Football fans aren’t stupid, they can see through the banality of heat maps and assists-per-game ratios and spot ‘one of their own’, someone who looks and behaves like them, with swagger, confidence and ‘it’.
Not much makes the heart flutter more than a sashay past a defender, maybe a drop of the shoulder or a sly step-over, ending with a slide-rule pass or shot. Even if such decoration results in nothing, it’s what we pay our money for. Football as entertainment and the sole reason why John Sheridan remains an idol at every club he played for.
A career that started at Leeds United in 1982, where Sheridan circled above the mediocrity of a dark era, surviving various player culls to enrich lives and offer hope to the beaten generation desperate for heroes. Sheridan, with his economy of effort but fluidity of movement and style, was a Casual pin-up; one of the lads and a role model to thousands, who copied his wedge cut but were too struck by his Sundance Kid coolness to admit it. A seven-year career at Leeds offered few highs other than his show reel of exquisite free-kicks, long range strikes and crunching challenges. He dominated like few individual players had ever done before; demanding the ball and delivering with it, taking a team, a game and entire seasons by the scruff of the neck.
Somehow neither Howard Wilkinson nor Brian Clough fancied the enigmatic Sheridan, and via an ill-fated spell at Nottingham Forest he took his sorcery to Sheffield Wednesday, kick-starting a halcyon period of promotions, trophies, cup runs and football straight from the movies. At Hillsborough, Sheridan evolved from his bewitching cult status at Leeds to a genuine gold-plated idol, delivering the decisive goal in the 1991 League Cup Final versus Manchester United and the club’s first trophy in 56 years. He continued to indulge in goals dripping in sweet honey. An audacious ‘chip then toe-end’ free-kick innovation at Luton in 1991 – copied from an earlier effort in a Leeds shirt – and a length-of-the-pitch solo goal in a cup tie versus Sheffield United, also helped cement the relationship with another enchanted fanbase.
Sheridan even enjoyed international success with Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland, sharing in the unprecedented populism of the 1988 Euros and the 1990 and 1994 World Cup campaigns. Under Ron Atkinson then Trevor Francis, Sheridan excelled at Wednesday, but short spells with Birmingham (loan), Bolton (loan and permanent) and Doncaster (permanent) ended with a natural home being found at Oldham. Sheridan remained at the club for ten years as player, then player-manager, where one split second of magic would warm the heart and light up many a cheerless, windswept afternoon at Boundary Park.
Sheridan has thereafter battled for survival in the lower leagues as manager at Oldham, Chesterfield and currently Plymouth. But everywhere he goes, fans of former clubs welcome him in remembrance as the last of a rare breed; a player with a football brain and extraordinary vision, who was central to everything and made every team he played for tick. Perhaps more importantly, ‘Shez’ had a rapport with every fan, as a player with personality and charisma who your Dad would single out and say “don’t watch anybody else on the pitch today, watch that John Sheridan.” A player beyond vapid statistics; a gunslinger who dealt out memories.
Image Credit: Colorsport / REX