Kevin Gage's Blades Column: All hail Chris Wilder and his team of Sheffield United 'bottlers' after promotion to the Championship

Kevin Gage Column
Kevin Gage Column
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It's 8.30am on Sunday and it’s the morning after the day before.

There’s not a cloud in the sky and the even the birds seem to be chirping a bit louder than usual, with the one sporting a red-breast singing the loudest! After a monumental day, Blades all over the world have gone to bed last night with happy smiling faces, and although a few heads might be a bit sore this morning, we wouldn’t have it any other way!

United's promotion celebrations

United's promotion celebrations

We did it! We finally did it. But most of all, he did it. Chris Wilder did it. He did what others over the past decade or so have so miserably failed to do... he bottled it. And his team did too. And its bloody wonderful! And before you think I’ve gone stark raving bonkers, let me explain…

Sheffield United. The serial ‘bottlers’ apparently? The team that usually fails to deliver on the big occasions? The club that leads its supporters up the garden path that always ends in a dead-end and disappointment? No more. Those days are over. And they were over on that day back in May last year when the club appointed Chris Wilder.

Sheffield United needed a Chris Wilder. It needed ‘one of our own’. It needed a manager to lift this club up from the League One mid-table mediocrity it had sunk to, and with his managerial track record and his red and white roots, Chris was the perfect choice. He instinctively knew what Sheffield United was all about, and he’d actually known all his adult life.

He knew that the fans needed to be given their belief back, and he needed to tap into the huge groundswell of support, love and passion out there for this special club. He knew that if he could somehow ‘bottle’ these feelings, and then give the players just a taste of what might be on the horizon for their future career as a Blade, he would have a recipe for success.

Chris Basham leads promotion celebrations

Chris Basham leads promotion celebrations

And WOW, how he did it! He somehow bottled it. The emotions of 25,000+ home fans, and tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of other Blades over all parts of the globe were brought together and were all fully behind him and his team, on and off the pitch, driving them forward and upward. We finally had a manager we could relate to, that talked our language and we believed in, and most importantly, the players totally believed in him too.

We found out to our cost last season that talk is cheap, and Chris proved that the phrase “actions speak louder than words” is so very true. Running half the length of the pitch at Fleetwood to join fans celebrating our last minute equaliser? Thumping the badge on his chest after victories? Diving onto the grass to celebrate goals with players? Instinctive, heart-felt emotion and elation from a real leader which by his very nature, filters down to the players he leads. It’s a winning formula and a recipe for success. If he could, literally, ‘bottle it’, he’d be a multi-millionaire!

Raw emotion and passion is of course all well and good, but successful teams need much more than just that. They need talent. They need ability. They need technique, skill, athleticism and many other physical attributes. It’s a balancing act and a mix that needs constantly monitoring and adjusting. In our squad of players from last season we already had some players with all the above requirements, even though they maybe didn’t realise just how good they could become.

Our new management team also had the experience and the expertise to know where to find the new players we needed. They knew who to get, and why they were needed. We recruited the right players at the right time, and we also dispensed with some players who weren’t required and maybe didn’t quite fit into the new mix. Three young squad players were also sold for huge amounts of money, and whilst the club sometimes is accused of ‘cashing in’ on our young talent, in this case, in this season, it was money well made.

So the squad was formed, the standards were set, the belief was instilled, and the confidence restored. The result of all this groundwork was that the talent duly flourished, and the cream rose to the top... and we’ve stayed there for the past three months.

All in all, it’s been an absolutely resounding triumph of a season, and it hasn’t even ended yet! Four games still to go, a potential 100 points to get and a League champions title to claim. It’ll be difficult to top Saturday's events, but this season could actually get even better. Even if it doesn’t, who cares?

Because we’re giving the football world notice to get ready…

We’re Sheffield United. We’ve gone up. And we’re on our way back.

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House: bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield. @ManorHouse_S18. Follow him on twitter: @gageykev