I Was There ~ Tom Hocking remembers Sheffield Wednesday's unlikely win over Arsenal, which was made famous as the day Paolo di Canio pushed over a referee

It started like any other game. A ten-year-old me trotting along beside my father, glossy programme clasped in my hands. All around there were mumblings of a big game. I kept hearing the words "hammering" and "destroyed".

It seemed natural to think they were talking about what the mighty Sheffield Wednesday were going to do to this troublesome club in red. Arsenal? Last season's champions? Unbeaten so far in this? Only because they hadn't played us.

That Wednesday dared to put Dennis Bergkamp on the cover of the programme alongside a Dutch master like Wim Jonk was laughable. That the folk clad in blue and white were talking about what might happen to their own team on this crisp September afternoon was unthinkable.

As we took our seats in the Grandstand, my hands now full of chip butty, the teams came out. Checking back now, it is surprising to see only 27,949 people were there. It seemed like millions, a packed Kop hailing my heroes one by one. "England's number one" they called to Kevin Pressman, "You'll never beat Des Walker" to the ageless defender and, of course, "D-I-Can-I-O" to the Italian magician up front.

The opening 44 minutes saw Wednesday lull Arsenal into a false sense of security with a perfect display of scared-of-the-ball football. Despite this the Owls defence of Walker, Emerson Thome, Peter Atherton and Juan Cobian somehow stood tall against Anelka, Bergkamp, Overmars et al. “We're doing well here,” my dad commented around the 43rd minute. By the end of the 45th everything had changed.

Patrick Vieira, being the unfairly talented footballer that he was, had wormed his way around Jonk in the centre of the field and begun to stride away with the ball. Jonk, being the fairly untalented footballer that he was, dragged him back. A foul? Yes. Reason for Vieira to get all angry and push over my beloved Jonk? I think not. Cue anger in the stands all around me, then cheers as the boys charge in for a good old scrap.

When referee Paul Alcock showed Paolo Di Canio a red card there was outrage. I booed and asked my dad what poor old Paolo had done to deserve such treatment. A moment of stunned silence followed. Alcock was stumbling backwards. As he hit the floor half the men around me burst into hysterics, while the others directed their anger at the flinching Winterburn, the sent-off Keown, the not sent-off Vieira and the diving Alcock.

It was a mixed half time. All around me people discussed the events. Two things were on their minds: how long would our talisman be banned for, and how on earth could we win without him? The magnitude of Di Canio's actions had not sunk in – we were on ten men apiece, harbouring a sense of injustice that Vieira wasn't sent off and the atmosphere was electric.

Around the hour mark our manager, Danny Wilson, replaced the classy Swedish winger Niclas Alexandersson with the hard working but ever so unremarkable Lee Briscoe. “We're settling for a draw,” pointed out my father. The comment was met with nods of understanding all around. It looked like Wilson was going to get his way, too, thanks to some amazing saves by the surprisingly agile Wednesday goalkeeper, Kevin Pressman.

Then, in the 89th minute, something happened that Wilson had not intended. In a game where Di Canio would be the talking point, this moment was virtually forgotten by the press. Lee Briscoe picked up the ball on the left corner of the penalty area, looked up and hit an exquisite chip over Alex Manninger into the Arsenal net. Hillsborough erupted, partly out of joy but mainly because Lee Briscoe had done something good. Nobody thought he had it in him. We had beaten the champions.

As we walked back to the car and put on the radio all the talk was about Di Canio's push. It seemed a little unfair on Briscoe. The one time he was remarkable it was forgotten among the antics of a flawed Italian genius.

Comments (5)
Comment by ad hoc 2012-02-10 11:07:00

Fantastic. Made my day.

Amusingly, when you click that second youtube video not only do you get to see Lee Briscoe's moment of glory, but there is also a clip of Emile Heskey ghosting through Arsenal's defence before burying it in the bottom corner a la Thierry Henry.

(Seriously. Click it if you don't believe me)

Comment by longeared 2012-02-10 11:22:14

Yes, great stuff. Still remember the absolute pandemonium in the stands after the "incident".

What really does get forgotten is that Briscoe put a free header into the Kop from about 3 yards out a few minutes before his sublime moment of glory.

Comment by George 2012-02-10 11:29:48

Yeah, the 97-98 game saw Atkinson's return after the hapless David Pleat was given the boot. We beat them that day as well 2-0.

Comment by Houdi Elbow 2012-02-10 11:39:32

Funny how you see things as a kid. From my memory there wasn't that much pessimism about the game - well no more than usual - as the season only really started to unravel after this game and our home record against Arsenal was very good. Jonk wasn't 'fairly untalented', but a talented player who just couldn't be arsed most of the time. The second half was full-blooded end-to-end stuff with a great crowd atmosphere and I remember feeling physically exhausted at the end of the game - it certainly wasn't a case of Wednesday shutting up shop.

Comment by waterlooroader 2012-02-10 23:26:44

Was it really that long ago?

I was a 14 year old lad at the time and I heard of the incident from the rather unusual setting of the club bar at The Lawn (The home of Forest Green Rovers)

My dad was an official at the time and was running the line in a conference game Forest Green v Welling and I went as his guest.

Essentially, before recent developments at The Lawn, it was a typical non-league ground: From what I remeber there was a stand with a few hundered seats with an uncovered paddock, a covered end and two uncovered side / end terraces. Being a Wolves fan and a rebellious teen, I took the option of standing in the open paddock (Didn't get the chance to stand at Molineux.) Well, in the second half a Biblical storm developed! I stuck it out on the uncovered terrace, despite the fact that I was half drowned and the fact that the locals had moved to the stand or covered terrace

It was about 4:20 by the time I gave up and flashed my guest pass to get into the bar. The steward, trying not to piss himself at this soaked teenager, waived the rule that no lads under 18 would be admitted if unacompanied. They had Grandstand on and all the coverage was of the incident at Hillsborough.

Following the full time whistle, all talk was of the events in Sheffield, and my Dad taking the mickey out of a still soaked lad

He still laughs about that wet day out in Stroud...

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