Thursday, 28 June 2012

My Favourite Blade (Number 5) - Alan Kelly

It is a pleasure to welcome Thomas Carter (@ThomasCarter83) to the pages of A United View to summarise why former A United View interviewee Alan Kelly was his favourite Blade.

To put it mildly the mid to late 90s were turbulent times for Sheffield United. We’ve had F.A. Cup semi-finals, last second relegation, linesmen getting chinned, the play-offs, chairmen wanted by Interpol and one of our finest centre-forward partnerships being sold off for peanuts on the same day, to name but a few examples. After the departure of Dave Bassett in 1995 the managerial revolving door was in full rotation with more false dawns than a French and Saunders themed fancy dress party.  

Against this background of instability two of the few constants within the club were the goalkeepers, Simon Tracey and Alan Kelly. Looking back on that time, and bearing in mind some of the ‘keepers we’ve seen at the Lane over the past two seasons it is amazing to think we were able to keep 2 keepers of that calibre on the books for so long.

 As a youth of about 10-11, I fancied myself as a bit of a keeper and at the time Alan Kelly was the first choice at the Lane. Therefore he was quickly established as my favourite player.  Simon Tracey’s displays in the promotion winning side of 89/90 were a bit before my time as a Blade.  I remember breaking my arm playing in goal and I managed to get Alan to sign my pot. Being able to carry his autograph around on my arm for all to see went some way to atone for not being able to play football for 6 weeks.

Alan signed for the Blades from Preston NE in 1992, coming from good goalkeeping stock. His father was one of Preston’s greatest ever players, with his image now adorning a stand at Deepdale. His brother, Gary, also had a decent career in the game and even turned out for the Blades in the closing stages of 02/03.

There will always be debate amongst Blades fans about who was the better ‘keeper but for my money Alan Kelly just shades it, mainly for the great F.A. cup nights at Bramall Lane in replays against Blackburn and Coventry. The latter game on St Patricks day 1997 saw him carried aloft from the pitch by Unitedites  following a hat-trick of penalty saves, not to mention a Gordon Banks-esque effort (as Radio Sheffield put it) in the first game at Highfield Road,  to put the Blades into the semi-final at the expense of Premiership Coventry City.

For many Blades, myself included it was his commitment to the cause that endeared him to the supporters. An iconic image of the great man was him hobbling off the pitch after the play-off second leg away at Ipswich in ’97, with his left leg strapped up and probably more needle marks on his arm than Pete Doherty, from all the painkilling injections in Alan’s case, as the Blades dragged themselves into the play-off final. 

He was linked with numerous moves to Premiership sides but chose to remain at Bramall Lane right up until the chaotic final days of Mike McDonald’s reign. His final game, a pre season friendly with Chelsea, was characterised by chants from the Kop begging him not to leave for a proposed move to Aberdeen.

He eventually left for Blackburn Rovers in the summer on 1999 after 7 years battling with Simon Tracey for the keeper’s jersey. He did however, have one final gift for Unitedites;  turning down flat a move to our vile neighbours a couple of years later. His reason – “once a Blade, always a Blade”.

Alan can be followed on twitter at @keepingskills

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Uptight? Everything's Alright....For Now


Monday's announcement of the fixtures, as ever, sent alittle ripple of excitement through me. Like the announcement of pre-seasonfixtures (anyone for a trip to New York………..Stadium?) the fixture announcementis a chance to plot a route through another football season and decide whichaway trips might be a possibility. A weekend in Bournemouth for my birthday?Even the prospect of another, and probably more difficult, season in League Onedid not diminish the excitement.

For as many who shared my tingle of anticipation, there arejust as many naysayers, those for whom the prospect of a first day visit ofShrewsbury only arouses the stale whiff of another end of season failure lessthan a month ago. Or those who point to the distraction of an exciting EuropeanChampionship where there is plenty of on pitch excitement, rather than onscreen lists.

One other reason for the despondency appears to be thesilence emanating from Bramall Lane since the retained lists were announcedfollowing the Play-Off final defeat. With other clubs already making changes toplaying squads, making the signings that might make the required  difference, there has been little to reportat Bramall Lane. For many this is not a good thing, however I think we need toreign in a bit of this rampant negativity.

