James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Petty 'big club' cobblers and offending the morality police

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First it was Rhian Brewster and a member of Sheffield United’s backroom staff who were responsible for offending the morality police. Well, those members who had seemingly forgotten Jack Wilshire’s antics during an Arsenal victory parade nearly a decade or so ago.

Then it was Kyle Walker, previously of this parish, who found himself in the dock for slagging off Manchester United following Manchester City’s title triumph.

Like Brewster, who had a pop at Sheffield Wednesday during the party called to celebrate United’s recent promotion from the Championship, the England international clearly doesn’t realise the game has now been sanitised to within an inch of its life as the corporate bodies which now control it chase the big dollars, riyals and bucks.

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Okay, so the behaviour of Brewster and Walker might not have been to everyone’s liking. I get that. During a conversation over the front garden fence after Paul Heckingbottom’s side had regained Premier League status, one of my Blades-supporting neighbours still wasn’t going to be persuaded that Brewster should be forgiven for getting a little overexcited on the steps of the Town Hall even though I told him “He’s actually a really top bloke.” Mind you, I think it’s important to stress that he - my pal from just across the road - was only dismayed because he’d mentioned Darren Moore’s men in the first place.

Rhian Brewster and Jayden Bogle during Sheffield United's promotion celebrations: Darren Staples/SportimageRhian Brewster and Jayden Bogle during Sheffield United's promotion celebrations: Darren Staples/Sportimage
Rhian Brewster and Jayden Bogle during Sheffield United's promotion celebrations: Darren Staples/Sportimage

Anyway, back to the folk, particularly those on social media, who think any player who makes disparaging remarks about a rival should be hung, drawn and quartered after being sentenced by their self-appointed courts. Seriously, what’s the big deal?

United will always dislike Wednesday. Wednesday will always dislike United. And for as long as they exist, the two of them will always take great delight in seeing the other slip up. If Darren Moore’s men get beaten by Barnsley in Monday’s League One play-off final, there’ll be no shortage of people wearing red and white waiting to celebrate. And if they win, and Barry Bannan wants to bare his backside and wave it in the direction of Bramall Lane when Wednesday return to South Yorkshire, so be it. That’s what makes the Steel City rivalry one of the best in the business. Personally, I think most of us with a brain can give it and take it.

What does irritate me, mind, is the obsession on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook about who is the biggest. I use the word ‘irritate’ deliberately, because it doesn’t make me angry. Just gnaws away at my patience. A bit like politicians who like to juggle two imaginary melons whenever they talk to the public because they think it makes them look more genuine, caring and sincere.

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Why? Because it’s a totally pointless argument. Success, particularly in this day and age, tends to produce followings. When they were reaching the semi-finals of the FA and EFL Cups, Wednesday could probably lay claim to that particular title. I’d be confident of waging a few quid that, with United about to embark upon their third top-flight campaign in five seasons and their neighbours not competing at the highest level for 23 years, the next generation will boast more Blades than Owls. It’s the way these things go. And in any case, even if one did dominate the other in terms of supporter numbers, who really cares? Well, other than the marketing experts whose job it is to generate commercial revenues that is. They’ve got an excuse to fuss over this subject. No one else should bother, for two important reasons. The first is that, unless the rules have changed, trophies and league positions aren’t decided by attendance figures. I don’t remember too many Wimbledon fans moaning that the shine had been taken off their 1988 FA Cup final victory over Liverpool because they’d sold far fewer tickets than the opposition.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James ShieldThe Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

Secondly, whichever club someone supports will always be the biggest and best for them. Be that United, Wednesday or even Pendeen Rovers in the Cornwall Combination.

The only teams who tend to shout loudest about the size of their fan bases are ones who aren’t doing very well. Because it’s not size that truly matters. It is what you do with it that counts.

•On a more serious note, after it emerged earlier this week how little - in PL terms at least - Heckingbottom will have to spend in this summer’s transfer market, the scale of the challenge facing both him and his squad next season must not be underestimated. Okay, some clubs thrive there without stumping up big fees. But wages, or the ability to pay big ones, are now the best guide to a team’s financial standing. And those who still excel despite not being able to match others in terms of either, are still lavishing huge sums on things like recruitment departments and scouting arrangements.

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United, unless something dramatic changes behind the scenes, won’t be doing either. Yes, Heckingbottom is a supremely talented manager. Paul Mitchell knows his onions when it comes to helping him identify targets. But when it comes to personnel numbers and pounds, shillings and pence, United will be hopelessly out-gunned. More, I personally believe, than should really be the case. But that’s probably best discussed in a future column.

Sheffield United celebrated promotion at the Town Hall: Darren Staples/SportimageSheffield United celebrated promotion at the Town Hall: Darren Staples/Sportimage
Sheffield United celebrated promotion at the Town Hall: Darren Staples/Sportimage

United aren’t facing Mission Impossible. Rather Mission Bloody Difficult. Their best chance of completing it, in my opinion at least, is to generate a compelling narrative around the club which players and fans can buy into. That, fingers crossed, will give them an even bigger incentive to succeed.