James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: My six issues to address in 2017

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Second in the table, one point behind leaders Scunthorpe and twenty-three matches left to play.

Sheffield United will enter the New Year, regardless of tomorrow’s result against Northampton Town, well-placed to mount a serious challenge for the Championship next season. And so do not need any sporting advice from me. So, rather than spend the next 400 or so words stating the bleeding obvious, telling players and coaching staff who clearly have a grasp of their brief the best way to win games, I thought I’d compile a list of six non-footballing issues Bramall Lane should address in 2017.

Sheffield United appear to have a pretty good grasp of their footballing brief. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Sheffield United appear to have a pretty good grasp of their footballing brief. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Embrace the past: Every club, from Real Madrid to MK Dons, has a history. Some, though, choose to shout about it more than others. Rather than name stands after sponsors, why not honour former greats by using their monikers instead? Also, invite a group of former players to attend each fixture and meet supporters and the opposition beforehand. Like Celtic used to do with the Lisbon Lions. Fans loved it. Visiting players were intimidated by it.

Make plans to appoint a director of football: They only work if they have the manager’s trust and were involved in their appointment so, perhaps, this particular horse has bolted for now. But there is nothing to stop Bramall Lane’s hierarchy setting the wheels in motion. There are plenty of excellent candidates, including many who have represented the club, and it would prove a smart move long-term. Particularly if United return to the Championship and then continue to progress.

Draw-up a written constitution: If United are promoted, it is probably only a matter of time before potential buyers start circling Bramall Lane. But new money is not, as the likes of ADO Den Haag have discovered, is not always a good thing. Bundesliga clubs prosper even though they have a 50+1 rule. United should launch a membership scheme which protects them from the influence of external investors.

Launch a protection racket: Nineteen years ago, Chelsea launched a pitch owners scheme which means its shareholders, or in other words the fans, own the freehold to Stamford Bridge and the club’s naming rights. Who knows what the future holds at Bramall Lane but, by following suit, United could ensure they are not left vulnerable to the whims of hostile property developers or the empty pockets of a future owner whose motives might not be the same as Kevin McCabe’s.

Sheffield United enter tomorrow's game second in the League One table Pic David Klein/Sportimage

Sheffield United enter tomorrow's game second in the League One table Pic David Klein/Sportimage

Take a look at the matchday experience: Time and money are precious commodities these days. So why not, to help young families or single parents attend fixtures, organise a professionally staffed creche facility for youngsters during games? It would cost but potentially bring even more people through the turnstiles and help attract a new generation of supporters.

Reaffirm their commitment to the academy: United’s academy is regarded by most independent observers as the finest in the region. Coaching staff, preferably via directives from a director of football, should be reminded that the youth system should be the first port of call when short-term injuries bite. And why not televise under-18 and under-23 fixtures via YouTube? It would raise profile, possibly act as a powerful recruitment tool and generate funding via the sale of advertising hoardings too.

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