He isn’t English and never progressed beyond the under-21s in international football but Andy Blair has quite a story to tell about the art that has caused us such angst and which is now surfacing big time at the World Cup.
The midfielder who in 1983 became Molineux’s first ever loan signing may or may not be aware of the penalty shoot-out history between Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday, strung out as it is across three or four games more than 20 years ago.
The goal-scoring pecularities of the Owls’ 4-2 League Cup fourth-round victory at home to top-flight rivals Luton in November, 1984 are something that are unlikely to ever slip his mind, though. He scored a hat-trick from the spot.
Helped by some questionable refereeing, he opened the scoring early on by tucking his kick low into the corner past keeper Jake Findlay’s right hand. The other two, both at the Spion Kop end, were placed firmly past his Villa predecessor’s left hand and established a 4-0 lead that was halved when a Wednesday defence containing Peter Shirtliff were subsequently breached twice. One of the penalties was conceded by Stacey North, who had a loan spell with Wolves two years after Blair.
“People still talk to me about that night in the rain,” he says. “For one thing, the cameras were there to capture the goals, so the footage keeps it fresher in supporters’ minds.
“I hadn’t been at Wednesday more than three months but found myself trusted with the responsibility when we were awarded a penalty. I put that away ok and obviously kept the job for the rest of the game and for a while afterwards.”
It would be easy to assume Blair had a knack for the role and carried on his success rate in the couple of years that remained for him at Hillsborough. Not a bit of it.
Those three kicks were the first he had ever taken in senior football and the only other two he took were missed. So maybe Gareth Southgate hasn’t been on to him for pointers after all…..
“I must admit that it’s quite a curious record,” Blair added. “I know I blazed one over the bar at Norwich when Bryan Gunn was in goal and I also missed one against someone at Hillsborough when the keeper (Chris Woods, also for Norwich) made a very good save low to his left.
“And that was it….I didn’t take any more, either at Wednesday or my other clubs.”
Fife-born but Warwickshire-raised Blair, who played ten games at Wolves in a relegation-bound First Division team in 1983-84, has a fascinating history in the game.
Having won five Scottish under-21 caps and scored two goals, he made his Villa debut in the drawn Charity Shield clash with Tottenham in 1981.
He was then an unused substitute in the European Cup final victory against Bayern Munich in 1982 but played from the start in the side who beat Barcelona 3-0 in the home leg of the European Super Cup the following season.
Just as important, the sporting gene was passed down and Blair’s son, Matty, retired in September after a terrific career in the lower divisions and non-League that saw him score for York in victories in both the FA Trophy final and the Conference Premier play-off final, both at Wembley in 2012. He also became an England C international.
As for Wednesday’s League Cup run of 1984-85, it went little further after the famous penalty hat-trick, although their quarter-final tie against Chelsea went to three games, including a spectacular 4-4 Hillsborough draw in which the home team led 3-0 at half-time.
Blair turns 63 a week before Christmas and if he had forgotten certain elements of the spot-kick history between Wolves and Wednesday, here’s a reminder….
As well as the epic FA Cup shoot-out victory for Graham Taylor’s Wolves in 1995, the clubs waged another one at Molineux in 2000, this time won by the Owls. And older supporters will remember a game of three penalties at the stadium in a 1-0 Second Division home win in 1983. Two of the kicks that night were saved by John Burridge.