James Shield’s Sheffield United’s Column: The club of the people has the common touch

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Not so long ago, as the beer flowed and celebrations continued following Sheffield United’s League One title triumph, a picture started doing the rounds on social media.

It captured the moment Billy Sharp, Chris Wilder’s captain and dyed-in-the-wool Blade, performed a medley of the club’s most famous terrace anthems for fellow supporters in a local pub.

Billy Sharp leads a pub singsong.

Billy Sharp leads a pub singsong.

Cue the predictable comments from the killjoys and professionally offended, who think professional sports people should never been seen doing anything more dangerous than adding an extra dash of milk to their Ovaltine. Cue a few sneers from snobs, who confuse a footballer’s worth with their choice of drinking establishment, too.

Personally, I thought it was brilliant and, in an era where those who kick a ball around for a living are growing increasingly divorced from the fans, revealed why this United squad boasts such a strong connection with its followers. A bond which, without wishing to enter the realms of sycophancy or cliché, helped power them towards promotion every bit as much as performances on the pitch and Wilder’s pragmatism in the transfer market. (Players are now signed because they are viewed as being fit for purpose, not because of what they achieved in the past).

Those who enjoy positions of power within the game ignore the paying public at their peril. Excuses will be made for pompous behaviour when times are good. But not, as every professional experiences at some point, when they are bad. After all, they play sport for a living. Something which has the power to touch millions of lives but, behind the hyperbole, is less important than, say, bringing peace to the Middle East. It is there to be enjoyed.

I always remember, way back in my youth, watching a player hack his way through matches on a weekly basis for a top-flight side.

Billy Sharp of Sheffield Utd takes a selfie with his fellow fans: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Billy Sharp of Sheffield Utd takes a selfie with his fellow fans: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Known as a trier rather than a talent when he arrived, it quickly became apparent the individual in question was even more limited than first feared. But the crowd stuck by him through thin and thin because he put in the maximum amount of effort and had the common touch.

The same goes for Wilder and his charges. Who, fortunately, possess lots of ability too. Nor is the normality faked. They are just a bunch of blokes. Warts and all.

I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to label United as Sheffield’s very own People’s club. But, on the evidence of the past few weeks, they definitely are a club of the people.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder celebrates winning promotion to the Championship

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder celebrates winning promotion to the Championship