Blast From The Past - 1998 - Paolo
Mercurial? Irritating? Volatile? Passionate? Whatever your views on the volcanic Italian playmaker Paolo Di Canio, you can't argue with the fact that when he was in the Wednesday side, life was never boring or mundane.
Signed from Celtic for a record £4.5 million, he gave us on-pitch commitment, a fiery temperament, sublime skills and memorable goals (developing a peculiar talent for the late winner), but unfortunately Paolo is remembered more for one controversial flash of madness than any of his fantastic footballing highlights.
In 1998, the Owls looked forward with hope to the new Premiership campaign with Danny Wilson at the helm. An inconsistent start, despite beating Spurs 3-0 in the second game of the season, led to the season's most shocking moment when Arsenal visited Hillsborough at the end of September.
There had been precious little to entertain the crowd during the first half, and the match was locked at 0-0 with defences dominating. With half-time looming, in a spiky exchange, Wim Jonk hauled back Patrick Viera by the shirt, Viera responded, and Jonk rather too dramatically went down. It kicked off: far too many players waded in and Di Canio, whose role in the ensuing scrap had been minimal at best, was given a red card by referee Paul Alcock.
Boom! Paolo shoved Alcock in the chest and the man in black executed his now-famous comedy stagger and fall, ending up in an undignified heap on the Hillsborough turf. Off raged Di Canio, to later receive a gross misconduct charge and 11 match ban. Keown was also dismissed: ten against ten, and neither of the players sent off had featured in the initial incident.
It was the beginning of the end for Di Canio and Wednesday. Ban served, the fragile trust between player and club broken (Wednesday had suspended him before the FA verdict), Di Canio departed for West Ham for £2 million. Tragic.
His 14 goals during the 1997-98 season included some absolute stunners: superb solo efforts against Everton and Southampton, a tremendous volley against Newcastle, a late winner against rivals Barnsley (his reaction to that can be seen in the picture above). My own favourite PDC moment, in a losing match against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, was his second half consolation goal, having come on as substitute. The strike made a point to Danny Wilson: 'There, if I'd been on the pitch for the whole match, look what I could have done for you, we'd have won'.
Of course, no one particularly remembers the result of the 'Alcock match', but let me tell you, Lee Briscoe's terrific chip from the edge of the area over Alex Manninger was a goal worthy of winning any game. 1-0 to the Wednesday, it was.
My own reaction to the Alcock incident, watching the video after all these years? I still laugh, but not at the unfortunate referee. As Paolo storms off, Nigel Winterburn comes over to express his loudmouth opinion. Just for one fleeting moment, Paolo thinks about doing something which would put him in bigger trouble and half-turns back, and Winterburn flinches big time as he reckons he's about to get hit. Man, that's funny.
We miss you, Paolo.
Sheffield Wednesday: Pressman, Cobian, Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe, Atherton, Jonk (Magilton 89), Rudi, Alexandersson (Briscoe 59), Di Canio, Booth (Humphreys 19). Substitutes not used: Barrett, Clarke.
Arsenal: Manninger, Vivas, Keown, Adams, Winterburn, Bergkamp, Vieira, Petit (Hughes 77), Overmars (Bould 45), Parlour (Ljungberg 77), Anelka. Substitutes not used: Garde, Taylor.