Footballers can measure their careers in television appearances. When he played at Wembley four times in six weeks, Graham Hyde was blasé about being on the box. Now, at 35, he confesses to childish excitement at the prospect of leading Worcester City in the FA Cup against Huddersfield Town on Match of the Day tomorrow.
"One minute you're struggling away near the bottom of the Conference North," beams the former finalist with Sheffield Wednesday, "the next you're live on the BBC." If the first part of that sentence would have resembled a grim vision of the future when Hyde was in the Premiership, the second might have sounded like science fiction when the Worcester player-manager, Andy Preece, recruited him last summer.
"I was on Sky last season for Hereford against Stevenage in the Conference play-offs, but I thought that was it for me and TV," he says. The combination of cameras and Cup in the second-round tie at St George's Lane reminds Hyde of how seeing Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles "on the telly" fired the dreams of a Doncaster schoolboy as Tottenham Hotspur captured the trophy in 1981.
Being a Spurs supporter in South Yorkshire was always going to be hard to sustain, and Hyde's allegiance changed after he signed for Wednesday at 14. Starting out by cleaning Mel Sterland's boots, he spent 12 years at Hillsborough before he was transferred to Birmingham City. None of them was as memorable, or paradoxically so forgettable, as 1993.
That spring, having served his apprenticeship under Howard Wilkinson and Ron Atkinson, he was a ball-winning midfielder in the squad which Trevor Francis led to both major domestic finals. On his first trip to the twin towers, he helped Wednesday win an FA Cup semi-final derby against Sheffield United. Then came a League Cup final defeat by Arsenal, followed by a drawn FA final against the same opponents.
The replay was staged on a Thursday in what Hyde describes as "a strange atmosphere". Kick-off was delayed because of a motorway accident which held up many spectators, while the 62,000 crowd was small for a final. Penalties loomed when, with extra time in stoppage time, Arsenal's Andy Linighan rose to meet Paul Merson's corner.
"It was a wet night and a slippery ball, which went through Chris Woods' hands," Hyde recalls. "I was on the post and tried to volley it clear but could only kick it into the roof of the net. My mum has it on video. I haven't watched it since. I'd be thinking: 'If only I'd been a bit further forward, or whatever'. At least it wasn't given as an own goal. I got two runners-up medals that season and mum keeps those too.
"Of course I'd love to have winners' medals, but as I get towards the end of my career I look back on them with pride. I'm very lucky - some good players I know have never got near Wembley. The only trouble is that I was spoilt. When you're a young player like I was, you think it's going to happen every season, sort of, 'We'll be back next year'. But it didn't happen."
For all that, Hyde's memories of Wednesday are positive. His debut came in 1991, in the last pre-Premiership campaign, by the end of which they were officially England's third-best team. He talks admiringly of Chris Waddle's mesmerising ability to beat players from a standing start with a sway of the hips or a dipped shoulder. "You'd see him go past people in matches and assume it was bad defending - until he did it to you."
And he is tickled by the idea that they had Eric Cantona on trial that winter. "Everywhere was frozen so we trained on an Astroturf by the M1. No one knew what he could do. The line was: 'We want to see him on grass before we decide whether he's worth 750 grand'. He played in a six-a-side indoor match against an American team at the Sheffield Arena. But we never made a move. He went to Leeds, then to Manchester United, and the rest is history."
Hyde's history shows he was reunited with Francis at Birmingham, but he suffered a serious knee injury and "never got back in favour". Loan spells at Chesterfield and Peterborough kept him sharp, and he had a stint with Bristol Rovers before dropping out of the League with Hereford.
"When you've been used to Old Trafford it's a culture shock to play at the likes of Leigh RMI. But I thank my lucky stars for my career. Some people play 15 years in non-League football. Take the Worcester lads. They've all got full-time jobs. They can be playing or training and travelling until late at night, then getting up early to go to work."
Worcester lie 18th in the Conference North, 88 distant places behind tomorrow's opponents, and were overshadowed by their rugby union counterparts until the Cup gave them their highest profile since 1959. Then in the Southern League, they knocked out Liverpool, a result many Anfield historians argue led to the advent later in the year of a new manager - lured from Huddersfield - named Bill Shankly.
This time Preece's men put out Accrington Stanley, vying for promotion from the top Conference section, after trailing 2-0, while the win over Chippenham drew a capacity 4,000, with hundreds locked out.
Their captain accepts that Huddersfield, second in League One, will be a tougher proposition, and warns of the threat posed by an ex-Wednesday colleague, the striker Andy Booth. "He's a great lad and has lasted better than me," Hyde quips. "What's more, he is still scoring.
"But we have to get in amongst them. If we try to out-football them they could take us to the cleaners. We've got to believe we can beat them. Let's face it, that's why Match of the Day is coming - because they think we could spring a shock. Now it's up to us."Reuse content