In the same way that Steve had a struggle to find a Burton interviewee, I’d been having my own travails over finding a Sheffield United fans willing to swap notes. But then, out of the blue, our Kathy (Blake) came out with a ‘if you need a Sheffield United contact I know someone who knows someone’. A flurry of emails later and my people had arranged with Pete Turner’s people (his wife Bev) for us to chat ahead of tomorrow’s game at Bramall Lane. I started by trying to find out who the heck Pete was…
Pete: Bev and I make up the Brixton arm of the Brighton, Brixton and Belgravia Blades. We all came together in 1989 on the night we got promotion from the old Third Division. We met other southern based Utd fans in the buffet car of the train up to Wolves and the rest is history. Since then we have all followed Utd for the last 28 years as a group of Sheffield United fans scattered across London and Brighton area – none of us actually lived in Belgravia.
Over that time the BBB Blades have grown to include children and recently, grandchildren of the original members. Most of us have season tickets and regularly meet up to get the 09.58 from St Pancras to Sheffield, returning on the 18.29 home. In most of those years we have suffered terrible results and cold, wet January nights in Gillingham. As a group we have followed the Blades in the play-offs six times and not won through on any of them – four times losing in the final.
Now we all have mobile phones but in the early days for away fixtures we would arrange to meet at the “third pub on left between station and ground” . It is astounding we all managed to keep meeting up with rendezvous like that. One of our favourites was the trip to Norwich via the buffet bar on Manningtree Station. Train tickets were cheaper if we bought London to Manningtree, then Manningtree to Norwich. After Tuesday night’s fantastic result against Bolton we are now into the countdown towards the game against Norwich. And yes, we have purchased the obligatory tickets for the 09.58 from St Pancras.
G: I like the cut of the jib of the BBB Blades, not least because I’m a sucker for a three-letter acronym – even one that contains the same three letters. You may pre-date mobile phones but with a TLA you’re more 21st century than you give yourselves credit for. Plus, a potted history of the BBB Blades was most welcome given all I was going to ask is ‘what’s your name and where do you come from?’
Oh yeah… football. Do we really have to talk about it? Was hoping maybe you could talk me through the delights of Sheffield, or South Yorkshire, or maybe get your thoughts on Brexit?
No? Okay… well, you seem to have the hang of this Championship lark. Away wins at this level are priceless and you already have two! Plus you’ve won three on the bounce at home. This is enough to make the sphincter tighten. Hopefully you’re going to tell me you’ve been scraping wins and and are due a slip up?
Pete: Sheffield is indeed a wonderful City on the edge on the Peak District. Did you catch the Full Monty? … lead character in that film was a Blade.
We have momentum, bucket loads of it and more to come. Our greatest player of all time Tony Currie (TC) has gone on record to say that, after just two Championship matches, the mighty Blades will gain automatic promotion by finishing in the top two.
This bold opinion is rapidly gaining credence amongst the gathering hordes and the growing banks of the proletariat (average home gate after three matches just over 26,000). TC’s theory is paralleled with two seasons 1989/90 and 1990/91, when the likes of Deane and Agana spearheaded the Blades two successive promotions.
We are now happily chanting “He’s only a Fat Lad from Sheffield” whilst Billy Sharpe and co show they are well capable of repeating this. We’ve been playing well this season.
Many, including our neighbours, The Pigs – aka Sheffield Wednesday, the equivalent of the Tractor Boys – said this we would really struggle in this league. Said there was a huge difference in the football you have to play in the Championship. They clearly weren’t watching the way we played and dominated League One – 100 pts and 99 goals. Its been great to see us carry that on. So no, we are not “scraping by and due a slip up” – well not yet anyway.