When the silence was broken, with Danny Wilson's interviewson Wednesday the murmurings were hardly positive, but realistically can weexpect anything different?

The Play-OffFinalists' delay

As with any team reaching a play-off final there is a delayin issuing your retained lists and being able to move for targets; in some waysplacing both winners and losers at a slight disadvantage. Whilst I don't doubtUnited had two plans in place, dependent upon outcome, there is still a lag incommencing both negotiations with those out of contract and those that theymight be able to attract. Dilatory responses from the players just exacerbatesthe delay.

If you look at transfers since 24th May, 12 League One teamshave signed players, half of the division. In some cases the transfers havebeen intra-League One so there has been a little merry-go-round between clubsas players move round. Of those clubs signing players, three were promoted fromLeague Two in May and five finished outside the Top 8 last season so may beseen to have a need to change things around. Of the other 4, Doncaster arere-building after a side disrupted by the Willie Mackay experiment last seasonand Notts County and Stevenage are replacing players that have moved on. OnlyCarlisle have made a net addition, excluding the impact of released players.

Of those players that have moved so far, I would have saidthe main one that would have interested me is Scott Laird of Stevenage, butwould we have had the additional pull to tempt him away from his reunion withWestley at Preston? You could argue the three Swindon signings have all hadpotential to be successful, but are they any better than what we have atBramall Lane?

Financial Fair Play

As has been well publicised, the Salary Cost ManagementProtocol means that any League One club spending over 65% of their turnover inthe 2012-13 season, or 60% of their turnover in the 2013-14 season will be hitwith a transfer embargo. Clubs have to provide budgetary information at thestart of the season to the league and this is to be updated as the seasonprogresses.

In the accounts for the year ending 30th June 2011 SheffieldUnited plc paid out total staff costs of £17m on Turnover of £16m. This is not just player salaries; £1mrelates to directors and further amounts will relate to staff costs at theclub, hotel and academy, but it will form a large proportion. Turnover fromongoing activities totalled £14.4m and so,even assuming no fall in turnover (unlikely as the £4.8m of TV revenues will be significantly reduced) thatleaves a wage bill of £9.4m. Realistically, turnover with reduced gates and tv monies will be around £10-11m and a wage bill of around £7m. 

We knew that means certain players would be released andplayers still under contract may have to be sold. Bringing players in with suchrestrictions was always going to be difficult. The sale of a squad player likeNick Montgomery will not only bring in a fee, but also release at least £0.5mof the wage bill. Others may have to go to give us room for manoeuvre. To thosesuggesting McCabe should be funding signings and throwing more money at theclub, the SCMP means that this just isn't feasible. It isn't so much the fees that it may cost, although that is no doubt an issue, but the wages cannot feasibly increased.

The only way round it wouldbe some sort of commercial sponsorship deal on overly generous terms,sponsoring a stand or two, or the academy? Increasing turnover and thus allowing monies to be spent on wages. However, given the significant amounts loaned to the club by McCabe and Scarborough companies (a large proportion subsequently converted to equity) and the deterioration of the construction/property industries, this has to be unlikely. People urge him to put money in that would get us out of League One, such gambles have been taken before and that is one of the reasons we are where we are.

The need for change

Of the players released by United, only Steve Simonsen was aregular in the first team last season and we clearly signed Mark Howard fromBlackpool with one eye on Simonsen's contract expiration. Of the elevenreleased, three others have taken a place in the first team squad, but much oftheir contribution has been marred by fitness concerns, long term injury and alack of quality. Obviously, the loss of Ched Evans has left a gaping deficiencyupfront that needs to be filled and this has to be Wilson's priority.

Other moves become dependent upon other player movement.Last season was noticeable for a lack of defensive cover, particularly in themiddle, a lack of proper width and the need for adequate back-up for Evans,which has now become the need for a replacement. We have young players thatJohn Pemberton has already said will be making the step-up into the first teamsquad, but we still need experience in each of those positions. Before addingin these players the squad size is 20, so again I see a few outs to facilitatethe recruits in the key areas.

