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Derby Day Memories - 1979

Derby Day Memories - 1979

Of all the memorable derby matches over the years, Boxing Day 1979 holds a special place in Sheffield football history.

Held in front of a Third Division record crowd of 49309, the match would change the course of the season for both teams. A massive police presence was evident for Sheffield's all-ticket match of the decade, and the sense of anticipation was immense. Both teams were high in the table: United top, Jack Charlton's Owls fifth. The referee's coin was tossed in the tunnel, captains Mike Pickering and Mick Speight leading the teams out onto the pitch side by side FA Cup style, into a cauldron of noise and surrounded by packed terraces.

The game began, and Wednesday's hard-working midfield of Johnson, King and Hornsby denied the Blades time on the ball and space in which to run. United had a reputation for skill and elegance, but on a heavy pitch and with the Owls snapping at their heels, they couldn't show it, and mistakes were frequent. As a spectacle, for a while, the game didn't live up to pre-match expectations.

On 36 minutes, the breakthrough: Ian Mellor picked the ball up on the left wing, came inside and blazed a shot into the top corner from 25 yards. It was to be the only goal of the half, but United almost managed an equaliser shortly before the teams went in. A shot was tipped onto the bar by Owls keeper Bob Bolder and the ball fell invitingly for MacPhail as Wednesday hearts sank. However, he blasted the ball straight back at Bolder and it was scrambled to safety.

Wednesday came out for the second half with renewed purpose, and a goalmouth incident on 54 minutes changed the course of the game: a crunching collision between King and Speight left the Blades captain with damaged ribs, the influential midfielder was carried off and the pendulum swung in the Owls favour.

Come on down, Terry Curran. The Owls favourite (who played for Southampton the previous year and dropped two divisions to sign for Wednesday) imposed his undeniable (though at times inconsistent) talent on the latter stages of the match, and the Owls ran away with it.

McCulloch raced down the left wing, cut in to the box and crossed for Curran to dive and head home, falling to his knees in triumph at the Leppings Lane end. A minute later, Hornsby fed Curran, who sped away and squared it for Jeff King to side foot into the net. On 87 minutes, Mellor fed the ball through to Curran, who went through, chipped the ball over the keeper and was brought down for a penalty, perfectly converted by Mark Smith.

The match was a turning point for both clubs. Although losing their next match, the Owls then went on a sixteen match unbeaten run, and despite a lacklustre end to the season, managed to gain promotion to Division Two. After a decade spent in the lower reaches of the league, Wednesday had taken their first step on the long journey back to the top, gaining promotion to the top flight in 1983/84. United faded badly to finish twelfth that year (Curran rubbing salt into the wound with a terrific individual equaliser in the return match at Bramall Lane) and were relegated the following year to Division Four.

The next Sheffield derby didn't take place until 1991 and United were 2-0 winners.

But nothing will ever erase the 'Boxing Day Massacre' from the collective memory of all Sheffield football fans: a dream for Wednesday, a nightmare for United.

Sheffield Wednesday: Bolder, Blackhall, Williamson, Smith, Pickering, Hornsby, King, Johnson, McCulloch, Mellor, Curran.

Sheffield United: Richardson, Speight (Cutbush), Tibbott, Kenworthy, MacPhail, Matthews, de Goey, Bourne, Butlin, Garner, Sabella.

Stayed tuned for more Derby Day Memories ahead of the big match!

Writer:Auckland Owl
Date:Thursday January 17 2008
Time: 9:00AM


WAS 13 AT TIME never forget it on the kop mellors goal was the best for me. just remember those little piglets goin back to there stys with there curly tails well and truly curled up between there trotters
16/01/2008 18:53:00
Was 4 at the time so have no recollection of it whatsoever.

The most interesting part of the article for me was "But nothing will ever erase the 'Boxing Day Massacre' from the collective memory of all Sheffield football fans"

The next big win will erase it forever and so often in recent years we've had great chances to delete the memory for good. It's usually been Pressman who has denied us.

Looking at your team and seeing names like Hinds, Bullen, and Spurr, you have to wonder, is this the one?
17/01/2008 09:18:00
You know, I knew someone would pop along and glibly deny it matters to them because it's far too long ago. We remember it because it's important to us, just like you yourself can watch a classic Blades match and take heart from it even though you're so young... hmm, it's hard to remember an example though and I'm 47. Recent derbies have not been particularly kind to the Owls, but I've got a nice Derby Day Memory ready for Friday that we all can remember. And you said it yourself Coops: you've had your chances to exorcise the ghosts and not done it. And with the godlike genius of Bryan Robson at the helm, are you ever likely to?
Auckland Owl
17/01/2008 09:39:00
Was only 4 years-old myself but watch it on you tube all the time especially when derby day comes around. Love it if we could repeat that day!!
will it ever happen
17/01/2008 11:12:00
COOPS SEEN AS YOU SPEND MORE TIME ON ERE than you do on your own site ive put boxing day goals on your forum for you to enjoy. UP THE OWLS
17/01/2008 15:41:00
Nice one mick, i bet they enjoy it aswell!! NOT! :)
will it ever happen
17/01/2008 15:49:00
What the article does not recall was that Wednesday and United had not played a 'competitive' derby for eight years (which at the time was the longest gap between games in the derby history)and for almost a decade United had been in a position to laud it over their neighbours, as the Owls sank to desperate levels both on and off the pitch. The level of anticipation in the build up to the match was absolutely fantastic, on both sides of the city - after 10 years of being the 2nd team of Sheffield, the Blue and White Wizards would finally have the chance to set the record straight, while United were the relative aristocrats, strolling away with the 3rd division inspired by their Argentinean playmaker. THE event of the summer was the announcement of the fixture list and a Boxing Day schedule just contributed to the buzz. The police played their part bringing the kick off forward to such an early time that efforts to 'keep supporters sober' were threatened by fears that no one would have sobered up from the previous day. The bus company decided to strand the supporters by refusing to operate ...presumably so they could go to the game themselves. Tickets were like gold dust. In the build up to the match, people talked about nothing but the derby through the first 5 months of the season - it was like the whole football calandar was just a series of meaningless warm up games for the main event. When the teams walked out togther at 10.55 that morning side by side (which in those days only happened at big Wembley games) it truly was a Sheffield Cup Final. The game of course has since become legendary because of the scoreline - but while Unitedites like to dismiss the match as just a single fixture in a long history of derbys - it was much more than that. Before a ball was even kicked, before the Mellor goal (I'm sure he was really 40 yards from goal when he hit it ..I think someone has tampered with the clip !!), before the Bob Bolder wonder save, the Micky Speight injury and the Jeff Johnson marking job on Alex Sabella and before Mark Smith Coolly sealed my pre match predication of many months that Wednesday would win 4-0 .... before any of that.... Boxing Day 1979 was always going to be part of Shefffield football Folklore.
17/01/2008 16:04:00
Couldnt have put it any better myself. theres a few things in there DB that seems to be pointing to another repeat of that day,pitch in a mess more money better league position than us so you never know history could repeat itself. hopefully come 3pm satdurday we will be celebrating a 4-0 win. keep the faith and up the owls
17/01/2008 16:44:00
i unfortunately was not born when this happened so could do with a good one to remember!! Would love it if we thrashed them
17/01/2008 17:16:00
I wish i could be so optimistic guys! Even though they have Numpty Robson in charge, they still have the players to seriously hurt us! I can't see it be anything other than a derby defeat for us, sorry chaps! But i'll be travelling to Hillsborough tomorrow with hope! UP THE OWLS!
18/01/2008 10:44:00
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