It was just under three hours before kick-off in the Steel City Derby at Hillsborough. Perched on a seat across town at the Copthorne Hotel, Bramall Lane I was chatting with a former Blades player and fan who knows all about the ups and downs of supporting the Blades and Steel City Showdowns.
Jamie Hoyland (@HoylandJamie) was a second generation Blades player, following in the footsteps of his father Tommy, who spent 12 years with United from the late 1940's onwards. He grew up not far from Bramall Lane, spent match-day on the terraces and as a ball boy pitch-side. Then, later in his professional football career, he pulled on a red and white striped shirt, spending four years at the Lane as a player.
Like me, he was heading across town to watch the Derby, a thankful guest of the BBC Late Kick Off programme. Unlike me, he was slightly worried about restraining his emotion and natural passion for the Blades, having to spend the duration of the match in the Wednesday press-box alongside fellow TV guest and ex-Owl David Hirst.
Before heading over to the wrong side of town, Jamie told me a bit about his career, taking in Manchester City, Bury, Burnley, Bristol City, Carlisle and Scarborough as well as his beloved Blades. We also chatted about his coaching career, Jamie now coaches the Preston academy, and a tough physical challenge he has set himself to raise money for friend and former team-mate Gary Parkinson.
Given your Dad's career, was a football career something you had set your heart on from an early age? Did you have an alternative?
It was always football, but with my Dad being at United, it was never going to be Bramall Lane where I started off. I was always going to be in his shadow. Even when I came back to United at 24, I was always “Son of..” and my nickname was Tommy.
I remember it as a kid, we had a family discussion with my elder brother Andrew, and it was agreed that it would be better if we looked away from Sheffield for a club. We had moved into the pub then (The Sheldon on Hill Street), which was a quarter of a mile from the ground. I had been a supporter here, a ball boy here, I’d done everything and it was time to move away and do it somewhere else. So I ended up going to Manchester City.
It was Throstles (a Sheffield junior league side) that you played for as a kid wasn’t it? How did the interest from Manchester City come about? Were they scouting over here?
Yes it was Throstles. The City interest came about thanks to John Beresford’s dad, the late John Senior, he finished up scouting a bit for Man City. I’d been to a few clubs and he took me and John Junior over there and it all went from there. It was an absolutely fantastic club to sign for and I couldn’t wait to get over to Maine Road.
Sadly you were hit with a bad injury early on in your career.
I made my debut when I was 17, I was a centre forward back then, everything was going right. I scored on my debut, then I played a few more before I drifted out of the team. I then got back in to the team, but was moved back to centre half. They then chucked me back in at centre forward for the promotion season.
We played Oldham and a lad called Gary Hoolickin smashed me from behind on my left knee and it triggered things off. I got back from that injury and my other knee went, it was a catalogue of injuries. At 20 I went in to see Billy McNeill about getting another contract sorted out and he told me I was being released. You could have knocked me over with a feather, I thought I was going to be at Man City til I’m sixty!
With young players who have shown potential but have suffered with injuries they tend to give them another short term contract to allow them time to try again. I can think of one or two examples at United in recent years, Connor Brown for example.
Oh no, there was none of that at all. It was there you go, you’ve got to sort yourself out now. I was on a wage of £85 a week when I left there and I was in a position where I had to go and find myself a living.
Any good childhood memories of being at the Lane?
Many. I remember Tony Currie sitting on the ball versus Arsenal, when we beat them 5-0. I was on the Bramall Lane end that day. I remember the final day relegation to Division 4 versus Walsall. I invaded the pitch, over the fence at the front of the Kop and nearly ripping my hand open. The police were on the pitch trying to calm everyone down by saying that we were okay, we had stayed up. I remember getting back to my Dad's pub on Hill Street and we both sat there and couldn't believe it had happened.
I remember Darlington away the following season (the match which saw United clinch the 4th Division title) and my Dad was going up and I was trying every way possible to go, but I was with City's youth team and it was my career. He had certainly had a few drinks that day when he got back to the pub.
When United beat Leicester to return to the top flight, Jamie was playing for Bury.
I had scored and we beat Cardiff, which sent them down. Obviously United had won and to top it off Wednesday had lost at home to Forest and they had unexpectedly gone down. I remember celebrating in the Players' Bar post match and all the lads are looking at me, not really understanding what a day it was for a Blades' fan. It was so unlikely that Wednesday would go down, so to be swapping places with them as well as gaining promotion was superb. Obviously, I didn't know at the time that I would be joining United later in the Summer.
