Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Why Blades' friendly against Inter Milan at Bramall Lane reminds me of an Anglo-Italian Cup 'classic' of yesteryear...

Kevin Gage Column
Kevin Gage Column
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OMG! Inter Milan at the Lane! A game everyone is excited about and looking forward to, and a chance to see our Blades boys against truly top class international opposition from Serie A!

A bit like the old Anglo-Italian Cup of yesteryear, then? Er, NO! Not at all in fact!

Basically, none of the players back then in late 1994 were remotely interested in having to take part in the competition.

We were in the middle of a tough league campaign to try to regain our Premier League status, dramatically lost the season before. In my eyes at least, the distraction and irrelevance of a few games in a meaningless cup was the last thing we needed, but we had to be professional and fulfill the fixture and compete, obviously.

Well, that was the idea. It didn’t quite turn out like that...

It’s been nearly 25 years since the infamous home game against Udinese but I remember it vividly, for all the wrong reasons. I remember watching incredulously as my team mates Glyn Hodges, Charlie Hartfield and Nathan Blake got sent off for various offences, and to cap it off our quiet unassuming ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt’ manager Dave Bassett was also sent to the dressing room for making a ‘hand gesture’ to the referee. I doubt he was waving to him!

I can’t remember how many of our three players were sent off by half-time and it must have been at least two, but I do remember being absolutely livid as I walked into the dressing room, shouting and throwing my toys out the pram, asking why they’d been such idiots to get sent off and suspended for future important league games.

I was known for usually being quite calm and collected so I think I surprised a few people in there with my reactions. It certainly surprised Bassett, who then proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms to sit down and shut up as the sending-offs didn’t count in Football League matches! Oops… I was that wound up through the first half I hadn’t thought it through!

So, we trudged out for the second half realising that we’d spend the vast majority of it running about chasing shadows as they made their big numerical advantage count. For maybe 10-15 minutes we tried to compete and press the ball but they just kept possession and played round us.

As a contest it was over. I remember asking myself what the hell I was actually bothering to run about for, and contemplated getting deliberately sent off myself (as I later realised Hodges probably had!) to save myself for the next league match. I think I must have decided to just sit in my position and get through the game and to be fair I think the Udinese players were of a similar mindset.

Glyn Hodges

Glyn Hodges

They seemed to be happy to just knock the ball about, not really troubling our defence or goal much at all. It turned into a training ground type ‘keep-ball’ session for them and we were the muppets in the middle trying to win it back! Looking through the records, it shows we lost 2-1. I’m sure if they’d wanted to score half a dozen goals they could have and to be honest, we’d have been happy to let them.

Game over then, and whilst we were having our traditional post-game beer in the old, small and cramped players' lounge at the top of the South Stand, lo and behold, all the Udinese players walk in, to a frosty reception to say the least!

After a few seconds of uneasy silence, Hodges got them a crate of beer from behind the bar and proceeded to tell them that we’d all enjoyed their company, it had been a jolly good game and maybe it would be a good idea if they vacated the premise... or words to that effect! I think the last word he used was ‘off'...

They say history always repeats itself? Not this time I sincerely hope! Up the Blades.

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield. @ManorHouse_S18. Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev