Greatest teams: The chosen ones

Ron Atkinson.
Ron Atkinson.
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You voted in your droves ... and here’s what you decided. Today we publish the greatest post-war Owls and Blades teams as selected by our readers during the last three months of voting.

It’s a debate always doing the rounds in pubs and workplaces among football fans across the region, and you couldn’t wait to tell us who you thought should be in the final selection. Some great names made it into the sides, but some legends missed out. Not everyone will agree with the line-ups, but no-one will dispute here are two teams bursting with talent from the past 65 years

HOW Neil Warnock, Sheffield United’s greatest post-war manager according to our readers’ poll, would enjoy leading this team into battle.

Neil Warnock.

Neil Warnock.

With names such as Tony Currie and Joe Shaw at his disposal, the 62-year-old would be confident of bringing Premier League football back to Bramall Lane within two seasons.

Fantasty football in every sense of the word.

It speaks volumes for the quality of the options that the likes of Jimmy Hagan and Alan Hodgkinson - United legends both – have missed out on places in the final starting XI.

But with Chris Morgan snapping at the heels of opposition forwards, Trevor Hockey doing the same in midfield and Keith Edwards sniffing out chances in the box, this imaginary line-up still oozes quality.

Of course, every successful team is built upon a solid defence.

Alan Kelly, who won more than 30 caps for the Republic of Ireland and travelled to two World Cups, certainly provides a rock-solid base.

Having made 214 league appearances for United between 1992 and 1999, he still serves his country with distinction as a member of Giovanni Trapattoni’s backroom staff.

Len Badger, Morgan and the two Shaw’s – Graham and Joe – complete the quintet.

Badger, a dyed-in-the-wool Unitedite, is still a familiar figure around the football club and recently spoke in passionate terms about his love for the Blades.

“When I was an apprentice I used to polish boots until the couldn’t shine any more,” he told this newspaper. “I did it because they were United boots.”

More importantly, he was a damn fine right-back who also also enjoyed roaming forward.

Morgan, of course, needs no introduction to the current generation of United followers.

He’s a fiercely competitive centre-half, and the fact his absence through injury is cited as one of the main reasons behind his colleagues’ relegation from the Championship last term also speaks volumes about his quality.

Graham Shaw’s qualities, which included pace and an ability to place a pass, saw him capped five times by England before leaving United for Doncaster Rovers in 1967.

Inexplicably, international honours eluded Joe throughout his 714 United appearances.

Born in County Durham, he moved to South Yorkshire after impressing for Upton Colliery and having initially started his career as an inside-forward, made his debut against Liverpool at left-back.

Alan Woodward operated as United’s outside right for 16 years before heading to America with the Tulsa Roughnecks. He also made his league debut against the Merseysiders and went on to score 158 times in nearly 600 appearances.

Hockey also travelled to the States towards the end of his career.

But not before becoming a cult hero with United fans.

Despite making less than 70 league appearances for the club, his industry, persistence and endeavour saw him win the respect of supporters and opponents alike.

Certainly Currie, perhaps the most gifted individual ever to pull on the famous red and white stripes, benefited from Hockey’s no-holds-barred approach.

Although, arguably, he would have bamboozled opponents single-handedly.

Indeed, one of the biggest mysteries of 70s football is how Currie and his contemporary, Alan Hudson, only won a combined 19 England caps.

Seventeen of those still reside on Currie’s mantlepiece.

But it’s a criminally small collection for someone who, one respected observer said at the time, “could make the ball do exactly what he wanted”.

With run-of-the-mill midfielders routinely costing £20 million now, how much would Currie have cost now?

Certainly more than the £26,500 it reportedly cost United to secure his services from Watford in 1968.

Dane Whitehouse, like Badger, was a United follower as well as a player.

Having twice hit the target against arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday during the 1991-92 campaign, he went on to enjoy a career which, but for some debilitating injuries, could have been lifted straight from the pages of a Boys Own annual.

He rejected opportunities to leave United on numerous occasions, especially after they were relegated from the top-flight in the 90s, only for a knee problem cruelly cut short his time at Bramall Lane in 2000.

Edwards, having netted a remarkable 171 times in only 293 games for United, would also have cost a fortune in the modern era.

His first spell in South Yorkshire lasted from 1975 to 1978 before Hull City came calling.

He returned in 1981 before leaving for Leeds in 1986.

Renowned for his anticipation and ability to lose a marker, Edwards spearheaded United’s climb out of the lower divisions.

Briane Deane, whose partnership with Tony Agana will live long in the memory at Bramall Lane, signed for United three times.

He was courted by Warnock in 2005, just before the now Queens Park Rangers chief won promotion to the Premier League.

