Making sense among the chaos of a Steel City derby

Rob Kozluk
Rob Kozluk
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Before their coach had even left the car park, Sheffield United’s players began to sense something was not quite right.

By the time it reached Brook Hill roundabout, the halfway point between Bramall Lane and Hillsborough, some senior members of the squad felt compelled to speak out. Who was the stranger sitting next to the driver? And, more to the point, what exactly was he doing on their bus?

“To begin with, we thought a fan had been invited to join us,” Rob Kozluk remembers. “Because nobody recognised him. It turns out it was a guy called Darren Bullock who the gaffer had just signed from Bury and was actually in the team.”

Far from being the disaster some of Kozluk’s colleagues feared - “He’d not trained with us, we’d never even clapped eyes on him” - Bullock’s presence in the starting eleven turned-out to be a masterstroke.

Goals from Laurent D’Jaffo and Carl Asaba saw United beat their arch-rivals 2-1 in front of a near 40,000 crowd, with Gerald Sibon scoring Sheffield Wednesday’s consolation.

Sixteen years after that meeting, on 1 April 2001, Kozluk believes the ability to make sense of chaos could again decide the outcome when the two clubs clash tomorrow.

“These matches just go by in a blur,” the former United full-back admits. “The build up is brilliant, even the walk into the ground and the warm-up.

“But when the match gets underway, there’s so much emotion, everything seems to happen so quickly, that it’s difficult to remember much.”

Kozluk made nearly 250 appearances across two spells with United; the first of which, he is quick to remind, saw them enjoy the upper hand over their neighbours. Now aged 40, Kozluk insists the methods United employed back then are still effective now.

“Injuries, fitness, whatever, none of that comes into it,” he says. “Because you could run all day, play three games on the trot, in that atmosphere.

“The gaffer (Neil Warnock) used to get under their skin, he loved winding them up and used to deliberately get off the coach at their place last because he enjoyed taking all the stick.

“But basically, we just stayed together, got each other out of trouble and battled to the last.”