A State of Independence

Happy Independence Day y’all.

Instead of a day dwelling on our imperialistic past and the fact that the Americans with the cheese eating surrender monkeys managed to beat us in the American War of Independence, let’s celebrate an American footballing great. John Harkes.

John Harkes holding American Flag

Harkes joined The Owls in 1990, signed by Ron Atikinson and boy oh boy did he make an impact. Harkes was integral to the Rumbelows Cup winning team, where he became only the second American player to play at Wembley, the first being Bill Regan for Romford in 1949.

No one of that Atkinson era will forget the 35 yard goal Harkes scored at the Baseball Ground against Derby County, which helped Wednesday get to the Cup Final against Manchester United in 1991. In the nostalgia of that day it’s not only important to remember the ‘dink’ of John Sheridan’s goal but also that John Harkes became the first ever American to collect a winners medal in an English Cup Final. It’s at times like this I wish I had the ‘Road to Wembley’ on DVD and not on VHS!

This wasn’t the only first Harkes achieved whilst at Sheffield Wednesday. He was also the first American to play in the Premier League, paving the way for others like Casey Keller, Brad Friedel and Cobi Jones.

As a player he seemed to have a lower centre of gravity than any player I remember. When he ran down the wing he seemed to be travelling faster than a speeding bullet but it was his arms moving quicker than his legs.  He was an optical illusion, a star in blue and white stripes.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light with our quiet American. A torrential rain sodden Boxing Day against Wolverhampton Wanderers saw Harkes hack down a Wolves player and get sent straight down the tunnel. 2-0 up led to a 2-2 draw and a dog invading the pitch.

But his worse misdemeanour was his alleged affair with an American teammate’s wife. American captain Harkes, was dropped from the national team in 1998, only months before the World Cup and under a shroud of uncertainty. Captain America had lost his place for ‘leadership reasons’. It was only revealed in 2010 that he was having an affair with Eric Wynalda’s wife.

Let’s however, finish on a celebratory note. In 1993 Harkes completed his trio of firsts by becoming the first American to score in a League Cup Final. His goal against Arsenal sent many an Owls fan into rapturous celebration.  If only it had been the winner!


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