Thirteen years earlier, Deane, capped three times by England, had written his name into the record books by scoring the first ever goal in the FAPL.

It was one of 195 he claimed in the league throughout his career.

Having arrived from Doncaster Rovers in 1988, he followed the now well-worn route to Elland Road in 1993 before returning in 1997.

The decision to transfer Deane to Benfica a year later caused an outcry on the terraces.

But the fact that a club of such stature were even interested in signing him revealed the respect and admiration he enjoyed within the game before retiring in 2006.

IT would be easy to pick more than one great team from all the players who have represented the Owls since World War Two.

But the one selected by our readers would probably be a match for any.

Goals and flair would be almost assured, with Chris Waddle, John Sheridan, David Hirst and Paolo Di Canio on the field.

One of the surprises is that only three of the 1961 side who finished runners-up to Double-winning Spurs have made the line-up.

Ron Springett, one of them, stands out as the outstanding goalkeeper of the relevant era, an England regular and brilliant player who beat Chris Woods, Martin Hodge and Kevin Pressman in our poll.

For the right-back spot, anybody who has seen the Owls performing over the last 30 years would probably see it as a two-horse race between Roland Nilsson and Mel Sterland,

For me, it would boil down to a choice between a classy defender and passer, and a swashbuckler who could score goals - a difficult choice, but it you were going to have a team that already had attacking flair - as our readers’ choice has - then the selection of Nilsson is logical.

Wilf Smith and Ron Staniforth did not make it.

Voters had a problem that managers don’t have: They were asked to pick from four names, week by week for each position, without knowing who the later candidates would be - this could affect the balance of the team.

It does not look overblessed with height for set-pieces, attacking or defending - something a modern-day team of tall athletes might exploit.

But there is an abundance of talent.

The left-back choice could be seen as a surprise - though Nigel Worthington’s 10 years of solid service cannot be judged lightly, even when up against the record of a 60s hero, Don Megson. The other candidates were Andy Hichcliffe and Norman Curtis.

So our Dream Team has the same full-back pairing that served the club so well in the early 90s.

At centre-half, Peter Swan, from the 1961 team, and Des Walker, both England players, would be a terrific combination, with Walker’s pace complementing Swan’s dominance.

Their selection meant no room for Mike Lyons, Nigel Pearson, Vic Mobley, Peter Shirtliff, Mark Smith and Gerry Young.

On the right wing, Chris Waddle was the stand-out candidate, a genius on his day and the only Wednesday player to win the Footballer of the Year award, voted by the country’s football writers.

Our readers gave him more votes than Terry Curran, Brian Marwood and Derek Wilkinson.

The selection of Dennis Woodhead on the left wing could be seen as a surprise as he was up against Alan Finney, a member of the 1961 team, who played more than 500 games for the club.

Finney could play on the left but was known mainly as a right winger - whereas Woodhead was a leftie with pace and a powerful shot and would be another element of our Dream Team’s attacking thrust.

There just had to be room somewhere for Tony Kay, a half-back of the 1961 side, and there is, in midfield, where his all-round class would complement the vision and passing of John Sheridan.

The ones who missed out were Carlton Palmer, Tom McAnearney, Bobby Craig, Peter Eustace, Tommy Craig and Albert Quixall.

The decisions about the striker spots were perhaps the hardest of the lot.

David Hirst, a tremendous performer in his playing days and a well-loved personality ever since, makes the team. So does the extraordinary Paolo Di Canio.

They actually started three games together, when Di Canio had just begun his brief stay at Hillsborough, and not long before Hirst left.

Strikers who missed out on a place in our readers’ team were Derek Dooley, Bronco Layne, Mark Bright, Redfern Froggatt, Jackie Sewell and record scorer John Fantham.

A striker hunt has occupied much of the present-day Owls’ summer, How manager Gary Megson would have loved to add a player of the above eight’s calibre to his squad!

As manager, you opted for Ron Atkinson - the man with the distinction of having led the Owls to their only major trophy of the last 76 years, the League Cup in 1991.

His first job was to steer the club away from relegation trouble in the old Second Division: he put together a team that achieved that.

There is a blot on his record. Towards the end of an undistinguished 1989-90 season the Owls appeared to have made themselves safe with six games to go. But they lost five of them and went down.

But then came one of the most exhilarating seasons of the last 30 years.

Playing some sublime attacking football, and with signings that included men such as John Sheridan, Roland Nilsson, Carlton Palmer, Trevor Francis, Viv Anderson and John Harkes, Wednesday won promotion at the first attempt, as well as beating Manchester United at Wembley.

Big Ron controversially quit to join Aston Villa. He was re-appointed at Hillsborough in 1997 after the sacking of David Pleat and kept the club in the Premier League, but his contract was not renewed as Wednesday looked for a fresh start.