Friday, 21 March 2014

It was 125 years ago today

It was 125 years ago today that cricket let the footballers play. And Sheffield United Cricket Club spawned Sheffield United Football Club. The original United.


The detailed story of Sheffield United's 125 years can be told by better men than me. (Club Historian John Garrett and author Denis Clareborough, to name but two). But it won't stop me trying to sum up 125 years of the Blades; or the Cutlers as they were originally known.


Temporary highs and lengthy lows. Senses filled, and then drained away. It is easy to dwell on the negatives. Of missed opportunities, unfulfilled ambition and a failure to match the club's resources and support with the craved for success on the pitch.


The modern day Sheffield United have spent too long trophy-less, too little time in the top division and rarely challenging at English football's summit. 

Three, maybe four generations of Blades fans without anything to show for their support but the mental scars of missing out on European football by a point, lost FA Cup and League Cup Semi-Finals and repeated Play Off final heartbreak. Haunted by the ghosts of the past, treading warily when those paths are crossed again.


Yet supporting Sheffield United Football Club in the early years was a joy in comparison. Those early supporters; all bushy moustaches, suit jackets and flat caps, enjoying a league title within 10 years of the club being formed, runner up twice more and four FA Cup victories in the club's first 40 years in existence. How little did they know? They never had it so good. We have never had it so good since.


But then we forget that those generations of Blades supporting families since have had much pleasure. Not the full blown success of those early years, but memorable moments all the same.


We have seen great players, arguably under-rated and lacking the due acclaim given to their peers elsewhere. We saw Hagan's trickery, Shaw's calm assurance and leadership, Woodward's wing play and stood in awe watching Tony Currie do magic.


We saw Edwards and Deane score goals by the hatful, whilst Jagielka and Walker show future international promise. Many more became heroes for their passion, their ability and quality, their value, their off pitch endeavours, or for their bravery in the face of adversity.


We have seen quality goals by quality players. Exquisite lobs from magic left foots, beautifully judged chips from near the halfway line, thirty yard net busters, bullet headers and the finales to exquisite build up play.


And then there were the cheeky goals; sneaking up and robbing the unaware keeper, or bouncing a throw-in off a retreating goalie's back to curl the ball into the empty net. Goals that if scored by others at more revered clubs would be repeated time and time again on TV for their quality or sheer impudence.


As much as the lack of recognition of our club and our players frustrates, we can feel a sense of pleasure that we saw those moments and they are our wonderful memories, our players, and the goals - our special secret.


We saw great cup ties and many a shock. Often made special by the glow of the floodlights. Shoot-out joy and Champions turned over. World class internationals with heads in hands. Heroes in red and white stripes hoisted high by joyous fans. Players individually good, collectively exceptional.


We have seen a game abandoned in extraordinary circumstances, drifting away down Shoreham Street, sporting vacant stares in disbelief. We have seen our team threaten to walk off the pitch at Highbury, and frequently not turn up at Wembley.


We have seen rogue owners; those with unclear motives, the chancers, Interpol's wanted, but survived their clutches with our club intact. We have been lucky compared to some, although it never felt like it at the time.


The good, the bad and the ugly of the beautiful game. The good, the bad and the ugly of our special love.


The ground remains. Much changed. But still Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane. The oldest professional football ground still in use. Cricket long gone, all sides much changed. Fans in seats where once on terracing they stood. 

The support unwavering, the songs sung with fervent passion. Nowhere like the Lane with a full house. Such noise. Goosebumps. Senses filled.


And where are we today? As ever, full of hope for a better future. With a new found belief in our club and the direction we are moving. A sense of pride returning and a trip to Wembley on the horizon. 

United enters its 126th year in the Third Division, but with hope that come its 130th things might look much different. Much better. And if they don't? Then we just carry on as ever. Regardless. United.


Up the Blades!


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