Wilson's Way

One noticeable change in United's operations under DannyWilson is a lack of bluster about what we are doing and how we are going aboutit; features that have characterised some of the other managers in our recenthistory. Things are reported or discussed when there is something worthmentioning. We quietly go about our business until there is something concreteto report. What will incessant questioning of whether Lee Williamson or KevinMcDonald have signed actually achieve? It will certainly not influence orhasten their signing.

When I first wrote this I assumed that United and Wilsonmust have a deadline in mind and that we will know the outcome in the fullnessof time. His comments in interviews this week suggests we are awaiting ananswer from them, that our ability to move in the market is in their hands?Some have said they cannot believe Wilson doesn't have a budget. The fact is hehas, but that budget might increase and his priorities change if players leave,or those with offers don't accept. Thus he may have more to spend in certainareas pending other moves. It is a difficult situation for him to be in.

Elements of the Blades support may think that the club arebeing too lax. Having reflected on Wilson's statement I would like us to put adeadline in place so that there is some certainty in terms of requirements andspending power, but we need to believe that whatever the manager and board dois in the best interests of the club.

Two of the three players were key to our season; McDonaldthe midfield fulcrum around which our passing style was fixed, Williamson thesecond top scorer and midfield threat. Of course Wilson would rather haveplayers he knows and trusts rather than having to replace them. There will beinterest from other clubs, maybe their injury records and past misdemeanourswill count against them? We will have to wait and see.

The need forinformation

In today's modern media, where fans crave any brief mentionon Sky Sports News, where they scour the internet for reports linking theirclub to players, where those reportedly "In the know", or who justseek attention, post idle comments about who they have heard is signing, fansare becoming more demanding. Idle gossip, becomes fact, leading to someoneclaiming their best mate's dad has seen player X's car in the Cherry Street carpark, or a petrol station near East Bank Road.

In the mind of many supporters, other clubs signing playerswhen we are not means we are missing out on potential targets. They panic,they're vocal about it, the panic becomes contagious. "We always leave itlate……We never get players in for pre-season….." Yet the true level oftransfer activity set out earlier in this post shows the perception and realityare two separate things.

Danny Wilson says he has already missed out on targets dueto the delays, yet his list of targets could be 20/30 players. Is this reallyreason to panic?

I don't doubt that this will be a much changed United teamcome the 11th August and Burton Albion's first visit to Bramall Lane in theCapital One Cup, but I see little to fear in other teams in League One. We willbe weaker in squad terms than last season and a good League One striker is a priority but,that aside, the three teams coming down are financially restricted in theirability to recruit. Of those that remain in the division I think MK Dons,Brentford, Notts County, Carlisle are those most likely to challenge. Swindonmight well be the team with the momentum coming up.

Where we benefited from dampened expectations last year, relativesuccess is creating a demand for more of the same. Albeit with a slightly moresuccessful outcome required. No-one can say right now that we will not achieveit.

Let's enjoy the Euros and see where we are at as pre-seasoncommences. We came out of a torrid period this time last year, playing goodfootball, winning matches and with a manager who won the fans over. No-onewould have predicted how close we would come to promotion. Let's not be undulynegative this time and wait for something to be properly uptight about. Younever know, it might not arise.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

My Favourite Blade (Number 4) - Colin Morris

It's a pleasure to welcome Lee Doane (@8LAD35) back to A United View to talk about his favourite Blade, a favourite of mine as well, Colin Morris. As ever, if you want to share your memories of the wing wizard, why not use the comments section below.

My first proper season as a regular attendee at Bramall Lane was the 1983-84 season, when United won promotion from the 3rd Division. The hero of the terraces was undoubtedly Keith Edwards, with his golden boot winning 42 goals. Although I loved The King as much as anyone, my hero was Colin Morris.

Colin had joined United in February of 1982, during the Division 4 championship season from Blackpool for £100,000. I didn’t know anything about him at the time but remember my Dad saying what a good signing he was. This proved to be true as, during the next few years, Colin made a vital contribution to the team’s success, mainly due to the quality of service he provided to the forwards, in particular Keith Edwards. Keith regularly pays tribute to Colin’s wing play in his work as a match summarizer for Radio Sheffield.

