Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side were less than a month away from beating FC Barcelona in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final when they met Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium.
For goalkeeper Chris Turner, he had the added incentive of coming up against his former team as he took up his place between the sticks in the 1991 League Cup Final – although he needed no further motivation when it came to his boyhood Club, the Owls.
“We were confident of beating Manchester United, even though we were a Second Division team at the top,” Turner explained. “For obvious reasons, everyone fancied Manchester United to win the game, but we had other ideas.
“Sir Alex was looking for his first trophy as well. Knowing Sir Alex at that time, those Manchester United players would have been geared to win that game and they would have been expected to have won that game for him, but we stood up to them and beat them on the day, fair and square.”
The Owls, the last team outside of the top-flight to lift the trophy, edged the Reds 1-0. Midfielder John Sheridan’s first-half strike would prove to be the difference between the wo teams on the day.
But after over five decades following the Club as a supporter, player and manager – by his own admission, as a fan first and foremost – nothing compares to 21 April 1991 for Turner.
The stopper, who left school without sitting a single exam aged 15 to pursue his dream of playing for Wednesday and won Player of the Year in his debut season, got the chance to pull on the jersey of his hometown team at the National Stadium, aged 32.
“We had a manager at that time in Ron Atkinson and Richie Barker, his first-team coach, of immense experience,” he continued. “We were able to go to a game plan which the players stuck to rigidly, and a tremendous goal by John Sheridan won us the game.
“I was there six years before with Sunderland and lost 1-0 but when you win, it’s a different story. Any young player has ambitions to play at Wembley and for me to play there with my Club, it was unbelievable. It was a great afternoon for Sheffield Wednesday and especially the supporters.”
The stopper was called into action in the second period to deny United’s Brian McClair. The Scotsman rose highest to meet Denis Irwin’s ball into the box and things could have been very different, if not for the fingertips of Turner.
“When the ball is coming across and you know Brian is going to get a header in and I’m coming back from the opposite post, you just hope you can get something on it or put him off in some shape or form,” he recalled. “He headed it to my left and I got my left arm up and tipped it over the bar.
“It’s the sort of save that when you’re doing a crossing and finishing session in training throughout the season, you will make loads of saves like that, but for that save to happen in the biggest game of your career at Wembley with everything on that game and we were winning 1-0, it couldn’t have come at a bigger moment.=
“It was a tight game. The last 10 minutes or so after that save, you’re just thinking, ‘if we can just hang on’, and fortunately, we did.”
And among the current Owls crop, Liam Palmer knows what it means to play for the South Yorkshire side, having followed the Club from a young age, similarly to Turner.
“Every time I cross that white line, I still get butterflies in my stomach,” he acknowledges. “When the crowd is up and singing, there’s no better place to be in my eyes. Every time I pull on the shirt, it fills me with great pride. I grew up supporting them and it’s been a big part of my life.”
The competition is one Palmer is familiar with. The 30-year-old made his bow for the Owls in August 2010 in a Round One tie against Bury.
Over 300 appearances later, he is the longest-serving current player among the Wednesday squad.
“It was some years ago now – probably coming up to 12 years ago,” he said. “I remember it here and we won 1-0. It’s something that will always stick with me.
“I just remember lining up out there and looking into the crowd. When you’re first making your debut, you’re full of energy and fearless, and that helps you overcome the mental hurdles of it being a bit daunting.
“Somebody sent me an article of the all-time top 20 that I’m closing in on in terms of appearances. Sat here now, having been here the amount of time I have from the age of seven and I turn 31 next month, it’s a dream come true.”
Tonight, Darren Moore’s side take on the Black Cats – one of Turner’s former teams – for a place in Round Two, and Palmer affirmed that the Owls are up for the challenge.
“It’s a great competition and if you do the work in the early rounds, you have hopes of playing one of the bigger teams, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do.
“I think it’s a great time in the season because the lads are still chomping at the bit to stake a regular spot in the team. We’ve had a solid start to the season – we’ve drawn one and won one – but we want to continue that momentum of winning and that feeling of winning as well.”
“They’re a team that we know quite well from the back end of last season and meeting them in the Play-Offs. Any one match, any team can win, and that’s been shown over the years. We go in with fresh optimism.”
And former Owls number one Turner could see Wednesday using the competition to boost their promotion hopes in the League.
“A Cup run helps confidence and build the profile and get supporters excited, and can help the form in the League, because that same season in ’91, we got promotion back to the top League,” he noted.
“It’s 30-odd years since this Club has really won a major trophy. Before that, it was another 30 years in 1966 for the Club to get in the Final. Here we are in 2022, it’s a long time since that particular day. Those moments live in the memory for the rest of your life, and it certainly will do for me.”