Most people can pinpoint the moment their heart was broken in the same way that people of a certain age can remember where they were when JFK was shot.
In total it has happened to me three times. It shattered once whilst waiting for a number 77 bus, when my boyfriend returned from his first semester at university and told me he wanted to split up so he could ‘find out who he really was’.
The last time, my heart tore in two whilst I was standing in an empty conference room at work, listening to the words of a man who was in the process of betraying my trust.
The very first time, however was on the evening of May 20th 1993, at about 10pm, by a self confessed ‘average’ Arsenal central defender.
Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal FA Cup Replay, the finale of the epic cup run which would put an end to all domestic cup replays forever. To get to the final both clubs had had to beat their local rival in semi-finals held at Wembley. An unusual occurrence at this time until the FA realised they could milk fans for more money and do this every season. With Sheffield United and Spurs dispensed of this left just The Owls and The Gooners to play it out.
Not only had Wednesday and Arsenal bored the entire country to death by being the only two teams in English FA Cup football, they also met in the Coca Cola League Cup final only five weeks earlier.
My heart had already started to tear a little by losing the League Cup final but what hurt the most was not being able to be there at the FA Cup replay. The truth was as a family we couldn’t afford another costly trip to Wembley. The replay was the fourth visit to London in a matter of seven weeks for Wednesdayites. With tickets, travel and obligatory flag on a bamboo stick, a fourth appearance just wasn’t an option and we would have to listen to the match on the radio.
The replay was a tempestuous affair. They say that familiarity breeds contempt in relationships and Wednesday and Arsenal were the equivalent of a couple who were one last Relate session away from divorce. Behind the broken fingers and noses there was agony and ecstasy on both sides. It was like a night in the marital bed of Lee Chapman and Lesley Ash.
Ex strike partner’s Mark Bright and Ian Wright were now on opposing sides. Bright helped to secure the Sheffielder’s place in the final but Wright went one better scoring in both the final and in the 34th minute of the replay.
In the sensual 69th minute Chris Waddle sent Wednesdayites into orgasmic celebrations. Waddle’s shot from the left hand corner of the box hit Lee Dixon and left Seaman all over the floor. Rapturous screaming ensued from the blue and white half of Wembley.
There was nothing to separate these two teams.
I remember Wednesday finishing the stronger. The pressure was all coming from the Owls players and when Arsenal subbed a spent looking Ian Wright I looked at the two teams and thought ‘we can take them on penalties.’
As the clock ticked down we were a minute away from the first ever FA Cup final decided on penalties.
119 minutes….Arsenal get a corner. Paul Merson staggers over to take it.
The ball hung in the air, much longer than it seemed feasible for a ball to do so and there he was.
Andy Linighan is a plumber now. He’s not the tall, dark, brooding man who sweeps you off your feet, that would be Tony Adams. Just ask Steve Morrow after the 1993 Coca Cola cup final.
Andy Linighan, rose above everyone by what looked like a clear foot. Out jumping Mark Bright who had broken his nose with a swinging elbow in the first half. His head kissed the ball and he directed it towards the net.
30 seconds to go….
Chris Woods, the Nosferatu of Sheffield Wednesday (notoriously afraid of crosses), flapped his gloves and pushed the ball into the roof of the goal.
25 seconds to go…it was over.
Linighan ran to celebrate with his teammates and I held my chest as if my heart would fall out on the floor.
Andy Linighan was now a man who would make other grown men cry, and not just the Yorkshire folk.
The evening, which was a final chance to clinch some silverware, ended with my dad pacing the floor of our living room, on the phone to Radio Sheffield ranting to the presenter of Praise or Grumble about Danny Wilson being ‘unable to hold his own water let alone a football’ and me sneaking upstairs to cry alone.
Football is uplifting at times, this for a Sheffield Wednesday supporter wasn’t one of those times.
It’s been twenty years since Andy Linighan head butted that goal through my heart and I can still feel every emotion I felt that night.
Broken hearts are slow to heal especially when the team of 1993 deserved something other than a handful of runner up medals from that never to be replicated season. I will always love that 1993 Sheffield Wednesday team, for better or worse, and I will forever maintain that Andy Linighan was the first man to break my heart.