After a difficult last decade it’s very easy to forget just how big Sheffield Wednesday are as a club, and at the beginning of the Premier League era it seemed as if they might be on the cusp of something huge. However, could asking an all time great to play one trial match too many be the very worst decision they ever made? Close friend, lecturer, computer genius and big Owls fan Richard Askew tells one of the biggest ‘what could have been’ stories of all time.
Being a Sheffield Wednesday fan, it is difficult to pick the “Worst decision my club has ever made” due to the sheer number of potential incidents that cajole for top billing. I could have gone with the treatment of Di Canio following his push on referee Paul Allcock, the attempted suing of fans on a forum or missing out on Darko Kovačević, Jaap Stam and all of the others. There is probably one decision that not only benefitted our rivals but instils the feeling that every football fan has over their lifetime of what could have been – asking Eric Cantona to play on grass.
Picture the scene, in 1991 Sheffield Wednesday, then of the second division, had beaten First Division giants Manchester United to win the League Cup. That very same year they had gone on to be promoted to the promised land of the First Division. In 1992 a highly respected, Frenchman with an *ahem* explosive reputation arrived at Hillsborough to begin a one week trial at Sheffield Wednesday.
Within that week Cantona played in an indoor friendly game which Wednesday won 4-3, Cantona himself scoring a hat-trick in the process. After the weeks trial was up Trevor Francis, the manager at the time, instead of giving him a deal asked him to sign for another weeks trial so he could see him play on grass. Considering the fact that Cantona wasn’t an unknown, he had played over two-hundred times in France, this does seem an odd request. Cantona turned down the offer and famously moved to Leeds shortly after.
Now I know this is the nature of football, “so you missed out on a player, no big deal, happens all the time”’ you may say, and you have the right to but with hindsight, that most wonderful of things you should consider what happened next.
Leeds went on to win the league and Charity Shield with Eric Cantona-less (pretty sure that’s a word) Sheffield Wednesday not too far off the pace in 3rd place. Fast forward another year to 1993 and Sheffield Wednesday famously got to two cup finals and lost them both. This for many fans is when the rot started to set in, many believe that with a strike force of Hirst and Cantona those cups would have been won and we could be where Manchester United are now. Following the cup finals we chased the dream trying to rediscover those heights but never made it. Overspending in the process and having the albatross of of debt around our necks (Yeah, any poetry fans in the house) for more than a decade.
At some point in all of this (it was 1992 but I’m jumping around years more than Doctor Who) Sheffield Wednesday turned down an offer from Manchester United for David Hirst and went for Cantona instead. The rest, as they say, is history.
Be sure you follow Richard on twitter @richaskew