Kevin Gage: Chris Wilder may be gone, but his Sheffield United legacy will never be forgotten
It was the day we all knew deep down in our hearts would eventually come, but in our minds desperately hoped wouldn’t.
Yesterday was D-Day for Sheff Utd, and unfortunately for Blades all over the world, the D stands for ‘Departure’. The departure of the very last person we EVER wanted to leave, but it’s happened. Our manager Chris Wilder has left the club.
Except he hasn’t. Not really anyway. Because in his heart, he never went away in the first place.
He was born a Blade, grew up a Blade, became a playing Blade, supported us as a Blade and then by the grace of God, managed us as a Blade. Not only that, as he walks out of the club as our ex-manager he will STILL be a Blade and will come back to visit as one too, probably as a manager of another very good football team!
When that day comes, as I’m certain it will, I sincerely hope I’m in Bramall Lane to witness the standing ovation and outpouring of emotion and gratitude he will get. It will be truly off the scale!
Now I’m not a party to all the goings-on behind the scenes and the circumstances which have led us to this outcome, nor is it right for me to speculate or comment. I will leave that to the far better informed professionals who will give their knowledgeable opinions and report on the interviews and quotes.
But we all, I believe, "get the picture” from the little snippets of information in the public domain. Whether we agree with either of the future plans and structures put forward by the manager and the owners is up to our own personal opinion and interpretation.
It may be the way forward for some, whilst for others it’s firmly based in the past. Change can sometimes be for the best, but it’s nearly always a gamble and whatever the circumstances behind the decisions, both parties here are gambling on their vision of the future.
As a full-time Sheffield United fan and part-time club employee I just hope that it’s one that pays off in the long term, though I can see plenty of short-term doubt around at the moment!
What’s not in doubt though is what Chris Wilder is leaving behind as a legacy and in memories, and to be honest, I don’t quite know where to start!
There’s been millions of words written about these past five seasons, and over the years I’ve contributed to a few thousand of them too as I tried to adequately describe the absolute joy and astonishment of the events that unfolded in front of our eyes on the pitch.
From bottom of League One to runaway 100 point champions? Amazing. Promotion to Premier League in next two seasons? Outstanding. Challenging for European qualification and a ninth place Premier League finish? Incredible. Unbelievable even. And yet it happened!
Yes, as we sit bottom of the table it seems a long time ago, but let’s not let this season’s nonsensical demands of professional football and all the fiascos of COVID, restrictions, injuries, and bloody VAR diminish what has been the most enjoyable four seasons of football I’ve ever had the privilege of being involved in, watching and writing about. It has been an absolute joy.
And this joy has been driven by one man. The man who drove the whole club forward and upwards when it was at perhaps its lowest ebb in a generation. He ignited the inner joy in us by winning games of football and doing so by his teams playing with seemingly care-free abandon, skill and creativity combined with raw passion, energy and enthusiasm.
He gave us back our pride in our club and we all walked that bit taller and with purpose in our stride as we eagerly made our way to watch our team. New club legends were created. New songs were made up and sung. New grounds were visited and conquered.
New supporters were born and new memories were made. Christ, he even invented a new playing style as ‘over-lapping centre-backs’ became a thing! He united us as one behind him, and we were back!
But as the proverb goes “all good things must come to an end” and as Blades fans, perhaps we always feared that there is always a trade off to the previous good times.... we’re Blades, we’re used to it!
This season was seemingly as bad as it might get but fate hadn’t quite finished with us yet and so with that, the Chris Wilder era has finished.
Gone maybe, but never, ever forgotten by those of us who witnessed it.
So to him, his staff, the players who played under him, and everyone at the club who contributed in any small way to the wonderful journey we went on, I’d like to say this: Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. It’s been an absolute blast.