Retro: The Boss of Bramall Lane

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88,000 fans packed in to Sheffield United’s stadium to see the rock ‘n’ roll legend on two memorable nights.

His nickname is The Boss, and 25 years ago tonight rock n roll legend Bruce Springsteen was certainly in charge at Bramall Lane.

Bruce Springsteen in concert at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, July 1988

Bruce Springsteen in concert at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, July 1988

The Born To Run superstar was playing the second of two consecutive sell-out shows at Sheffield United’s stadium. Some 44,000 fans attended each evening on July 9 and 10, 1988 – making the two gigs the biggest rock concerts ever held in the city before or since.

“He came, he saw, he conquered – and left Sheffield panting for more,” declared The Star’s breathless reviewer.

Now to mark the silver anniversary, Midweek Retro brings you these pictures taken by our snappers stationed down the front. They capture both Springsteen and his backing group the E Street Band, as well as showing the sheer size of the crowd itself.

“It was an experience and a fantastic event, seeing all the people, and such noise,” says Andy Daykin, who was then commercial manager at Sheffield United before he swapped colours to do the same job at Hillsborough. “I had never heard anything like it. I was so proud we got off the ground. We had 44,000 in two nights running. You would never get that capacity now.”

Bruce Springsteen in concert at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, July 1988'Crowd scene

Bruce Springsteen in concert at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, July 1988'Crowd scene

It didn’t run without the odd complication, of course.

There was some controversy when it emerged fans buying tickets with credit cards would have to pay an extra £3 – a new charge called an administration fee. Concerns about excessive noise also seemed well founded when police received a call from a Manor resident complaining a neighbour was playing a radio too loudly. He was told the ‘radio’ was Bruce Springsteen and there was not much could be done.

The Bramall Lane pitch, meanwhile, had to be reseeded afterwards because so many fans had urinated on it. Police also felt it necessary to warn that anyone caught with tape recorders would have them confiscated to avoid bootlegs being made.

But these were minor quibbles.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band performs during the Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., Saturday, June 13, 2009.  (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band performs during the Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., Saturday, June 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

The two gigs – part of New Jersey-born Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love tour – were almost overwhelmingly well received. Songs such as Born In The USA, You Can Look But You Better Not Touch and encore Twist And Shout were sung back with gusto.

“Springsteen proved exactly why he is the world’s most popular rock singer,” said that Star reviewer John Quinn. “The sets, each lasting almost four hours, exceeded all expectations. By the very final song even the police and security staff were dancing with the best of them.”

Biggest concerts of their lives

The Star’s then pop writer John Quinn was at both the landmark Bramall Lane gigs. Here he recalls the weekend...

“A quarter of a century on from Springsteen’s double date in Sheffield it is easy to forget what a big deal it was at the time. However, it was several years before the Arena opened and therefore extremely rare for artists of that magnitude to appear here.

“To see the real superstars play, Sheffielders usually had to travel to Manchester or Leeds. In addition, Sheffield United had just been relegated to the old Third Division so it was probably the only joyful thing to happen at Bramall Lane for a long time.

“Stadium rock was never my scene but having been recently appointed as The Star’s pop writer I was compelled to go – and I surprised myself by rather enjoying it. There’s just something about being a member of a huge crowd there to worship an idol that tends to drag you in.

“The morning of the first local show saw a definite sense of occasion in the city, with queues building up outside in the Lane early in the morning. It was a lovely day and by the time the star hit the stage the crowd was reaching boiling point.

“Springsteen was in a chatty mood that first night and charmed the audience with his anecdotes. On the Sunday he was less communicative as if he wanted to let the music do the talking, but no-one in the crowd complained about that.

“For some it was the biggest event they had seen in their lives and proof of the power of rock and pop.”

What happened next

Springsteen continued to do all right for himself.

Nine days later he played East Berlin in front of 300,000 youngsters from across then communist East Germany. He was one of the only western rock stars ever allowed to perform there, and told the crowd: “I’m not here for any government. I’ve come to play rock’n’roll in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”

It proved prophetic, a year later the Berlin Wall would indeed fall.

It is said Springsteen’s gig was one more nail in its coffin.

Since then, The Boss has sold 120 million records worldwide and been honoured with some 20 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes and an Academy Award.

Bramall Lane, on the other hand, has never held another concert.

Despite just seven arrests on the night and talk of the stadium being established as major music venue, nearby residents united to put pressure on the council that such a gig should not be repeated. They won their fight.