G: Hhmm… did suspect that’d be your answer. You’re confident I’ll give you that – and with good reason to be fair. Back in the day (2010/11) we did the promotion to the Prem having just been promoted from League One thing, so it’s not beyond the realms. And besides, if TC thinks it…
I’d like to be able to meet your bullishness head on but off the back of two consecutive away defeats in which we conceded four goals in each I’d be on dodgy ground. So for now I’ll just have to suck it up and hope two consecutive clean sheets in the last week in our two home games are a sign of things to come. Not sure even that will be sufficient to handle a rampant Billy Sharp and co though. Incidentally who are the ‘co’? Looking at your line-up at Bolton there are quite a few unfamiliar names (to me at least).
Pete: Our squad is very much a team. They play for each other as well as us fans and the club. The improvements (Chris) Wilder has sought to make to the squad this season have not been top names. Rather he has built on the proven formula of putting out a strong team of players who work well together.
Some of the comments during post match interviews reflect that. His latest being about Clayton Donaldson, a 33 yr old who still has the speed of a youngster, who scored twice on his debut – “not bad for £50 grand”. He struggled to get a game when he was at Birmingham but comes straight into the team and gets 2 goals. Unfortunately, he pulled a hamstring scoring the second goal so lets hope that’s not too serious.
But Cameron Carter-Vickers (on loan from Spurs) came in and netted one against Bolton. (Paul) Coutts has also stepped up to the mark this season. A lot of supporters were unhappy that we hadn’t signed any “big” names during the transfer window, but many others repeated that “in Wilder we trust”.
A couple of bigger buys didn’t happen because agents purportedly got involved and started making too many demands – Wilder said he wouldn’t be held to ransom like that. So far so good.
In Jake Wright we have a defender who is unbeaten in his last 31 appearances, 25 for us and the 6 prior to that for Oxford United. He last lost in Feb 2016 when playing for Oxford against Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town.
G: The Blades are in fine fettle for sure and there’ll be no ‘blunting’ jokes from me – not least because I’m not confident we will. We’ve undergone something of an off-field transformation ourselves, albeit the likes of 33-year old Donaldson would have been nowhere near our radar; youth rather than experience being the current modus operandi. There’s also been a strong Germanic theme to our summer’s recruitment which, if nothing else, has spawned a great terrace parody of Blur’s Parklife (listen out for it).
On the subject of which, what sort of atmosphere can the travelling Yellow Army expect tomorrow? You’ve already mentioned the crowd buying into what Chris Wilder is building, so I’m guessing you’re going to tell me the place will be rocking. Any room for the faint-hearted and lily-livered at Bramall Lane? You have to remember, we’re a sensitive bunch.
Pete: In the immortal words of Delia, “Come on, Lets be Avin you”……..
The atmosphere at Fortress Bramall Lane can be electric. We have the chant that’s been voted No 1 football chant which we sing often and loud,
You Fill Up My Senses,
Like a gallon of Magnet,
Like a packet of Woodbines,
Like a good pinch of snuff,
Like a night out in Sheffield,
Like a greasy chip butty,
Like Sheffield United,
Come Fill me again, nah nah nah nah nah nah nah,
Just in case you’ve never heard it, it’s sung to the tune of John Denver’s Annie’s Song. It will be launchpad for the Blades to ravage the Canaries on Saturday.
As United fans, we are particularly passionate and vocal about our club. This makes for a great atmosphere at games but also can make it somewhat intimidating for the away supporter. It is one of those grounds that by just listening to the crowd from outside, you can tell what was happening on the pitch.
Tottenham’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, recently hailed Bramall Lane as having the best atmosphere he has experienced in his time in England. Quite an accolade.
Our ground is steeped in history. While it opened in 1855 to host cricket, we first played football in the ground in 1862. This makes it the oldest major football ground in the world and remains the oldest major stadium in the world still to be hosting professional association football matches. If you take time to walk around the ground you can read the plaques of Bramall Lane “Firsts”. Amongst these you will read:
The Sheffield rules drawn up by Sheffield FC were the first official set of rules and laws for the game of football. In November 2007, Sheffield FC played matches against Internazionale and Ajax to celebrate their 150th anniversary with Pele as guest of honour. Sheffield United was formally formed in 1889 and celebrated:
First ground to host Yorkshire CCC match when they played Surrey in 1863.
