Wednesday, 25 July 2012

My Favourite Blade (Number 8) - Joe Shaw


One great thing about starting a series like this is when you receive a contribution like the one below from Pete Moxon (@mox53). Not only is it well written, it is about a player I am too young to have seen and so offers great insight into the player; a player who was a one-club man; a player who has the record number of appearances for United; a former captain and club legend. A player I was fortunate enough to hear about from my Dad and my grandparents who saw him play. I’ll let Pete tell you more......     



Fifty one years since I first took the magical journey to Bramall Lane and considering the multitude of matches I’ve viewed there, and at other grounds,plus the thousands of players I’ve seen pull on the red and white stripes,isolating one particular player as my favourite is not an easy task!

I rarely sit down and think about such things, but obviously in the past I’ve had many ‘favourites’ for one reason or another, not necessarily because of their ability. Over the years, obvious ones have thrilled me with sublime skill (TC, Glyn Hodges), thunderous shooting (Woody), tenacious defending (Dave Powell, Morgs), dogged attitude and making the most of limited ability (Monty, Bob Booker) and because they were characters (Hodgy). So to name one player as an all time favourite is something I’ve never pinned myself down to. However, in the interests of ‘A United View’ and to satisfy my own mind, I’ve isolated one player who, for several reasons, I’ll put forward as my all time favourite Blade.

For those of us old enough to have seen him play, no-one could have failed to be impressed quite how a 5’8”, of average build, bloke, could execute such a commanding influence in the position of centre half (as it was termed back then) or central defender as it is today. Centre halves of the 50’s & 60's were generally big, rough, intimidating so and so’s who usually incurred the wrath of opposing fans with their treatment of the centre forward they were up against. An early kick/hefty tackle was the message to the centre forward of the treatment he could expect for the next 89 minutes or so. Referees offered little protection as this was ‘part of the game’ in those days. Centre forwards just got up, moaned ever so slightly, and got on with it: today, well..... the modern game is blighted with the writhing, whingeing cheats trying to con officials and fans, I hate this facet of football, but I digress...

Joe was different; small in stature for his role (he started life as a winghalf/inside forward) at centre half, his strengths were timing, anticipation, skill, the ability to read the game better than most and modesty (no histrionics or brashness from Joe). As my dad used to tell me before he finally took me to BDTBL, "Joe is the best uncapped centre half in the country, it’s only ‘cos he plays for United that England won’t pick him."(I’m not sure whether that was the case in those days?).

So I had already been primed before I saw him play and of course once I began to go and decide who was good and who wasn’t (instead of listening to others), it was obvious Joe had class and his size was rarely an issue against some big tough strikers (Derek Dougan named Joe as his most difficult opponent in one magazine article, that made my day!). Joe won no England caps but went on some FA tours abroad which kind of gave him some recognition for his contribution to the game and when he finally retired well into his thirties (quite old in those days),he was taken on to United’s coaching staff.

That's where I encountered Joe the man, as opposed to Joe the footballer, and the defining reason which singles Joe Shaw out as my favourite Blade.

In my early youth I was a reasonable footballer, good enough to represent my city at schoolboy level and be courted by a few league clubs (Huddersfield, Mansfield and Chesterfield) and eventually get the call from my beloved Sheffield United for an extended trial. The first session I attended at the Ball Inn ground (United’s training ground at the time and across the road from my childhood home), I came under the tutelage of Joe Shaw. I was of course, as a fifteen year old, awestruck! In the warm up, Joe put us through some (for me anyway) torturous sprint routines. Bearing in mind this was my first session, I was keen to impress but I’d never been pushed so hard before and eventually and embarrassingly, I was physically sick. I was mortified and could feel the other lads looking mockingly at me, this new kid, spewing up within the first twenty minutes of his first session.

This was where Joe the man came in. I was expecting the ‘come on, pull yourself together, we’ve only just started’ treatment from the hardened professional of 632 league games! Instead, Joe came over, made sure I was ok and then took timeout to take me to one side and talk to me about physical training and its effects on the body. He went on to tell me this had happened to him several times in his youth and not to worry or be embarrassed by it. He was, quite plainly, a real nice fellow and made me feel so much better. He remembered my name from that point on and over the following six weeks always took time out to speak and enquire as to my wellbeing.

That very personal encounter, plus his outstanding ability and contribution to SheffieldUnited Football Club makes Joe Shaw my favourite Blade.

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