Sheffield UnitedThe Early YearsBeautiful Downtown
The Early Years
Established in 1889, Sheffield United had the most successful period in their history in the early years and this includes their only First Division Championship which they won in the 1897/98 season. The club also had an affinity with the FA Cup at the early stage of their history and won it four times between 1899 and 1925, but they have not won it now for a staggering 82 years, despite being runners-up in 1936.
United, nicknamed the Blades because of Sheffield’s steel industry play in a red and white strip with black shorts, but they used to play in blue shorts. The Blades play their home games at Bramall Lane, a ground that was once the home of local rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane
The famous stadium began life as a cricket ground and did not hold its first football match until 1862 when Sheffield Club – now Sheffield FC – played local rivals Hallam FC. It was tagged ‘The Battle of Bramall Lane,’ and lasted three hours, during which there was a massive fight which explains the nickname. Two years later the ground held the Tommy Youdan Cup, the first ever football cup competition, won by Hallam FC.
Cricket was played at Bramall Lane until 1973 and it even staged an Ashes test match in July 1902, predictably the Aussie’s won by more than 100 runs. And it wasn’t until two years later in the 1975/76 season that the Lane got its fourth stand surrounding the pitch.
Fourteen years after its first ever football match, the ground had a new feat when it held the world’s first ever floodlit football match on 14th October 1878. Bramall Lane has achieved many ‘firsts’ in its long history and Sheffield United fans can take pride in knowing that their stadium really is one of the most legendary around.
There are currently plans in place to increase the size of the Kop stand which would boost the capacity of the stadium to around 36,000 from around 32,600 that it can currently seat.
It could be said that United were regarded as a yo-yo team throughout the midway point in their history, being promoted and relegated between Division One and Two no less than seven times between 1949 and 1976. The Blades did not stop their yo-yo effect there and in the 10 years between 1979 and 1989 the club had either achieved promotion or suffered relegation a total of six times.
In the lowest point in their history, United fell to the fourth tier of English football when they were relegated from the 3rd Division in the 1980/81 season. They picked themselves up and eight years later were celebrating promotion to Division Two in their centenary year. Ten years after that a new local man took up the reins of the club, and a legendary Sheffield United manager was born.
The Neil Warnock years
Neil Warnock, love him or hate him, he was a popular manager. Famed for his regular outbursts at referees during post match, or even pre-match interviews, the Sheffield United fan who got United promoted to the Premiership through sheer grit and determination, and almost kept them there, remains a Blades hero today.
Warnock was the Sheffield United manager for seven seasons and he led the Blades to the Premiership, as well as reaching an FA Cup semi-final and quarter final and a League Cup semi-final. Promotion to the Premiership was what the Blades fans wanted most and in his seventh and penultimate season in charge, Warnock provided.
United’s season in the Premiership was a mixture of highs and lows, arguably the best match was their 1-0 humbling of Arsenal at Bramall Lane. The Blades also held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw on the opening day of the Premiership campaign and beat Newcastle 1-0 at St James’ Park.
The relegation battle culminated to the last game of the season when United needed a draw or win, at home to fellow relegation threatened outfit Wigan, to stay up. But United had a poor game and eventually lost 2-1 and to make things worse, the winning goal was scored for Wigan by former Sheffield United player David Unsworth. There was a feeling of bemusement around Bramall Lane that day, as if to say ‘how did we lose.’ The crowd were despondent and Warnock showed his feelings just three days after the defeat by handing in his resignation and ending his seven full seasons in charge of the club he supported.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding United’s relegation and the main reason was because of two Argentinean players at West Ham United. Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano were the names on everyone’s lips at the end of the 2007/08 season. They were two Argentine’s signed by West Ham at the beginning of the season in a controversial manner. They were owned by a man who was rumoured to be buying West Ham and the Hammers had reportedly not paid a fee for the two world class players.
Towards the end of the campaign the FA found West Ham guilty of breaching Premier League rules by fielding a player who was owned by a third party. For this, the London club were fined a record £5.5m but Blades fans, and many people connected with football, thought they should have had points deducted. West Ham survived relegation on the last day of the season at the expense of Sheffield United but the Blades did not go down without a fight.
Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe tried to sue West Ham for compensation and Blades board member, fan and famous actor Sean Bean even led a march down to the Houses of Parliament to fight for their reinstatement into the Premiership. Nothing worked and Sheffield United were once again in the second tier of English football.
Legends of the Lane
Sheffield United have had many great players throughout their time in existence but Jimmy Hagan is probably the one people talk about the most when they discuss the greatest ever player to wear the red and white of the Blades. Hagan, a striker, made more than 350 appearances for United and scored more than 100 goals in his 20 years at the club. He was a hero at United for his goals, his captaincy and also rejecting a move to Sheffield Wednesday. Hagan was an England ‘one cap wonder’ but Sheffield United fans will tell you he should have won more. A statue of Hagan was unveiled at Bramall Lane in 2001 by Portuguese legend Eusebio, a player who Hagan managed at Benfica. He died in 1998 but his memory will live long for Sheffield United and football fans alike.
