Sheffield United and Wednesday's owners have been served a warning they must need

Sheffield may be about to suffer an unwanted footballing first but a prize even more sacred to this city’s heritage is intact.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 12:00 pm

There is something strangely glorious about a relegation, even the likelihood of a double one, in maintaining a sporting integrity threatened by a collapsed and contemptible plan for a European “super league.”

This might be a season of shame in Sheffield football but there are far greater falls from grace in the game we love right now as the biggest tails fall between legs.

At least even the prospect of the first ever double relegation in the city that fathered football cannot be compared with the insidious actions of those clubs who have tried to bastardise it.

Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Some Premier League players wore shirts this week spelling out their thoughts on the European Super League. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)

While being prepared to honour the spirit of competition is hardly a cause for celebration at this time, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday will remain proud sporting institutions.

Those names won’t die. Singly, they have each known times as hard or harder. Together, they will be back, sooner or later, at a level far more befitting of the city’s traditions and status.

There is shame but, in a more important sense, no reason to feel ashamed. Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, among failed European Super League founders who weren’t prepared to accept that losers are relegated and winners are promoted.

These self-appointed “elite” clubs, some with no justification for such grandeur, wanted to have their own ball to play with and true football fans everywhere told them where to kick it.

We told them that If it bounced over to our side of the fence, they needn’t come knocking for it. We’d gladly kick it back.

Which reminds me that there was a time, less than three decades ago, when Sheffield had a side that could claim to have been a member of England’s “Big Six.”

In season 1991-92, Wednesday followed up promotion and lifting the League Cup by finishing third in the top flight.

The following year they reached the final of both domestic cup competitions while being placed seventh in the inaugural Premier League.

They were paying big fees for some of the game’s top stars, notably Chris Waddle and Des Walker. Hillsborough was close to full for most matches.

Not forgetting that, for a four-year span and on far lesser resources, Sheffield United were fellow members of the Premier League in this era.

It remains far and away the city’s peak during my working life, seemingly so distant now but a future goal the likes of today’s so-called “Big Six” have tried - and failed as their plans crumble - to remove.

However, there is a warning for the city, and the game as a whole, in how this sorry state of affairs has come to exist.

Would some of those clubs who have spoken out in revulsion have been tempted if the ever-changing big six wheel had spun round to them? I’ve heard of similar secret plots dating back as far as 1985, a time when the Owls were also flying high.

But clubs were essentially locally run at that time and a domestic upheaval in the shape of the Premier League resulted.

Today’s rumpus is the product of wealthy foreign owners, and business institutions, who by their actions, have demonstrated a total lack of empathy for the game and its lifeblood of working class football support.

I’m not suggesting that either of our clubs’ owners, based in Saudi Arabia and Thailand, lack a respect for our game or would ever have entertained such a divisive proposal.

Bramall Lane’s ruler, Prince Abdullah, is a football enthusiast. At Hillsborough, Dejphon Chansiri, while relatively new to it, has poured millions into a committed attempt to fulfil thousands of dreams.

If the pair’s decision-making, particularly in the case of the latter, can be seriously called into question, there is no evidence - so far anyway - that their intentions haven’t been good.

But is it good for the game generally to have owners who are so remote, both geographically and in terms of football’s history in this country?

And in both cases they appear not to have listened to various outcries from supporters of their clubs, or either listened and ignored.

In that, there is a thread to the ESL, though I must stress only a single and slender one.

The clamour from Wednesday fans for strategic changes in operation, among many issues, has fallen on deaf ears. Equally so, in United’s case, the overwhelming support for the recently departed Chris Wilder, the best man to have brought the Blades back as unarguably one of the greatest managers in the club’s history.

Supporters generally - and this applies across the higher echelons of the game - seem to have been reduced to voices in the wilderness.

Maybe they are not as key to financing a bloated game as in the past but they are still its heart and soul. That should forever be the case. The alternative is a purely TV sport, a glorified computer game - with actual attendance limited only to the more affluent members of society who, by definition, don’t represent football’s proud origins.

The overriding message has to be - as if there should be any need to repeat it after a sterile past 10 months in empty grounds - that football is nothing without fans.

How is it possible that this essential truth could be rubbished at such a time as this when even armchair supporters have bemoaned the lack of a real cheering crowd?

Only one reason and that’s for money. Pure greed. And let’s not kid ourselves - this has been eating football away from the inside for a long time via outlandish TV conditioned kick-off times and the expansion of a turgid Champions League that once thrilled everyone as the European Cup.

The owners of our “biggest” clubs (very debatable) would rather have played to screen addicts across the globe than live, in person to Mancunians, Liverpudlians and Londoners.

This must never happen to Sheffielders. We can proudly uphold that at least.

The form and status of our teams is temporary. Our history, preserved this week by the true voice of football, is permanent.