How Owls came up short even before Cup semi-final kick-off

Richard Hercock looks back 30 years to Sheffield Wednesday’s FA Cup semi-final with Brighton and recalls their lapse in communication off the pitch.

Pat Heard

THE FA Cup creates lifelong memories, but two Sheffield Wednesday players will never forget the biggest day in their careers for all the wrong reasons.

It was 30 years ago, in 1983, the Owls were coming out of the doldrums of the 70s under Jack Charlton and had reached the semi-finals where they were due to face Brighton and Hove Albion at Highbury.

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But for Owls midfielder David Mills and left-back Pat Heard, pictured, the day got off to a nightmare start.

Big Jack and the Wednesday squad were told to leave their London hotel early due to traffic building up around Arsenal’s famous old ground.

But the message never got through to room-mates Mills and Heard, and it meant a frantic taxi ride to Highbury.

Wednesday would lose the match 2-1 and Jimmy Melia’s Brighton side went on to meet Manchester United at Wembley, but it is the semi-final which journalist Paul Thompson, who has covered the Owls for over 30 years, recalls most vividly.

“We always used to go on the team coach, in Jack Charlton’s day,” said Thompson.

“It had been a long tradition for many years and most teams took their local reporters on the coach.

“On the morning of the game, the police had asked Wednesday to leave a bit early because of some traffic problem.

“So we all piled on the bus and as we approached Highbury, a voice from the back of the coach – I think it was Gary Shelton’s – said ‘where’s Millsy, where’s Heardy?’

“Suddenly, everyone started looking around, but they had been left behind at the hotel.

“We were stood outside the ground when the pair pulled up in a taxi, none too happy.

“I think what had happened was they had been rooming together, and the information had not reached them about a different departure time and no one had noticed they weren’t on the coach until we got near the ground.

“They managed to make up time as they arrived just a few minutes after the team coach; it wasn’t like they were late for the warm-up. They were just a bit miffed that they had missed the bus.”

That semi-final also brought back memories for Thompson of an unusual setting for a fitness test for captain Micky Lyons.

“It was that semi-final when Micky Lyons had his fitness test on Hampstead Heath,” he said. “Maurice (Setters) was there in his everyday clothes, putting Mick through various exercises.

“We got a taxi there but didn’t get one back to the hotel. We had to walk back. Mick was due to play in a semi-final and was having to walk back to the hotel just after having a fitness test.

“It wasn’t far, to be honest, but you just couldn’t imagine that happening these days.

“Jack (Charlton) was sat in the hotel lobby when we got back, reading a paper. He looked over his shoulder nonchalantly and said ‘how’s he gone on then Maurice?’

“I remember walking on the pitch before the game. We got off the bus with the players, nobody knew who we were, and went with them to look at the dressing rooms.

“Then down the tunnel and onto the pitch, strolling around with the players, looking at the crowd.”

Brighton took the lead with a stunning free-kick from Jimmy Case in the first half, before Yugoslav Ante Mirocevic equalised after the break. Owls striker Andy McCulloch came close to putting Wednesday ahead before the Seagulls snatched a late winner through Michael Robinson.

While Wednesday missed out on Wembley, Thompson revealed: “In the early stages of the run I had booked a holiday in Italy, and I realised if the Cup run reached Wembley the final would coincide with our holiday.

“To make sure I got my money back, I put money on Wednesday to reach the final so I could cover my lost deposit on my holiday.

“I remember thinking I came really close to missing my holiday. Mirocevic equalised and Andy McCulloch had this header, I can see it now. It was going in but Steve Foster’s boot appeared from nowhere and kicked it off the line.”

Thompson went on his Italian holiday on FA Cup final day, and when he returned it was all change, Charlton resigning as manager and Howard Wilkinson returning to the club he served as a player to orchestrate the Owls’ promotion back to Division One the following season.