It was frustrating for Leeds fans, in the 1980s, that their team was not playing in the First Division. It was frustrating that John Sheridan wasn’t playing there, too. It’s true that one of Howard Wilkinson’s reasons for selling Sheridan within a few months of arriving at Leeds was that he didn’t like Shez’s somewhat relaxed attitude to training and/or going out for the weekend in Manchester and playing for his brother’s Sunday league team. But Wilko realised, too, that after 230 games over seven seasons for Leeds, Sheridan was wasting his talents on the farmers’ fields of Division Two. An elegant midfielder capable of exceptional creative passing, he deserved the carpets of Division One, and Division One deserved to have him in it. Wilkinson would use Vinnie Jones for a year to get Leeds up, then take Gary McAllister from Leicester, another classy playmaker stuck in the same lowly mire. Sheridan was signed by Nottingham Forest, whose manager Brian Clough favoured a passing game that would get the best out of Shez.
Well, it might have, if he’d ever played him. For his own weird reasons, Clough let Sheridan play in one single League Cup match, against Huddersfield Town. When, after three months, Sheffield Wednesday made an offer, Sheridan wanted to fight for his place at Forest. “No son,” he says Clough told him, “You won’t be getting in one of my teams.” And that was that for Shez at Forest. And, at the end of the season, the end of the First Division. Wednesday were relegated. At least he’d played 27 games — scoring twice — before being dragged back down to the second tier, as Wilko’s Leeds were going up.
1990/91 was the season Sheridan and his new manager, Ron Atkinson, set about proving people wrong. Sheridan made a point to Wilkinson, scoring ten Second Division goals as Wednesday won automatic promotion in 3rd place. And Atkinson made a point to his former employers, Manchester United, thanks to Sheridan in the Rumbelows League Cup final at Wembley.
Atkinson’s failure to bring consistent success to Old Trafford was now being replicated by Alex Ferguson. Big Ron had won the FA Cup for them twice; they were now the holders under Ferguson, but the First Division title they desperately wanted still eluded them. In the League Cup semi-final Ferguson saw off Leeds and a player he’d personally discarded, Gordon Strachan, and collecting a trophy against Second Division Wednesday was supposed to be a formality, to make up for being twenty points behind Arsenal in the league. Enter Shez.
Sheridan’s teammate Phil King says he can always remember the sound of the winning goal. Nigel Worthington’s crossed free-kick was cleared to the edge of the area, where Sheridan bore down on the low bouncing ball with all the arts and crafts of his impeccable technique. There’s a thrum of boot against ball, then a thwack as diving goalie Les Sealey gets a glove to the low shot. Then — ping — in off the post. A Leeds hero, born in Manchester and raised as a City fan, scoring the winner against their and our rivals, pinging in at Wembley, getting the goal that finally announced him on the stage he deserved. ⬢
(This post is free to read from The Square Ball magazine season 34 issue 5. Click here to read more)