Hidden in the footballing world where ‘Lads’ reign and the language of ‘Banter’ is spoken fluently by many, there are small pockets of players who shun a life of Xbox marathons, terrible music and ‘cheeky’ dinners at places that flog chicken.
Among this revolutionary posse is John Brayford...less a footballer, more a cultural icon.
It is hoped, though ‘hope’ may not be a word strong enough to correctly describe the emotion, that the Cardiff City player will soon return to Sheffield United and Bramall Lane, where he spent a successful loan spell last season.
And if and when that happens, then the red and white half of Sheffield will rejoice in a manner that could see fans take a week off. Murals will be painted on gable walls, Sheffield Children’s Hospital will find every child born into a Unitedite household is to be named John, regardless of gender.
It’s quite astounding that a player can be so highly thought of, having spent a relatively short time at the club. As cult figures go, Brayford is this generation’s Brian Deane. If he comes and stays, then Tony Currie would be looking over his shoulder.
But why is this the case? He’s a right back...an unsexy position that immediately draws up a vision of Gary Neville.
Of course, Brayford is a very good right back and he does score the odd goal too. But it’s likely the persona of the man that helps to explain his popularity.
As Lloyd Grossman would say, on a programme not cool enough for Brayford to entertain, ‘let’s look at the evidence.’
For that, just go to his twitter account (@BrayfordJohn). Where many players offer enlightened insight of ‘Ballers’ and ‘wheels’ and ‘kicks’ and other words that I, as a man in my mid-30s, don’t understand, here we see someone who prefers the finer things in life. His profile picture depicts him concentrating thoughtfully, deeply, on a glass of white wine, while the cover pic is a page from Sheffield-born Michael Palin’s Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988–1998, with the quote “...that I don’t like to be confined to the main road ahead, that I’m drawn to the backstreets and the side alleys, to the quirky ordinariness of everyday life, to the unexpected and the unexplored.”
He retweets bass-heavy songs by little known Liverpudlian indie bands (Public Underground); listens to actual records on vinyl; asks questions of artists as to the story behind their works, has his picture taken in 1950s vintage American cars and although tattoos are ten-a-penny on the pitch these days, his are quite obviously cooler than the rest, with another bearded icon, John Lennon adorning his upper arm. The hipster beard is of course a requirement but still, an added bonus.
Obviously, I’m laying it on a bit thick here and will step away from the (slightly) tongue-in-cheek gushing for a moment; for any player, these days, who shows the slightest amount of intelligence and cultural interest is floated onto a pedestal usually reserved for an Alan Yentob interviewee on ‘Imagine’.
However, it’s understandable and certainly no bad thing that a player like Brayford should be worshipped.
While at United there were few more committed players. he gave everything in the red and white shirt and played a major role in that superb run of form in the second half of the campaign that dragged United out of a relegation battle, took them to Wembley for the semi-finals of the FA Cup and briefly saw a flirtation with a play-off place, that ultimately proved a step too far.
It’s a mutual affection. Brayford clearly loved his time at the Lane and since leaving, there’s barely been a day goes by on twitter when his name is not mentioned by Blades.
It helps that he recently turned up at Loftus Road to watch his old team mates destroy QPR in the FA Cup and a cheeky tweet following Cardiff’s win over Wednesday earlier this season, that read “Terrific win today against some side from Sheffield,thoroughly enjoyed it too!” also goes a long way towards keeping the relationship going.
As I write this it’s looking increasingly likely that Brayford will be back in red and white very soon.
This will be Nigel Clough’s biggest signing and no matter the fact that he’s a right-back (again, he’s a very good right back), and not a striker that fans seem to have been craving before, the feel-good factor that this swoop will bring to Bramall Lane is almost unquantifiable. It should banish any negativity that has been hovering for most of the season and that might well give the team that burst of life that has been missing for large parts of this campaign.
It may be just too late to grab a place in the top two, but this Sheffield second coming should ensure that Blades fans can look towards another trip to Wembley, by way of a play off place.