebody else in the final. We had just beat Manchester United. Four or five days later, they beat Barcelona to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

“That shows you just what an achievement it was for us at Wembley.

“After the match, we went back to the hotel, had a fantastic reception, with Paul Carrick and his band.

“It was a late night, half the team didn’t go to bed that night. I remember walking in the local park the next day in my tracksuit, and it was just a haze what had happened over the last 24 hours.

“That season concluded with us winning promotion back to the top league, it was just an unbelievable season for Sheffield Wednesday.

“Without doubt, it was one of my proudest days in football.

“When you have supported the club from the day you can remember, watching them all through your school days, signing for them, playing for them, it was fantastic.

“Playing for my childhood club was everything to me. For my mum and dad, and family, to see their son play at Wembley for the team they had followed all the lives – before I was even born – it was amazing. Local lad done good.”

The story of how Atkinson invited comedian Stan Boardman along on Cup final day, to try and relax the players, is well-known.

It capped off three days of preparation, where training and ground work went hand-in-hand with socialising, as Atkinson sought a relaxed Owls camp.

Turner remembers how the Liverpudlian funnyman turned up at breakfast to deliver his gags, and even travelled on the team bus to Wembley to try and calm the nerves. For many Owls players, this was – and would remain – the biggest game of their careers.

“It was a fantastic four days, actually. It wasn’t just the last day, which was the Cup final,” said Turner, who played over 160 games for Wednesday, before returning in 2002 for a two-year stint as manager.

“It was the build-up going down to Bisham Abbey. We went down to train on Thursday, Friday trained again, and moved to the hotel in London.

“That evening, we went out for a meal with the wives and girlfriends, had a few beers.

“Saturday was training and preparation for the game. Saturday night it was Trevor Francis’s birthday bash.

“Sunday was Cup final day and waking up to comedian Stan Boardman at breakfast. We had Stan right up to an hour before the game, laughing our heads off driving down Wembley Way. He was telling stories, taking the mickey out of everybody.

“From breakfast at 9am, all day, he was non-stop telling jokes. “It was just a fantastic four days, which accumulated in the victory.”

Atkinson was instrumental in Wednesday’s big day, according to Turner, who spent three years at Old Trafford in the Eighties.

While the Owls would bounce back from relegation, to be instantly promoted back to Division One later that season, their League Cup triumph was the pinnacle of their season.

“With ‘Big Ron’, he had obviously managed Manchester United in Wembley finals – like in 1985 in the FA Cup final against Everton,” said Turner, now chief executive at Chesterfield.

“He had been involved in big matches and big occasions, and his experience leant itself to Sheffield Wednesday for this big final.

“The players were relaxed, confident. They knew what we had to try and win the match, and it all went to plan when John’s goal won us the game. Ron’s man-management skills were second to none. He made players feel relaxed, worked hard, played hard, and partied hard.

“It was a massive game for us, but the whole occasion was low-key, until we actually got in the dressing room at Wembley.

“We had a great team spirit at the time, everybody knew each other well, and we were capable of beating anybody that season.”

Of the game, Turner played behind a back four of Roland Nilsson – who had an outstanding game snubbing out the threat of Lee Sharpe – Peter Shirtliff, Nigel Pearson and Phil King.

In midfield – minus the suspended Carlton Palmer – the quartet of Danny Wilson, John Harkes, Sheridan and Nigel Worthington were up against the likes of Bryan Robson, Paul Ince and Neil Webb.

David Hirst was partnered up front by Paul Williams, with Trevor Francis and Lawrie Madden on the bench.

The all-important goal arrived on 37 minutes, Sheridan firing home beyond Les Sealey from just outside the area.

Wednesday had to defend for their lives in the second-half, in front of a 77,612 crowd, with Turner recalling a late save to deny Brian McClair as a key moment.

“Their key threats on the day were nulified, due to the work rate of our players. Our squad was a very skilful one, but they also worked very hard.”

Of that match-day squad of 13, most went on to careers in management but Turner believes Wednesday’s success of the early Nineties was down to one man.

“It was a fantastic season for the club, but it was all managed by Ron Atkinson.”