TALK of supporters being a team’s 12th man is usually dismissed as the type of tired old clap-trap trotted out by media weary footballers.
But, like all the best cliches, it contains an element of truth.
As Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday prepare to lock horns in Sunday’s Steel City derby, Brian Deane and Tony Agana, whose attacking partnership remains the stuff of legend at Bramall Lane, have told their former club’s followers that they are eminently capable of influencing the final result.
“If you’ve got the crowd behind you, if you can look one of them directly in the eyes and know that you are capable of making their dreams come true, then I defy anyone to say it doesn’t get your blood pumping,” said Deane.
“If you’ve got a crowd behind you then it definitely does have a positive effect and, equally so, it can have a detrimental effect upon the opposition.
“If everyone is behind you then the adrenaline starts pumping, you feel a foot taller and there’s an extra spring in your step.
Deane, who scored 120 goals in 268 starts for United and Agana, whose CV records 51 in 135, were both members of the side which secured promotion to the top flight with a 5-2 victory over Leicester City 21 years ago.
“If fans need to know anything about how they can change a game then they need only look back to that day,” Agana said. “There were something like 10,000 who travelled to watch us and we knew that if we won we were going up.
“We went a goal down and, rather than getting on our backs, the noise from our end just got louder and louder.
“The hairs on the back of my neck were just stood on end and it definitely made a difference.”
“I’m not saying if they hadn’t got behind us that we wouldn’t have won,” Deane added. “But we might have drawn because the backing we got certainly spurred us on.”
This weekend’s contest promises to be even more gladiatorial than that momentous afternoon at Filbert Street.
Agana, who left United 18 months after netting twice against David Pleat’s side, said: “You just look at a player if the crowd is chanting their name beforehand. Their chest is going to be puffed out and they are going to be loving it.
“It’s impossible to describe how good that feels. These games are a chance for players to make history.
“That’s why it’s so important for the crowd to stay positive even when things aren’t going well because, I can say from experience, if they’re nervous or edgy then it transmits to players.”
Deane, who enjoyed three spells at United during a career which spanned two decades and 10 clubs, said: “Some players are going to thrive on atmospheres like this and it’s up to them to help the ones who don’t to get through.
“If you’re not psyched up then you’ll be behind before you know it.”