Sheffield United Fan’s Column: Billy Sharp can become a Blades legend

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I wrote this in Flashing Blade No.91 in October 2003:

“(United’s) Under-19s are riding high in the FA Academy League, largely thanks to Billy Sharp, who can’t stop scoring goals. He played for the under-19s at seventeen years old - now here’s a lad who just has to succeed and have a long career with the Blades. He’s a headline writer’s dream!”

If ever a striker was destined to do well for the Blades it was a man called Sharp. Well, he is doing well, but only after a fashion, a couple of false starts, and a long time elsewhere. Turning 31 last week, Sharp is now passing through the phase where ‘experienced’ becomes ‘veteran’, but he’s not quite the latter yet. I remember his league debut, in the last game of the 2004/05 season at Molineux (when, incidentally, a young Leon Clarke scored for Wolves), but Neil Warnock had little time for teenagers as United pushed – successfully – for promotion the following season.

A successful loan spell at Rushden and Diamonds was followed by a £100,000 transfer to Scunthorpe United, whom he fired to promotion. United’s return to the Championship was supposed to be brief; big money was spent on Bryan Robson and James Beattie, and the return of the prodigal – Sharp – for £1.6 million as Beattie’s sidekick was meant to guarantee goals. It didn’t work. Sharp struggled, and only hit form after Robson was sacked. As a homegrown Blade, Sharp was forgiven. It was all Robson’s fault for not playing to his strengths.

But 2008/09 – a hat-trick against QPR apart – did not go swimmingly under new manager Kevin Blackwell. Sharp missed the play-off final through injury, and went on a season-long loan to Doncaster Rovers in the summer, before signing for them for £1.5 million in 2010. His goal against the Blades the following season helped send United down, which didn’t go down well with Blades fans, especially when he uncovered a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Fat Lad From Sheffield”.

Blades fans reconnected with Sharp in sad circumstances by applauding for a minute and chanting his name in the 24th minute (his shirt number) of a game at Stevenage a few days after the death of his baby son Luey in late 2011. It seemed at that moment that Billy was destined to play for us again. It took a while, but he became reacquainted with his former manager at Southampton, Nigel Adkins, at the Lane in 2015.

Despite scoring 20 goals last season, Sharp was often a frustrated and exasperated figure as passes either never arrived or went sailing over his head. He was the sole player of the season candidate in a dreadful nine months for the club. Rejuvenated by Chris Wilder and being given the captaincy, Sharp is now the best striker in League One (sorry Josh Morris). If everything goes well, he could have 30 goals by the end of the season.

But still I hear people moaning about him. It reminds me of that famous line somebody came out with about Keith Edwards: “What does Edwards bring to the team? All he ever does is score goals.” Sharp does more than that, and if he leads United to promotion he deserves to be bracketed with Edwards and Brian Deane as a Blades legend.