I still feel as strongly now, even though I haven't lived here since I was 16 - thirty years ago. It never goes away. I joke with Neil Mellor (Wednesday fan and whose father played for the Owls) that they should just pull Hillsborough down and build a bigger Morrisons.
So you are released by City looking for a club and a living. What happened next?
I got a trial through Mick Summerbee at Norwich and I really enjoyed it. They wanted to sign me, but I just didn’t think it was the right place to go. I was a local lad and Norwich was a long way away. Aldershot also came in for me, but all of a sudden I had a call from Bury as well. I’ll be honest I was a little ignorant, I had lived in south Manchester when I was at City, I’d always gone to and from Sheffield on the Snake Pass, I didn’t know where Bury was! They told me it’s just round the top side of the M62 on the outskirts of Manchester!
I went over and met with their manager, a man who was to become a mentor for my career, Martin Dobson. I signed there and then. Martin was finishing his playing career as well as managing with Frank Casper. They developed a team there of lads who had got released, like myself, and old experienced heads like Sammy McIllroy, Noel Brotherston, Kenny Clements and Mark Higgins that provided a good mix of young and old players that really helped the inexperienced players develop. It worked a treat really.
How was life at Gigg Lane, after coming through the ranks at Maine Road?
It was a massive change; the move from a big ground like Maine Road and the training facilities we had, to playing at Gigg Lane. But I had always had it in my mind to get back to where I had started, I had to prove them wrong. Whatever it took, this was going to be my stepping stone and it was the best thing I ever did.
I went to Bury as a centre half. I had never ever played midfield until I was 21 and Martin Dobson said, "I can see myself in you, go and play midfield". I said, “What do I do in midfield?” Honestly, I had never played there before at any point in my life. We played Chesterfield at Saltergate, my first ever game and I am in midfield thinking, 'Whoah what’s going on here? The ball’s over there where do I need to be?' Suddenly, I got into it and found my feet. The fact that I had started as a centre forward I think helped. They always put a clogger in at the side of me, who could rat about and do the nasty stuff, and I just used to get forward and ended up scoring a few goals from midfield, not really knowing what I was doing.
Obviously, I could play and pass the ball, but it helped that we had a fantastic winger, David Lee, who could catch pigeons. He was brilliant. We also had a centre forward called Liam Robinson and the three of us used to link up really well. I managed to make a name for myself scoring goals.
So you were making a name for yourself at Bury. Dave Bassett shows an interest, was it an easy decision to make, or was there an element of doubt that it was still not the right time?
Wolves had shown an interest and I had gone down to Molineux to speak with Graham Turner, who was the manager. We talked figures and I didn’t have an agent then and I was naive. Bury were paying me £200 a week and Graham asked me what I was after. I said I didn’t know and so he ripped a bar mat up, scribbled some figures down and passed it back to me. I actually sat there and went, “Bloo-dy Hell! Wow they’re brilliant, yeah, I’m really interested in that. I just have one phone call to make”.
I went off to find a phone to make a call to Sam Ellis who had taken over at Bury and he said. “Hold it a minute, someone’s come in for you and you need to go and talk to them I think.” I said “Who is it?”. He said, “It’s Dave Bassett at Sheffield United”. I said “Right, done!” I got up and went back to Graham and thanked him for the offer but I needed to go and speak to somebody else.
I got in the car, drove straight up to Bramall Lane and went in to see Harry, who had waited on at the club for me. It was about 6 o’clock in the evening. Harry said, “What are you after?” I thought of the beer mat, added a bit more on and told him the figures. Harry popped out of the room to talk to David Capper, the club secretary, and came back in saying “Yeah we can do that. Do you fancy signing?” I said yes and it all took about 5 minutes. That was it, my dream was coming true. United had just returned to the top division, it was perfect. Unbelievable. I went on holiday the day after and I had Wolves ringing me all the time, offering me more and more money. In the end I could have signed for a lot more money for Wolves, but once I had the chance to come back home and play that was it. It was all I wanted to do.
In Part 2, Jamie talks about his time, living the boyhood dream, at Bramall Lane and memorable Derby Days.