Owls Blog - Chris Turner: Wembley 1991 Lives With Me Forever

posted 5 Aug 2012, 03:24 by Richard Brook   [ updated 5 Aug 2012, 03:27 ]
Please bear in mind that this is a heavily partisan piece for the Wednesdayite Blog - Wednesdayite are the Sheffield Wednesday Supporters Society. As such there is no attempt at professional impartiality in this piece!

Originally posted here: bit.ly/Qv2aG2  

April 21st 1991 is a day that will live long in the memory of every Wednesdayite old enough to remember it. It is the greatest day in Sheffield Wednesday's post war history, and a million miles away from the tortuous last decade, a slumber from which, the last of the sleeping giants is at last showing tentative signs of recovering from.

Around this time of year, as fans begin to hope and dream, of what might be to come over the course of the season, this day always springs to mind. It's not that I harbour realistic hopes of winning a major tournament every season, I just find myself yearning for success relative to our position. Last season I most definitely got my wish.

The heroes from the 1990/91 season and from that final, are numerous and varied. The goal scoring exploits of David Hirst, the leadership and tough tackling of Nigel Pearson, Roland Nilsson the only player capable of playing in ten of the eleven positions in the side, even if it was only a song and the passing, the vision and that goal from John Sheridan. There are a raft of other names, from this era who might justifiably be asking themselves why they were not singled out for such praise. To them I can only apologise and assure them that each and everyone of them has a very special place in the hearts of all Owls fans.

The man in the spotlight for the purposes of this article is a Wednesday fan since childhood. Some younger supporters possibly remember him more for building the core of our 2005 promotion side, before being relieved of his managerial duties, some felt very harshly. Almost all will remember him fronting a takeover bid when our great club's back was against the wall. All that is on the agenda today, however, is that glorious day at Wembley. I am putting questions to one of my first great footballing heroes, Sheffield Wednesday's League Cup winning goalkeeper, Chris Turner.

On that day in the spring of 1991, Turner fulfilled the dreams of football fans everywhere. The nine year old that I was at that time, literally went to bed at night and dreamt of winning a cup at Wembley, playing – in goal – for my team, playing for Wednesday. “It will live with me for the rest of my life”, Turner admits. “What a fantastic day that was. To play, at Wembley, for the team I support. It cannot get any better.”

Of course both the Wednesday keeper, and Owls manager Ron Atkinson had relatively recently left Manchester United, the Hillsborough club's opposition for the day. Turner recounts; “It was a great feeling stood in the tunnel, playing against my old team-mates. The noise of the crowd was unbelievable”. Such was the focus, in the build up to the game, that the pair did not mention this extra-motivation, not that any were needed, to see Wednesday to Wembley glory. “It was never discussed” explains Turner, “only afterwards did we have a laugh about it, but to be fair Manchester United and Sir Alex [Ferguson] were very gracious in defeat.

On the subject of Atkinson, Turner gives a glowing review of the manager's big match routine: “The organisation was spot on. Having a few beers on the Friday night. Trevor [Francis]'s birthday bash on the Saturday night and all the great preparation”. It is clear, as came across all those years ago, without the benefit of any kind of inside view that both the calm collectedness, and the self-confidence of the squad were key, “We always felt we could win no matter who we played”, Turner asserts, “Carlton Palmer, who didn't play, was great in the build-up confidence wise”. Famously, amongst Wednesdayites – not least those of us that still have a battered VHS video tape of 'League Cup Glory' – Atkinson arranged for comedian Stan Boardman to be around the squad during the build up, including the bus journey to Wembley itself. Turner describes this as “a master stroke” continuing “he relaxed everybody from getting up for breakfast to the drive down Wembley Way”.

I can hear Boardman's voice, as Turner tells me how he remembers the ride down Wembley Way. The broad Liverpool accent of the comedian echoes in my head with “Just look at that lads. You can't let this lot down”, as Turner tells me that all he could see was “a mass of blue and white. It gave the lads a tremendous lift”.

