Football: Sherwood still haunted by Gray day at Wembley

FA Cup Countdown

Fairness and football have always had a compatibility problem, especially when the FA Cup is involved. So it is that after a quarter-century of safe keeping and enough clean sheets to stock the Ritz, Steve Sherwood owes his place in the popular memory to a single moment of misfortune.

The 1984 FA Cup final is six minutes into the second half. Watford trail 1-0 when Everton's Trevor Steven delivers a hanging cross. Sherwood gathers, but a second later a thrust of Andy Gray's forehead dislodges the ball from his grasp to send it spinning into the net. Shades of Lofthouse versus Gregg, and, just as in '58, the goal is given.

These days, Gray peppers television screens with arrows and squiggles as a hi-tech Hansen. Sherwood is also concerned with assessing angles and off-the-ball movement, but with an important difference. A month before he hits 44, the Yorkshireman is still there to be shot at.

When Saturday comes, the man best known for losing out to a challenge that would not have been out of place at Wakefield Trinity will be guarding Gainsborough Trinity's goal in a first-round derby at Lincoln City. A bunch of part-timers lying ninth in the UniBond League should not have a hope away to a side fourth in the Third Division, yet Sherwood is due an even break from this competition.

"I look back on Wembley with a mixture of pride and sadness," he said. "It was an achievement for Watford just to get there, so soon after Graham Taylor brought us up from the Fourth Division. We also had the youngest defence ever to play in the final. I was the veteran even then!

"But I've got the game on video and the view from behind the goal shows clearly that Andy didn't head the ball cleanly. I accept that he was only doing his job and we've had a laugh about it since, though the papers weren't too kind to me the next day.

"It was disappointing, not just because we lost but because one poor decision killed the game when there was still a long way to go. We were positive we could still get into it, but it died a death after that."

Three years later, fate seemed ready to make amends. An injury to Tony Coton, by now Watford's No 1 keeper, brought Sherwood back into the side as they advanced towards the twin towers. However, in the build-up to the semi-final against Tottenham he dislocated a finger in training.

"The hospital put it back in and I believed I was fit. Unfortunately, the manager [Graham Taylor] felt it wasn't worth the risk - we had 10 League games left and we'd slid down the table - which I didn't agree with.

"Instead, he played the secretary's son, Gary Plumley, who'd retired and was running a wine bar. We lost 4-1, so it was another case of what might have been. But I can't speak highly enough of Graham Taylor. It was fantastic to be part of Watford's rise under him."

The son of an ex-Huddersfield keeper and brother of John Sherwood, the former Olympic hurdler, he began with Chelsea where his team-mates included Charlie Cooke, Ray Wilkins and "Chopper" Harris. During a decade at Watford he went on loan to Brighton, Millwall and Brentford, later joining Grimsby and Northampton. He was still turning out for Lincoln, of all clubs, two years ago.

There were also spells at Immingham, Stalybridge and Gateshead before he signed for Ernie Moss, Gainsborough's manager and one of the few men in football more widely travelled than him. Sherwood's job as a financial adviser for an insurance company means he is not always able to train. He has, none the less, made a vital contribution to a Cup run which started in the cricket season.

Moss takes up the story. "There was one particular save in the fourth qualifying round against Halifax, who were unbeaten and top of the Vauxhall Conference. We'd equalised to make it 1-1 when a ricochet fell to to their leading scorer, [Geoff] Horsfield, 10 yards out. He struck it superbly, but Steve made a brilliant reaction stop. Within a few minutes we'd got the winner."

Knocking out Halifax was, said Sherwood, "as satisfying as any win in my career". Really? "Absolutely. Most of the younger lads have never been to the first round and the look on their faces said it all," he explained. "We had champagne in the dressing-room and crates of lager - it was a massive thing for the club."

Why does he continue to put himself in the firing line?

"Because playing gives me an incredible buzz," he replied, almost affronted.

"I do feel the aches and strains the day after a game more than I used to, and I know I'm not going to get any better at my age. But experience is crucial in my position and I like to think mine has helped Gainsborough."

They are likely to need it at Sincil Bank. A century ago, in their inaugural Football League campaign, Trinity routed Lincoln 7-0 and later beat them 5-1 in the Cup. They also won 3-0 in a friendly last summer, though Sherwood and Moss know that history, ancient or modern, will have no bearing on the outcome.

Delving further into his catalogue of Cup disappointments for an example of what Gainsborough might achieve, Sherwood recalled Northampton succumbing at home to Bromsgrove. "It's not a nice experience for a full-time pro to lose to non-League opposition. You feel humiliated."

When Watford were shaking up the elite with their route-one football, Sherwood's booming clearances launched many an attack. He even scored at Coventry but can no longer kick so far. "If I could," he reflected, "I'd probably be playing for Lincoln rather than Gainsborough, given John Beck's reputation for the long-ball game."

The humour, like the hunger, has clearly survived that Gray day at Wembley.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links