Alan Biggs: Where Chris Wilder learned the value of team spirit

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd plots during the Championship match at the Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield.
Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd plots during the Championship match at the Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield.
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Chris Wilder is stirring echoes of something very special at Sheffield United. And it hardly needed even a monumental steel city derby triumph to confirm it.

I refer to a comparison between golden eras almost 30 years apart. So many common threads. And so neatly tied up by one man who became a Blade for life to the tip of his bootlaces.

“OOH-AAH The Bob Booker Story” is more than just the remarkable tale of a journeyman footballer reaching an undreamt of destination by playing in the top flight in his early 30s. For Sheffield United fans, it also connects two teams that will go down in Bramall Lane folklore.

And the common denominator is Wilder, Booker’s friend and team-mate under Dave Bassett, now a manager who seemingly can do no wrong as his team thrust in the same upwards direction after falling on hard times.

There are marked differences in style from the Bassett days of back-to-back promotions in 1989 and 1990. But the same togetherness and camaraderie, work hard-play hard mentality, is right at the heart of it.

Booker recalled there was “no hiding place” in that Bassett dressing room – “you either joined in or fell by the wayside.” Bob bought in straight away as an unassuming, likeable, dedicated and determined professional who made the absolute most of self-admitted limited talent to become an all-purpose and indispensable player revered by the Bramall Lane crowd. But first Wilder welcomed him with a simple gesture – an offer of a lift, and later an invitation on two occasions to share the family home in Sheffield.

“He was a lot younger than me, but we soon discovered that we had much in common,” writes Bob, a late-starting pro who knew the real world as a furniture upholsterer and took a huge pay cut to sign for Brentford. “We came from close-knit families and we were both local boys made good.”

Tellingly, too, Wilder was, as Booker recalls, running his own Sunday team outside of playing for United. A natural manager from a very early age. Then there was the searing honesty allied to gifted man-management and motivational skills that he learned from Bassett.

You can see where we’re going with this. Wilder, who struggled to hold down his right back spot in that old team, is quoted thus by Booker: “I was often tasked by Harry Bassett with looking after the new signings and talking to them about the city and the club. Perhaps that’s the reason he kept me around for so long.”

Importantly, Wilder could see the value to the club of what he was doing. It’s now part of the way he runs it. And you can guess who he turns to for advice when he needs it.

But that’s just to give a relevant, up-to-date spin on a great book about a guy who loved football for its own sake and deserved eventually to reap a proper reward from where it took him. And he insists, by the way, that the “Ooh Aah Bob Bookah” chant definitely preceded the “Ooh Aah Cantona” at Leeds!

n The Bob Booker Story by Greville Waterman; Bennion Kearny, £12.99