As our attentions turn more towards the game itself, Turner reveals that Ron Atkinson's final words at Wembley were the same as ever they were, “Go out there and play!”, Turner commenting that Atkinson just wanted the side to play attractive, attacking football regardless of the opposition.

When with tongue firmly in cheek I ask, what it was like to meet guest of honour, Rumbelows Employee of the Year, Tracy Bateman, Turner wryly replies “No disrespect, but we would have preferred Lady Di.”

One of the big questions, going into the League Cup Final, was how would Wednesday handle Lee Sharp. Sharp had been setting the English game alight that season and spent the season tearing right full backs to pieces, for fun. One of the defenders who was on the receiving end of a 'roasting' from the Manchester United left winger was another former Wednesday favourite, Mel Sterland then of Leeds United, in the semi-finals. Try as I might to lead Turner on the subject of the importance of goalkeepers communicating with defenders, to organise the shape of the back four, he lays the credit firmly at the door of his outfield players: “The secret to stopping Lee Sharp was John Harkes playing in front of Roland [Nilsson], and both of them looking after him. On the day Roland had him in his pocket”.

Of the 1991 League Cup run, one of my own most vivid memories was from the television coverage was Turner punching the air in celebration, as Wednesday scored against Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, in the semi-finals, accompanied by the commentary 'Turner celebrates. Beasant dejected'. So did Turner celebrate John Sheridan's 37th minute strike at Wembley? “I always celebrated our goals. It's always emotional, but on that day twice as much. Obviously I was at the other end, but it was sweet strike that hit the post and went in. My first thought was keep a clean sheet and the trophy is ours.”

Anyone who saw the television coverage at the time, or since, will know that that clean sheet would never have come if Jimmy Greaves had had his way. As Turner rose to collect a high cross, he was clattered by Manchester United forward, Mark Hughes, who wasn't particularly close to winning the ball but his momentum bundled Turner and ball over the goal-line. Greaves expressed that a goal should have been awarded and that goalkeepers were 'a pampered race'. “I never took Jimmy Greaves up on it but Jimmy was a striker so he would say it should have been allowed”, Turner comments, diplomatically ignoring the fact that Gary Lineker and Denis Law, also summarising, believed that the referee had called it correctly. “In life you need a bit of luck and fortunately on the day the referee went with us. On some occasions the referee gives the goal and history is changed”.

Very obviously there is one moment that could not go unmentioned, while interviewing Chris Turner about the 1991 League Cup Final and that is his terrific reaction save, to tip a Brian McClair header over the cross-bar. It was an incredible save and as much the difference between Wednesday winning or drawing the final as Sheridan's goal. “The save from Brian McClair was something that every goalkeeper dreams about doing. It was a save that keepers make every week in training. Movement of feet, reactions and technique all rolled into one. At that moment you don't have time to think. You follow the ball and react to what comes off the forward. It all happens so quickly”. Turner is too modest in my opinion. You could see that header beat any keeper in the world and not ask questions. It was a game changing moment, and therefore a cup winning moment.

“When the final whistle went I really could not believe it. One of the first people to come up to me was Sir Alex – which was nice. It was a great day which, so far, has never been repeated by a team outside the top flight. Personally I love looking back on it. Seeing Nigel [Pearson], next to me, lift the cup was absolutely fantastic”. Turner also speaks, in dispatches, of the incredible support the team received, “The fans on the day, and afterwards, were unbelievable. Our win was as much about them as it was about John's goal”.

I could not let opportunity pass, at this stage in pre-season, to ask Turner, in his dual role as Wednesday fan and Wednesday legend, how he appraised the current Owls squad's chances for the upcoming season. “This coming season will not be easy. As I answer these questions, there has not been a signing that I think will make the difference between a top ten finish and the top six. I hope Dave [Jones] has the money to get these sorts of signings that are required. I live for the day when we are back in the top division, playing the likes of Manchester United again. I wish the club and the fans every success”.

I would like to thank Chris Turner for taking the time to answer my questions for the Wednesdayite Blog to provide first hand insight to my most incredible day following Wednesday so far, and reciprocate in kind by wishing Chris and his current club Chesterfield all the best for the coming season.