Sheffield United through and through, ‘Jags’ as he was known was a star in the United youth team before he broke in to the first team in 1999. He went on to become the captain and was a true Mr.Versatile. Jags could play in defence, midfield or even as a stand in goalkeeper. Neil Warnock would often pick a squad without a substitute goalkeeper on the bench and if there was an injury to the ‘keeper, Jagielka would be called upon to play in goal. The most famous occasion this happened was in United’s 2006/07 Premiership season in their 1-0 win at home to Arsenal. Paddy Kenny got injured after an hour and Jagielka had to play in goal for the last half an hour against Van Persie, Fabregas and co. He kept a clean sheet and his heroic status amongst Blades fans soared even higher. After a dedicated eight seasons with United, he eventually signed for Everton, for a reported £4m fee with James Beattie going the other way for the same amount. Jags represented both the England Under-21’s and ‘B’ teams during his time at Bramall Lane.
He will always be remembered as the player who scored the first ever Premiership goal, against the mighty Manchester United in August 1992. ‘Deano’ as he was known by the Blades faithful was an inspirational signing by former Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett. The big strong striker scored more than 100 goals in his first spell with United but he loved the club so much he returned for a second and third time. Loved by the fans, Deano helped United win promotion in 2005/06 before finally hanging up his boots. He represented England three times and scored nearly 200 goals in his career.
There have been some exciting Steel City derbies and none more so than the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in 1993 when Wednesday and United were both playing for a place in the final. Wednesday came out victorious after a tense game was forced in to extra-time and the blue half of the city celebrated a 2-1 win. The last time the sides met was in United’s 2005/06 promotion season and they did the double over their blue and white neighbours winning 2-1 at Hillsborough and 1-0 at Bramall Lane.
United’s heaviest defeat to their nearest rivals came on Boxing Day 1979 when they were thrashed 4-0 at Hillsborough. But they recorded 7-3 and 5-1 victories over the Owls in 1951 and 1934 respectively and have beaten Wednesday seven more times in over 100 matches between the two sides.
Another ‘Battle of Bramall Lane’
The 16th March 2002 was a dark day in Sheffield United’s history. West Bromwich Albion were the visitors and the so called ‘Battle of Bramall Lane’ occurred. The game was marred by some atrocious challenges and forced to be abandoned after three United players were sent-off and two injured leaving the Blades with six players.
The game was abandoned with less than 10 minutes on the clock and there was some controversy about whether the two injuries were serious enough for the players to need to leave the pitch. United’s goalkeeper Simon Tracy was sent off early on for a simple handball outside the area but the two other red cards were because of far more malicious challenges. George Santos and Patrick Suffo both came on as substitutes for United and it would be the last time they played for the club. Santos smashed into West Brom’s Johnson and Suffo was found guilty of headbutting an Albion player to receive his marching orders. Victory was awarded to West Brom who were leading 3-0 at the time of the abandonment.
Sheffield United spread their assets all the way to China in January 2006 when they purchased a Chinese football team named Chengdu Five Bull. The team have changed their name to Chengdu Blades FC and in January 2007 travelled to Sheffield and played out a 1-1 draw in a friendly against the real Blades.
United have also been making connections in Brazil with Sao Paulo and they have a ‘development agreement’ which means they will monitor the players that Sao Paulo produce with a view to possibly loaning or signing them permanently in the future.
The Yorkshire club played host to the Pele Challenge Tournament in November 2007. It was an under-17’s competition with teams from Porto, Sao Paulo, Manchester United and Sheffield United all competing. Pele was in Sheffield for the tournament and presented the winners with a trophy at the beginning of the Sheffield FC vs Inter Milan game. The game was to celebrate Sheffield FC’s 150th anniversary, and Pele was a guest with the match ending 5-2 to the Italians.
The famous actor and member of the Sheffield United board has even appeared in a film, ‘When Saturday Comes,’ playing the part of a Sheffield United player. There was controversy surrounding the actor, however, when it was alleged he ranted at Neil Warnock following the 2-1 defeat to Wigan and United’s relegation to the Championship. Warnock outlines in his autobiography that Bean reduced his wife and child to tears. But he still remained a part of the club afterwards, leading the march to Parliament in protest at the club’s relegation.
The Labour MP for Sheffield Central is another famous United fan and the former Minister of Sport. Caborn will be working closely with the FA should England decide to make a formal bid for the 2018 World Cup.
Division One Champions
Division Two Champions
1892-93, 1938-39, 1960-61, 1970-71, 1989-90
Championship (formerly Division Two) Runners-up
Division Four Champions
FA Cup Winners
1899, 1902, 1915, 1925