Colin was what you could call an “Old school winger,” a wizard of the dribble. I remember that he appeared to be able run down the wing as if the ball was glued to his foot. He would take on defenders and whip in the aforementioned quality crosses to the forwards. I just found him an exciting player to watch. From 1982-83 onwards, Colin was the regular penalty taker and also weighed in with his fair share of goals. Until Michael Brown’s feat of 24 goals in 2002-03, Colin was the last United midfielder to score 20 goals in a season in 1983-84. Ian Porterfield, the United manager at the time recognised Colin’s attacking threat and occasionally deployed him as a striker when Keith Edwards was injured or out of favour.

A particular memory of mine is the opening day of the 85-86 season, away at Stoke City. Colin put United 2-1 up from the penalty spot and rounded off a great opening day away win with a terrific goal on the break from a Stoke corner, where he collected the ball around the centre circle and ran through the defence to fire home from the edge of the penalty area.

Colin’s United career came to an end during Dave Bassett’s first season in charge and his swan song was a volley in front of the Kop in the play-off defeat to Bristol City.

So why was Colin my favourite at a time when Keith Edwards was the golden boy? It is quite odd. I used to read MATCH magazine and during the 82-83 season they printed a poster of Colin Morris. It was a big deal for me to have a Sheffield United player featured in MATCH and the poster went straight on the bedroom wall. When United announced an open-day at the start of the 83-84 season, I took my poster in the hope that I would meet Colin and get it signed. As soon as I arrived, I spotted Colin and made a Bee-line for him.

LD:  “Colin, would you sign my poster?”

CM: “Sure son. What’s your name?”

LD: “Lee”

CM: “Oh aye? My lad’s called Lee, here you go son.”

It was a magic moment for me and I was star struck. What was also nice is that whenever I bumped into him at Bramall Lane, Colin always remembered me and said hello. It made me feel ten feet tall. Also, I was a ball-boy for a couple of games that season and one of the games was a 5-0 win against Bolton on New Year’s Eve. Colin scored a hat-trick that day and I was able to congratulate him at the final whistle.

Fast forward to 1998 and I was delighted to see Lee Morris follow in his father’s footsteps and become a first team star for Sheffield United. When I think of Lee Morris, I always remember that day in 1983 when I met his Dad.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

My Favourite Blade (Number 3) - Tony Currie

In the third of this close season series it is great to welcome Craig Salt (@saltyinsheff) to the pages of A United View with his memories of a Blades legend who, as the song said, could do magic. Why not share your memories of TC in the Comments section below.

I don’t remember my first game at Bramall Lane, what I do know is that I was little more than 18 months old, the ground had only 3 sides to it & a cricket pitch covered what is now the South Stand & car park.  I don’t remember the tour around the inner workings of the old John Street Stand and the player changing rooms or receiving the leather ball (complete with lace) signed by all the players, including the player that would become & to certain extent still is My Blades Hero. 

What I do remember is badgering my dad to buy me the full kit. What I do remember is asking if I could have the number put on the back of the shirt & on the shorts (yes, shorts had numbers on them too). What I do remember is wanting to be out in the garden, in the kit, kicking the ball & pretending to be … Anthony William Currie or TC to you and me. 
I remember the shock of long blonde hair & would take umbrage at claims that he was a lazy player, because at the time he was my footballing hero. I remember talk of his pinpoint passing ability & crucial goals that he scored. I remember insisting that I wear the whole kit every time we went to a home game.  I remember slowly moving away from my Mum to spare my embarrassment from being with  the one woman megaphone that she was.  I remember being truly heartbroken when he was transferred to Leeds. LEEDS of all teams!

The only thing worse to a child would have been to travel across the city to the "Dark Side" at S6. I remember that at about the same time I stopped going to games, partly because TC wasn’t there & also because my Dad started to work more Saturdays. My interest wasn’t rekindled until my teens, when I started to go to the games with mates & on the odd occasions with my Dad & his workmates.
I’ve watched countless reruns of programmes from the telly, I’ve seen bits & pieces over the internet. Still to this day I don’t understand how he didn’t gain more than the paltry 17 caps for England.  What I do admire when I watch those clips & old shows is the way he covered the ground so laconically. I enjoy the way the commentators from the early 70’s obviously thought (like I did) he was a class apart. I remember the classic Motty line from when United beat West Ham “A quality goal from a quality player” & the one goal that really sticks in my mind is his goal for England against Hungary that he hit from outside the box, even though he wasn’t playing for United at the time. The same laconic run up & effortless execution of strike to the keeper’s right & into the net, it still makes me smile when I think about it.
I like the way, that despite his travels & career around the world he chose United as his home to come back to & give something back to the kids of Sheffield in his role as Football in the Community co-ordinator. He is still my Blades Hero!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

