There can have been few people more pleased than ex-Blue Frank Sinclair when the draw for the fifth round of this seasons FA Cup competition pitched his current club Huddersfield Town against Chelsea. The Terriers, currently plying their trade in League One are a club steeped in history and tradition whose long-suffering supporters can often be heard chanting, “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end. We won the league three times in a row” … though I strongly suspect that none of them were alive to experience it. (Huddersfield Town were the first team to win the League three times in succession: 1923/24, 1924/25, 1925/26).
In recent years, hopes of a return to the glory days were kindled by a move to a brand new stadium and an influx of cash, but on the pitch the team has constantly flattered to deceive, yo-yoing between the lower divisions, struggling to have any sense of identity. The appointment of Andy Ritchie as manager has promised much but so far failed to deliver, and Town find themselves mired in mid-table, their erratic form suggesting they are unlikely to improve enough to feature in the promotion play-off picture as the season enters its final third.
Now very much at the veteran stage of his career, Sinclair was signed from Championship outfit Burnley, inking a twelve month contract with the Terriers at the start of the season, having ended the last campaign on loan at the Galpharm Stadium. Lambeth born Frank came through the youth ranks at Chelsea and I recall the eventful game in which he made his debut for the Blues like it was yesterday. Once mighty Luton Town were the visitors to Stamford Bridge for a First Division fixture which manager Bobby Campbell saw as an opportunity to bring in some fresh faces as the Blues having beaten Manchester United 3-2 at the Bridge early on in March had been beaten four times in succession by Sheffield United, Southampton, Dirty Leeds and Coventry City … and some people have the audacity to ask me where I was when we were sh*t!
Dave Beasant, Jason Cundy, Alan Dickens, Gareth Hall, Graeme Le Saux, David Lee, Damien Mathew, Graham Stuart, Andy Townsend and Dennis Wise were Frank’s chosen team-mates and 12,603 of us crammed into Stamford Bridge on a sunny April afternoon to see if we might witness the herald of a new dawn. Those of us that had bothered to turn up were soon questioning our sanity when the Hatters raced into a 3-0 lead. Le Saux pulled a goal back but was then promptly sent off before the referee had blown the half-time whistle. The portents did not look good, but despite this early setback young Frank, starting at left-back, despite being pint-sized and right-footed, played with a gritty determination which was mirrored by those in Blue around him and the Chelsea fought back valiantly to snatch a 3-3 draw with Stuart and Wise getting on the score-sheet.
Sinclair’s attitude and enthusiasm was rewarded and he kept his place in Chelsea’s starting line-up for the next three league games which were all played away from home. A 2-2 draw at Everton was followed up with a 3-1 victory at Carrow Road against Norwich City before Nottingham Forest hammered the Blues 7-0 at the City Ground. Frank’s shortcomings as a left back were cruelly brought to the fore by Forest’s Gary Crosby and the youngster was substituted long before the end of the game. Gloriously unpredictable? Not half! Chelsea bounced back the following week to thrash Liverpool 4-2 at the Bridge, but sadly Frank played no part in the game, nor indeed any of the Blues remaining fixtures that season. Bobby Campbell, affectionately known by many as Booby, was replaced at the end of the term by Ian Porterfield.
After an inauspicious start to the following season Frank was loaned out to West Bromwich Albion, a character forming experience which amongst other things saw him receive a nine match ban for ‘assaulting’ shopping centre manager and some-time referee Paul Alcock who you may recall was more famously floored later in his career by Paulo Di Canio. Undeterred, Sinclair returned to the Bridge and his ebullient uncompromising approach to the game saw him eventually establish himself as a first team regular under Porterfield, winning the player of the year award in the process.
Flourishing under the stewardship of Glen Hoddle who’d taken over the managers reins at Chelsea in June 1993 and converted him into a central defender, Frank Sinclair was a proud man when he took to the field at Wembley for the 1994 FA Cup Final against League Champions Manchester United, but sadly the Red Devils routed the Blues 4-0 and Sincs along with the rest of us singing less than merrily in the rain had a torrid afternoon to forget.
Three years later, with Ruud Gullit at the helm, Chelsea were back at Wembley. This time Frank Sinclair playing on the right side of a four man defence was on the winning side as Chelsea beat Middlesboro 2-0 and Dennis Wise went up to the famous old steps to lift the FA Cup aloft on a joyous day of true Blue bonhomie. The following season Frank was hampered by injuries and suspension, but this didn’t prevent him scoring a fabulous headed goal in the 2-0 League Cup Final victory over Boro, sadly though he was a spectator in Stockholm when the Blues triumphed in the European Cup Winners Cup Final.That League Cup victory was to prove Frank Sinclair’s Chelsea swansong, in the close season, Luca Vialli signed Albert Ferrer and Marcel Desailly and Sincs was on his way to Leicester City who paid a club record fee of two million pounds to secure his services.
By virtue of his Jamaican heritage Frank enjoyed an international career during which he earned 28 caps for the so-called Reggae Boyz, starring most notably for his adopted country in the 1998 World Cup Finals in France. Back home, eminently likeable, Frank was never too far away from the headlines. On the field he developed an uncanny knack for scoring some the most bizarre last-minute own goals ever seen on a football pitch, the best of these unsurprisingly coming against Chelsea in a dramatic 2-2 draw at Filbert Street in August 1999.
The previous weekend, Sinclair had headed past his own keeper to earn Arsenal a last gasp winner against Martin O’Neill’s side on the opening day of the new Premiership season. In this match with the Blues, the Foxes must have thought they had secured victory when former Chelsea midfielder Muzzy Izzet converted an 89th minute penalty after Emile Heskey had been fouled by Albert Ferrer following a cross from Andrew Impey, but Sincs had other ideas. Again he had Lady Luck against him when, under pressure from Chelsea skipper Dennis Wise, he headed past Tim Flowers after Gustavo Poyet had created the danger by heading a Bjarne Goldbaek cross back across goal. There was barely time for the game to restart before the referee blew the final whistle. Poor old Frank!
Frank tasted League Cup glory once more with Leicester City when the Foxes beat Tranmere Rovers in the 2000 final Wembley. In all he made 164 appearances for the East Midlands side, just five fewer than he played in the Blue of Chelsea, before moving to Turf Moor, signing for Burnley on a free Bosman transfer in June 2004.
Off the field Frank has blotted his copy book on a couple of occasions, most notably when he was in the company of several Chelsea players including current stars Frank Lampard and John Terry at a Heathrow hotel the day after the 911 atrocity of September 2001. Sinclair was fined two weeks wages by Leicester for his part in a grossly immature drinking binge which offended a group of stranded American tourists, the Blues players were similarly fined and reprimanded by Chelsea. In March 2004, Sinclair along with fellow Foxes players Paul Dickov and Keith Gillespie was arrested in Spain following allegations of sexual assault made against them whilst they were attending a training camp. The charges were subsequently dropped.
At 36 years of age, and in the twilight of his playing career, Frank Sinclair will return to Stamford Bridge on Saturday as part of a team that is hoping and dreaming of springing one of the biggest FA Cup shocks in recent years. Of course we all know that this isn’t going to happen, but I like many around me who remember him from his time wearing the Blue of Chelsea will be on my feet applauding him and wishing him well … but not too well!
See you at the game!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics ‘Over Land and Sea’ and ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’, his new book ‘One Man Went to Mow’ is out now. Copies, signed if you so wish, are available to buy with a discount of up to 30% and free postage within the UK at http://www.overlandandsea.net/