First ground to host the World’s First football Cup Final in 1867.
First match in the world to be played under floodlights in 1878.
Bramall Lane is one of only two grounds (the other being the Oval) that has hosted England football internationals (five games prior to 1930), an England cricket Test Match (a single Test, in 1902, against Australia) and an FA Cup Final (the 1912 replay in which Barnsley beat West Bromwich Albion 1–0). It also regularly hosted FA Cup Semi-Finals and replays between 1889 and 1938.
So as we head towards Saturday, we have checked our train tickets are ready andthe season tickets are in the bag. We will be on the 09.58 from St Pancras where we will meet up with fellow BBBs – the usual mobile phone text and WhatsApp message exchange taking place on route.
We arrive to enjoy a quality pint in the Sheffield Tap on station. Then either a taxi to the Shakey pub and a long walk back down to Bramall Lane or a more leisurely walk to the ground calling in at Sentinel Craft Brewery to check out the latest brew. Then onto the Lane ready to raise our voices for the Anthem…
After the match we will walk back to the station calling in Sentinal and Tap again to enjoy a couple of pints and exchange some friendly banter with the Canaries. The obligatory dissection of all the major and sometimes minor, points of the game will continue to be discussed all the way to London.
If we’ve won we usually have an “industrial” whiskey at St Pancras Station. Though come to think of it, whatever the result we usually end the day this way. If we’ve won it tends to be the more expensive whiskey bar but is we’ve lost it will probably be the pub. Then we part ways and watch the Brighton contingent hurry off to catch a late train home where they usually have a kebab before sending one last exchange of messages on how the say went.
G: Remind me never to play ‘stadium Top Trumps’ with you! Although did King George VI ever visit the Lane? Or Take That? Or Elton John? Or Rod Stewart? Or JLS? (you’re nodding aren’t you).
And I’ll be honest here … your “Lets be ‘avin you” has been done a couple of times before 😉
But there’s no doubting Bramall Lane is a special place, which I do recall, from back in the day, generates a good, spiky atmosphere. I’m guessing the current stadium is, like Carrow Road; a ‘Trigger’s broom’ that has no original parts?
I’ll warn those who are travelling to pack their ear plugs along with their blankets and Thermos flasks.
In terms of the game itself, I’m loathe to ask you for a prediction on the grounds of not wanting to insult your intelligence. Every answer you’ve given me so far screams ‘BLADES TO WIN’, so perhaps you’ll allow me to narrow it down a bit and ask you by what score you think you’re going to win by?
Almost as an aside, we have this thing called ‘along come Norwich’ (good name for a website), which is how it invariably feels when we pitch up against a side who haven’t won for three years and then proceed to lose. What is relatively untested is how it works in reverse, when we face a team who is cock-a-hoop and has won four on the bounce. So… I’m pinning my hopes on some reverse psychology to prevent another miserable trip to Yorkshire.
Pete: Did I mention Springsteen’s played there and we’ve hosted Rugby League matches… Not to mention the spectacular night of world championship boxing when Kell Brook attempted to defend his IBF World Welterweight title against US star Errol Spence.
Unlike Carrow Road, Bramall Lane is very much still made up of the old buildings (albeit refurbished and painted) though of course the Cricket Pavilion was replaced by the beautiful South Stand in 1975.
I’ve done a poll amongst BBB Blades and the favourite result is a win but not all of us were that confident. I myself will go for a score of 3 – 1 with Sharp getting on the score sheet.
Its been really lovely chatting to you and remember, win lose or draw, we all support the beautiful game.
G: Thanks Pete. You were veering perilously close to ‘let’s hope football’s the real winner’ there but completely get your gist. Safe trip tomorrow, hope you enjoy Sheffield, the Lane, the beer and the whiskey… just not too much.