My Favourite Blade (Number 2) - James Beattie

For the second in the series we welcome Michael Crow (@mcblade1991) to A United View to tell us about his Favourite Blade. Given recent events this might be viewed as a controversial selection and to be fair to Michael, he wrote this prior to Beattie's red card at Exeter which saw him suspended for the Play-Offs. As ever, if you want to share your memories of the player, add them in the Comments section below.

Bryan Robson didn’t do many great things in his relatively short time as Sheffield United manager, but one could argue that his best move was bringing in the £4m hitman from Everton.

The reason James Beattie is my Blades Hero is that I wasn’t fortunate enough to remember the likes of Brian Deane in their prime, and in my time as a Blade, Beattie was the first man to hit 20+ goals in a season. Add into that his relationship with the supporters, who would frequently chant “na na na na Beattie” to the tune of Hey Jude, along with 22 strikes in his first season at the club and for me, the Blades had a talisman and a hero to back. He was a goal scorer, a constant threat in the box, and on his day an intelligent player.

One of these 22 strikes will live long in the memory for me and I’m sure most other supporters. The particular strike in question came against our bitter rivals from S6, 2-1 down with five minutes to play and the Blades were piling on the pressure but to no avail. Five minutes to go, United had a free kick 30 yards from goal. A brave man needed to take it. It was the moment most footballers probably dream of, the type of moment you would see in a Football Hollywood blockbuster and up stepped James Beattie to smash it in. From the moment he hit the ball, from my seat just behind the goal on the Kop, you knew the ball was in.

I thought Michael Brown’s volley against that lot in 2003 would take some real beating but Beattie managed to surpass that for me. To this day, it remains my favourite goal that the Blades have scored against them. He also scored a very similar goal to this in a 2-0 home victory over Plymouth Argyle in the following season.

The next season, after being out for the first month with an injury, Beats returned to the side and continued his form in the same vein, scoring his first goal of the 2008/2009 season in a 2-1 victory over Watford. 11 more strikes would follow this before a controversial £3.5m January transfer move to newly-promoted Premiership side Stoke City, who were aiming to retain their status in the top flight. I remember the day that I heard the news. I was in college in an English lesson sat next to my friend who was also a Blade, and I had my iPod on the radio. The sports news bulletin announced that Beattie was set to move to the Britannia Stadium.

I will always remember the disappointment I felt when I heard that news, I said to my friend something along the lines of - “I can’t believe it, we’re selling our top scorer when we’re aiming for promotion”. Some girl sat next to me got sick of my ranting that much she told me to “shut up moaning, it’s only football”. I only wish that were the case! Kevin McCabe would receive much criticism, as the then manager Kevin Blackwell also seemed very reluctant to lose him, whilst Beattie himself suggested that the Bramall Lane hierarchy had wanted to sell him, possibly due to his high wages. Needless to say, most Blades fans (admittedly me included) were up in arms about the sale and thought the season was over in January.

Either way, Beattie went on to fire Stoke to safety and against all the odds after losing him, the Blades would have a strong second half of the season, finishing 3rd. In fact, in a televised game on a Monday night at Burnley, Beattie was spotted in the crowd cheering on his old team-mates. Once a Blade, always a Blade. Furthermore, a lacklustre performance in the play-off final a few weeks later against the same opponents showed how much Sheffield United could have done with his presence, in a game where his on-loan replacement and namesake Craig Beattie failed to make his mark.

Beatts then fell out of favour at Stoke, whilst moving north to Rangers, spending time on loan at Blackpool before arriving back at Bramall Lane to boost the Blades firepower as they sought to get out of League One at the first attempt. Personally, I was delighted to see Beattie return to the club in November last year, but I always sensed that he was never going to be the Beattie of four years previous. However, despite the old adage of ‘never go back’, and the fact he hasn’t made the impact he made in his first spell at the Lane, he will always be one of my Blades heroes.