Sheffield United: Packed parade a fitting end to a champion year for Chris Wilder’s Blades

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder celebrates winning promotion to the Championship
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder celebrates winning promotion to the Championship
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They came from far and wide to salute their heroes; hanging from lampposts, walking on railings and stretching every nerve and sinew to catch a glimpse of Chris Wilder and his Sheffield United champions.

Sheffield turned red and white for the evening and, as the celebratory open-top bus snaked through the city centre weighed down by players, staff, media and champagne, the message was clear.

Sheffield Utd players during the open top bus parade from Bramall Lane Stadium to Sheffield Town Hall, Sheffield. Picture date: May 2nd 2017. Pic credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Sheffield Utd players during the open top bus parade from Bramall Lane Stadium to Sheffield Town Hall, Sheffield. Picture date: May 2nd 2017. Pic credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The Blades are back. And one man has led the way.

“He’s one of our own” has proved the backdrop to United’s charge - which turned into a saunter - towards to the title and although it’s tempting to wonder how many times he’s actually been called “Chrissy”, the sentiment is a genuine one.

Wilder - the Blades fan, former ballboy, ex-player - has now cemented his place in Bramall Lane folklore as the man who ended United’s extended, unhappy stay in League One, but the story of United’s remarkable season is about more than that.

It is one of healing wounds, reconnecting disenfranchised fans, players and staff. Making United united again.

For United’s fans it signalled an end to years in the footballing wilderness, season after season of the sleeping giant refusing to wake up. Wilder arrived, poked it straight between the eyes and rides it right back into the second tier.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, either. Wilder made all the right noises after succeeding Nigel Adkins in the Lane hotseat back in May last year but, after an inexplicable 11th-placed finish the season before, knew he needed results.

The opening-day defeat at Bolton was unfortunate, a late draw at home to Rochdale acceptable, a 3-0 defeat to Southend disastrous.

A late, cruel loss at Millwall left United bottom of the league table and some, Wilder no doubt included, wondering if he’d made the right call to leave Northampton.

A Sky reporter’s ill-judged decision to ask the Blades boss if he feared for his future at The Den nonetheless seemed ridiculous at the time, and even more so by the week as United - buoyed by victory against another of their manager’s former clubs in Oxford - never looked back.

Billy Sharp gets his hands on the trophy again

Billy Sharp gets his hands on the trophy again

A late Kieron Freeman winner on New Year’s Eve against Northampton at Bramall Lane ensured they ended 2016 top of League One, and it was a position they, remarkably, did not surrender for the rest of the season. Since their 2-0 home reverse to a resurgent Fleetwood on January 24, they haven’t lost a game and hit the 100 point barrier for the first time in their history with a last-day victory over Chesterfield.

Promotion was sealed much earlier, of course, to jubilant scenes at Northampton to rival those at Darlington and Leicester in years gone by. Wilder, a keen believer in working hard and playing harder, challenged his side to keep up the intensity in their four remaining games and, with occasional breaks for training and games in between the beers, they won all four, scoring three goals in each to finish 14 points ahead of second-placed Bolton, and 18 above Scunthorpe in third.

Billy Sharp, another boyhood Blade handed the captain’s armband at the start of the season, repaid the faith by becoming the first player since Keith Edwards in the early 1980s to score 30 goals.

He was one of five players named in the PFA’s divisional team of the year but it is a mark of United’s dominance that you could make a strong case for at least three more, with Jack O’Connell and Paul Coutts particularly be conspicuous by their absence and Jake Wright, brought to United as a squad player, who ended up playing 30 games without losing a single one.

Yesterday’s parade was a bittersweet affair for the members of Wilder’s squad likely to move on in the summer, but for others it marks the start of a bright new era; when they can look forward to trips to Villa Park, the Stadium of Light and Derby, rather than Port Vale, Southend and MK Dons.

For United’s fans it signalled an end to years in the footballing wilderness, season after season of the sleeping giant refusing to wake up. Wilder arrived, poked it straight between the eyes and rides it right back into the second tier.

Failed promotion attempts, the Ched Evans season, Nigel Adkins talking about the biggest room in a house being the room for improvement. All consigned to history now. This was a day for looking forward, as United fans came out in droves.

To hail their heroes. The division’s conquerors.

The champions.