Sheffield United: Togetherness and team spirit key to League One title win, says skipper Billy Sharp
It was a season that, for many Sheffield United fans, will live long in the memory.
But United’s remarkable, record-breaking League One title win also captured the hearts, minds and, it must be said, livers of fans to such an extent that many parts of it will simply be a blur.
So United brought it to book, in the shape of ‘Centurions’ - a 116-page, photo-led story of the season from the perspective of Blades skipper Billy Sharp, who scored 30 goals, captained his hometown club to the league title and then sat down with Kevin Cookson, United’s press chief, to relive the experience all over again.
“So many highlights, so many memories,” Sharp writes in the foreward.
“Where do I start? I have to say that, without a shadow of a doubt, the 2016-17 campaign has been my most memorable. Bar none.
“On a personal level and as part of a special set of lads, it has been as near perfection as you can get in professional football. I wish we could do it all again, now.”
As Sharp notes, there “was a bit of turbulence along the way” - United found themselves bottom of the league after four games, with a solitary point to their name - before sealing promotion with four to spare.
“Records galore were broken; the most wins in a season, the most away victories and more doubles than any other Sheffield United side in history - all great achievements to have on your CV,” Sharp added.
“But even after we won the title, we were not finished, there were three games to go and the gaffer highlighted the fact that we could reach the milestone of 100 points... a feat never achieved by any Sheffield United team and only by a the handful of others throughout the English professional game.
“We celebrated our success but were mindful that the gaffer would not let us ease off. He wanted 100 points and continually reminded us of the fact, saying that we could go down in history.”
They did so the hard way, a 3-2 victory over relegated Chesterfield at a packed Bramall Lane on the final day of the season; perhaps a fitting end to a campaign which combined both invention and industry in almost equal measure.
Cue delirium. Sharp and boss Chris Wilder posed proudly with the League One trophy in front of the Kop, once their vantage point to watch their own heroes. Kieron Freeman chased one of his infant daughters, who roamed the Bramall Lane turf with almost as much conviction as her 11-goal dad had all season. And Leon Clarke finally mastered the champagne spray, after a fair few chances to practise.
The trophy lift and subsequent celebrations feature prominently in the book, as does Wilder’s Italian lager of choice, whose sales in Sheffield will have spiked sharply and who must surely be contemplating a change of motto from Nastro Azzurro [blue ribbon] to red.
But so, too, do the lows, like Jack O’Connell’s inexplicable handball against Millwall which condemned United to an injury-time defeat - “We have a laugh that Jack’s brother played in his place during the first couple of games,” Sharp jokes - and the downright bizarre at Coventry, when a pitch invasion halted play and Sharp later nicked a late winner.
“That togetherness should not be underestimated,” Sharp continued.
“We created a spirit that goes a long way - team-mates and mates. The gaffer put together an incredible squad with the resources available. In two transfer windows he transformed the club and this fat lad from Sheffield was lucky enough to captain them.
“I had an unbelievable season on a personal level, 30 goals, surpassing 200 career goals and a number of personal accolades, but I couldn’t have done it without the lads.”
“This book was borne out of a conversation with our press officer around Christmas 2016, just as we were reaching the top of the league,” Wilder adds in his own introduction.
“At that point, I had no idea the heights that we would reach but I knew this was a special group. I mentioned that, if we were to be successful, it would be a nice memento for the lads to have some photographs of the achievement.”
Expect to be stirred by stunning goals. Joyous celebrations. Hope. Despair. Wilder nicking the Lord Mayor’s hat. Dodgy Las Vegas outfits.
And most of all, memories of a season that will never be forgotten.
n ‘Centurions’ is available from the Blades Superstore or online, priced at £15.