It is perhaps easy to forget as we struggle in our 19th season in the Football League that we have still come a long way, baby. As an illustration, tomorrow`s meeting with Sheffield United is the first ever league meeting between the two clubs. We have met just once before in t`cup, which we`ll come onto later. This does of course mean I have to fill this article with even more waffle than normal. No, that doesn`t mean you can stop reading!
I should think almost everyone has heard of Sheffield. It has been inhabited for oh, at least 12,800 years and many archaeologists can be found banging one out at Creswell Crags. The South of the Pennines was also the home of a tribe called the Brigantes during the Iron Age. Following the departure of the Roman it straddled the border between the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria during Anglo-Saxon times. Messy.
By the end of the thirteenth century it had become a small market town and at the start of the seventeenth century it was already manufacturing cutlery. Built on the River Sheaf, it is now known as the Steel City for obvious reasons. It became an integral part of weapons and ammunition manufacture during the Second World War and consequently it was bombed by the Nazis, most notably in December 1940.
The seventies and eighties saw the traditional industries fall into decline and the City soon followed suit. It wasn`t until the beginning of the nineties that redevelopment began and that transformation has continued into the 21st century. The railway station has been refurbished, Sheaf Square has been remodelled, the Peace Gardens renovated and new Winter Gardens opened. It`s nice.
Sheffield is the birthplace to many famous folk, including politicians David Blunkett, Evan Harris, Oona King and Roy Hattersley. The cringeworthy Peter Stringfellow, actor Brian Glover and python Michael Palin were all born there as was singer Joe Cocker. It has always been a vibrant place for bands which include the likes of ABC, Cabaret Voltaire, Def Leppard, Heaven 17, The Human League, Longpigs, Pulp, Moloko, Arctic Monkeys and 65daysofstatic.
The City also played a pivotal role in the birth of football. Sheffield F.C. claim to be the World`s first football club, were formed in 1857 and play in the Northern Premier League. By 1860 there were fifteen football clubs and the first ever amateur league and cup competitions took place there. It wasn`t until 1889, two years after Wycombe Wanderers were formed that the President of the Sheffield United Cricket Club Sir Charles Clegg established the Blades.
The club applied to join the first division of the Football League in 1892 but had to settle for a place in the inaugural second division, as one of its` dozen founder members. They were promoted in their first season and went on to win the first division title in 1898, the one and only time they have done so. They won the F.A. Cup for the first time the following season and have won it four times in total, the last in 1925.
The Blades have spent most of their history in the top two divisions of English football but have won the Second Division just the once, in 1953. They have only spent one season in the bottom division, which they won in 1982. By means of comparison that was the year the Wanderers reached the semi-finals of the F.A. Trophy for the first time, losing in the two-legged semi-final to Altrincham. We also finished third in the Isthmian League and were invited to join the Alliance Premier League, but politely declined.
United have a whole host of famous followers from actor Sean Bean to singers Paul Heaton (The Housemartins / The Beautiful South) and Joe Elliott (Def Leppard). Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea is also reputed to be a fan as are Sky Sports News presenters Alex Hammond and Charlie Webster. Bolton Wanderers striker Kevin Davies is an avid Blade and bizarrely Juan Sebastian Veron dreamed of playing in the red and white stripes as a boy. I`m saying nowt.
There have been a few players to have represented both clubs starting with Inside-forward Alec Blakeman in 1948. He has been followed by the likes of Frank ‘nine-toes` Talia, Gary Ablett, Gus ‘Gooooose` Uhlenbeek, David Tuttle, Scott Marshall, the dreadful Mark Foran, Viv Busby, Dave ‘Harry` Bassett, Martin Kuhl and Tommy Mooney.
We managed to avoid trips to Sheffield for well over a century. We did visit nearby Leeds in February 1932, losing 4-0 to Yorkshire Amateurs to crash out of the F.A. Amateur Cup (as holders no less), We played a F.A. Amateur Cup semi-final at Doncaster Rovers` Belle Vue ground in March 1955, losing 1-0 to Bishop Auckland. We visited South Elmsall in March 1986 to draw 2-2 with Frickley Athletic in a Gola League clash.
We were getting warm by January 1995 when we made our first trip to Millmoor to face Rotherham United, although it was one of those visits where you`d happily never come back again. We did finally make it to the Steel City in January 2004 and it took defender Ian Simpemba less than two minutes to give the Wanderers the lead against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. He was knocked spark out for his troubles and had to be substituted. The Owls levelled but the Chairboys held on for a 1-1 draw.
There have been two subsequent visits to Sheffield, in November 2008 and October 2010, both to the Don Valley Stadium, the temporary home of Rotherham United. The first ended in a goal-less draw whilst the second saw the Blues record a superb 4-3 victory. Sadly our only ever visit to Bramall Lane saw us meekly surrender to the hosts, eventually losing 4-1 in a second round League Cup tie.
Three weeks earlier manager Lawrie Sanchez had verbally attacked fans for booing the team whilst they were leading Crewe Alexandra 1-0 in a league game at Adams Park. The visitors turned that scoreline around to win 2-1 and the club was soon embroiled in something of an aesthetic debate over style of play. Approximately 250 Tommy Tick-Offs took the Tuesday off work to travel up the M1 from the Chair Metropolis to see the latest experiment in hoof-ball.
Martin Taylor was named between the sticks again whilst Danny Senda, Chris Vinnicombe, Andy Thomson, Paul McCarthy and Roger Johnson made up a back five. Dannie Bulman and Michael Simpson were partnered in the middle of the park with Darren Currie and Stuart Roberts on the right and left respectively. Craig Faulconbridge ploughed a lone furrow in attack.
Striker Michael Boulding gave the hosts a half-time lead although they should have had more than just a single goal. Midfielder Michael Brown doubled their advantage three minutes after the break. Sanchez made a triple substitution on the hour with Steve Brown, Sean Devine and Richard Harris replacing Currie, Roberts and Johnson. Dannie Bulman somehow got away with a blatant foul on Michael Tonge inside the penalty area just two minutes later.
With a quarter of an hour remaining striker Peter Ndlovu intercepted a dodgy pass from Thomson and Taylor had to race off his line only to handle the ball outside his area. He was sent for an early bath which meant Brownie would don the gloves again. He was beaten with five minutes left on the clock when midfielder Nick Montgomery thumped home and Brown notched his second of the evening a minute later, the ball hitting the net via the underside of the crossbar.
McCarthy headed home a consolation goal on ninety minutes from a Simmo free-kick but by that stage the away fans were already being taken away in strait-jackets whilst gibbering inanely. It would be all-too tempting to predict a similar scoreline this weekend. The Blades apparently hit top form against the Essex scum last weekend whilst we were waving the white flag at Tranmere with a display as embarrassing as our unnecessary red kit. But football doesn`t work like that and as Jimmy Greaves once said: “It`s a funny old game.”
“All that`s left are memories”