Les Sealey 1991 League Cup Final

The 2019 League Cup Final will probably be remembered more for the antics of the Chelsea goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, than the game itself. In what was quite a dull game, it was a welcome bonus to see such bizarre drama at the end of extra time.

In what could prove to be the defining moment of Maurizio Sarri’s managerial career, the Basque-born world record fee commanding shot-stopper refused to be substituted in the last moments of the 0-0 draw.

Although Kepa had just had a knock, he believed he was fine; but Sarri was planning to bring on substitute goalkeeper Willy Caballero anyway, believing he was the better option in the penalty shoot-out.

And yes, Chelsea lost that penalty shoot-out.

But, it was not the first time a goalkeeper and refused to leave the pitch at Wembley or even in a League Cup Final.

Let’s cast our minds back to 1991; Manchester United versus Sheffield Wednesday in what was then known as the Rumbelows Cup Final.

The goalkeeper in question? None other than one of the maddest ‘Hatters’ you’ll have ever seen between the sticks; Lesley Jesse Sealey.

I’ll put this out there right away. Les Sealey was my favourite goalkeeper when I was growing up as a kid. I played in goal myself and having decided I was a Luton Town fan I instantly latched on to Sealey and started modelling my own style on his.

If you ask any of the defenders who played for Heath End Wanderers in my age group at the time, they’d all agree that the part of Sealey I copied most was his no-nonsense way of communicating with as back four.

Sealey, you could say, was a little bit crazy.

Sealey had started his career at Coventry City before moving to Luton Town in 1983 for £100,000. He was their first-choice number one for the majority of his time there, heavily involved in Luton reaching two consecutive League Cup finals in 1988 and 1989.

He missed the 1988 victory over Arsenal through injury, the final where Andy Dibble made himself the hero. And the 1989 defeat to Nottingham Forest proved to be Sealey’s final appearance for Luton.

From there, his career took a curious and somewhat unexpected turn.

In late 1989, Sealey found himself on loan at Manchester United as back-up to Scottish international Jim Leighton. Alex Ferguson was yet to win anything as United boss and his position was very much under threat.

Sealey made a couple of league appearances towards the back end of the 1989/90 season but he was catapulted into the limelight following United’s 1990 FA Cup Final draw with Crystal Palace. The match had finished 3-3 and Leighton was believed by Ferguson to be at fault for the Palace goals. Ferguson displayed the ruthless streak he became famous for and dropped Leighton for the replay, calling up Sealey.

United famously won the replay 1-0, Ferguson’s first trophy on what went on to become a dynasty and Sealey’s move was made permanent in the summer.

The following season, Sealey was United’s first choice goalkeeper and the club reached Wembley again to meet Ron Atkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday.

Wednesday were in the Second Division at the time, meaning United were clear favourites to win their second trophy in as many seasons.

But this was no average Wednesday side. They were able to call on the likes of former Unitec keeper Chris Turner, Northern Ireland internationals Danny Wilson (a former League Cup winner with Luton) and Nigel Worthington, Irish international John Sheridan and regular goalscorer David Hirst. On the bench was the first ever English £1m player in Trevor Francis.

United were still in the transitional phase from the players Ferguson inherited back in 1986 to the side that would become his first title winners.

Clayton Blackmore and Neil Webb were in the starting line-up with Mal Donaghy on the bench and it was Lee Sharpe, not Ryan Giggs, being called the next George Best with his electric displays on the left wing.

Sharpe’s stock was high. He had been in sparkling form scoring a hat-trick in a Fourth Round 6-2 win against Arsenal at Highbury and followed up with a goal in each leg of the Semi-Final win over Leeds United.

Sheffield Wednesday had comfortably beaten Chelsea over two legs in their Semi-Final and were well on their way to automatic promotion to the First Division. This League Cup Final was their chance to win their first major trophy for 56 years.

Atkinson’s men went to Wembley without a key player, Carlton Palmer. Palmer, who unfortunately ended up being the mascot for the doomed Graham Taylor era at international level, was a massive part of Wednesday’s league success and would be missed at the old Twin Towers.

Atkinson, ever the showman, had invited good friend and alleged comedian Stan Boardman on to the team bus for the trip from the hotel to Wembley with a view to helping the squad relax.

It clearly worked as Wednesday were the more settled side on the day.

They had planned to tie up United in midfield and be first the second ball and it was being first to the second ball that saw them win the match. John Sheridan reacted quickest to Gary Pallister’s half-clearance and his oh-so-sweet right-footed half-volley beat Sealey who nearly got enough on it to turn it around the post.

Neither keeper had a great deal to do on the day, though Chris Turner’s excellent save in the dying moments was decisive.

But, back to the reason for this piece. Late on, Sealey bravely dived at the feet of Paul Williams in the hope of preventing the Wednesday striker from doubling the lead. There was a collision as Williams managed to get his shot away.

The collision left Sealey with a badly gashed knee, an injury that not only should have seen his League Cup final finished but the upcoming European Cup Winners Cup Final against Barcelona to be played a month later.

Sealey was seen screaming at the United physio, refusing to leave the field of play and hobbling around for the final 12 minutes of the match.

This wasn’t a man failing to comply with team orders. United didn’t have a substitute goalkeeper on the bench. This was a man determined to see the job out for his team, putting the collective ahead of his ego. That said, according to his former boss David Pleat, Sealey did have quite an ego, believing he was the best goalkeeper in the world.

The injury was stitched in the dressing room after the match and was so bad that Sealey actually collapsed whilst the team was waiting for their flight back to Manchester. The wound had become infected and he was rushed to Middlesex hospital where emergency surgery took place. In fact, had Sealey got on the plane the doctors believe he would have lost his leg.

Four weeks later, Sealey was picked to play Barcelona in the European Cup Winners Final.

United won their second major trophy in two years under Alex Ferguson.

Les Sealey, originally a loan signing from Luton Town, certainly played his part in helping turn United into the force that they became.

He was replaced the next season by Peter Schmeichel but did end up returning on a free transfer to deputise for the big Dane in the 1992/92 season.

He only played twice in his second spell at Old Trafford; once being as a substitute in the FA Cup Quarter Final against Charlton and the second being another League Cup Final, this time losing to Aston Villa 3-1.

Sealey passed away on August 19, 2001, aged just 43 years of age.

He will always be remembered fondly by the clubs he represented.