Take a look inside new Blades pub, opened on Bramall Lane by lifelong fan Carol Donaldson

Stepping into the newly-refurbished Railway Hotel, I’m greeted by a sea of red and white.
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The walls are covered with signed photographs and memorabilia, and the plush wraparound seating features the iconic stripes of the Sheffield United shirt.

Located directly across the street from the Bramall Lane stadium, there’s really no denying the theme.

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"The Blades are my life, my heart, my soul,” laughs new landlady Carol Donaldson.

Carol Donaldson is all ready for this weekend's openingCarol Donaldson is all ready for this weekend's opening
Carol Donaldson is all ready for this weekend's opening

"Everything I am has gone into this place, and I’m determined to make it the ultimate Blades pub in Sheffield.”

It was only a few weeks ago that Carol, well known in the city for running the popular Facebook group, Blade2Blade, heard that the Railway Hotel would be closing its doors for good.

Fans were left devastated by the announcement, after the former tenants revealed they were unable to overcome the crippling financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I thought, ‘I’m not letting that happen,’ Carol recalls.

The Railway HotelThe Railway Hotel
The Railway Hotel
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"I knew if I didn’t take it, it would be turned into a micro-pub or converted into flats, so I rang and made an appointment to look around.

"It was horrendous – dark and cramped with game machines and a pool table.

"I just knew I could make it the Blades pub it was meant to be, somewhere our boys and the fans could come and enjoy a drink and feel at home.

“There was a lot of initial interest, and quite a few posh-looking business people coming to interview for it, so when the owner asked me why I wanted it, I just spoke from the heart.

The 20ft mural on the pub wall, on Bramall LaneThe 20ft mural on the pub wall, on Bramall Lane
The 20ft mural on the pub wall, on Bramall Lane

“He handed me the keys there and then.”

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For the past five weeks, Carol has worked 12-14 hours a day, overhauling every aspect of the old pub in her very own red and white vision.

"It’s been a real nightmare, I’m not going to lie,” she laughs.

“The walls collapsed as we took the wallpaper off, the floorboards caved in, and the ball was all wobbly.”

One of the refurbished roomsOne of the refurbished rooms
One of the refurbished rooms

She indicates the gleaming white wood panelling: “Everything that’s now white has taken six or seven coats of paint to brighten it up.”

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Luckily for Carol, she had a big pool of support, from family, friends, and from her own fans.

"There are 9,000 members in the Blade2Blade group, and before I knew it, plasterers and joiners were getting in touch and offering me their services,” says Carol, who has been a Blades fan for more than 50 years.

Generous donations, of time and money, from Blade supporters across the city means the staggering transformation of the pub has all been possible for just £5,000.

"It’s not bad is it!” smiles Carol.

"Of course it isn’t done yet, the upstairs needs totally gutting, and I’d love to transform it into a function room with a big bar, but I need to rest up and save up before I start tackling that.

Artist Leigh Redhead - who goes by Trik09 - who painted the artwork at the newly refurbished pubArtist Leigh Redhead - who goes by Trik09 - who painted the artwork at the newly refurbished pub
Artist Leigh Redhead - who goes by Trik09 - who painted the artwork at the newly refurbished pub
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"This place has my savings and my heart all tied up in it, so I just hope people love it as much as I do.”

The five-week refurbishment has been made even more difficult by the fact that Carol is still in recovering from Covid-19.

"I’m still not 100 per cent, though I’m fighting fit compared to what I was,” says Carol, who was in hospital for eight weeks battling the virus earlier this year.

"I still can’t taste very well, my sense of smell hasn’t returned, and I get breathless a lot, but actually Covid-19 was one of the big inspirations behind my taking the pub on.

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"I just thought, ‘life is too short,’ and you can’t take your money with you.”

Of course Carol’s ultimate inspiration for everything is the memory of her daughter, Tanya, who died in 2009, aged 24, after living with a growth disorder that was so rare, doctors named it after her.

“Tanya is always at the heart of everything I do,” Carol confirms, as she looks around the room.

"She was a people person, so she would have loved this place.”

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And Carol has made sure there is a little something of Tanya in the pub, hiring a local artist to paint a mural on the building outside, which she says captures her daughter’s spirit.

"It’s Tanya, as I believe she would have been if she’d grown up,” Carol explains, walking me out into the courtyard and indicating a beautiful 20ft painting of a smiling girl, wearing a Blades shirt and hat, and holding a football in each hand.

"It’s not her face, I didn’t want to be morbid, but I asked the artist, Leigh, to capture her spirit for me, and he did a beautiful job.

“It’s one of my favourite parts of the pub.”

And though the pub re-launches this weekend, Carol says people have been popping in all week, unable to resist a sneak peek.

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"I’ve had fans and players pop their heads in, everybody is excited for opening day,” says Carol, who lives in Waterthorpe.

"Billy Sharp, who’s my absolute favourite, pulled up outside and gave me a huge thumbs up and said the place looks great.

"That made my day.”

And for those paying a visit in the next few weeks, Carol says she’ll be a familiar sight.

"I’m not afraid of hard work, I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’m ready to get stuck in here too.

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"It’s been nearly 20 years since I last did bar work, so I’ve been brushing up my skills for the opening.

"The best part, of course, is the location – I’ll be the first one over the road on match days!”

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