Kevin Gage played over 100 times for Sheffield United and, in his exclusive column for The Star, discusses United's game against another old club this weekend.
Wimbledon. Away. There was a period in time in the mid 1980s and 1990s when those two words we enough to strike a certain amount of fear and trepidation into visiting teams. The small, tight Plough Lane ground combined with the forceful, direct, ultra-competitive style of play made a trip down south to play them very unappealing. A bit like going to Gillingham in fact, as we found to our cost last season!
But after a strong and solid if not spectacular display on Sunday against a team fancied to do well this season, Chris Wilder's new Blades seem to be far better equipped to cope, and even played with a good deal of swagger and style as we searched for that second half winner. Even though it finally came very late and in very strange (though not for Blades fans!) circumstances, no-one who saw the game will deny it was fully deserved. So two wins on the spin makes everyone feel a whole lot better, and considering I feel we are still only in secondgear both as a team, and with certain individuals, there seems a lot to look forward to. Suddenly, Wimbledon away gets very inviting!
However, this is not the Wimbledon of old. I’m sure most football fans know that AFC Wimbledon are the phoenix club that rose from the ashes of the now defunct Wimbledon FC. To put it in perspective, in 2002-03, whilst SUFC were challenging for promotion to the Premiership alongside the likes of Wolves and Leicester, AFC were a brand-new club, formed after a group of fans refused to be a part of the MK Dons farce. The new team was chosen after trials on Wimbledon Common and entered into the Combined Counties League which was the ninth and lowest tier of English football. Throw every adjective in the dictionary at their subsequent six promotions and rise to League One and you still might not do it justice. The one I’ll use is astounding.
What happened to Wimbledon FC will, of course, never happen to SUFC, but it’s akin to a millionaire businessman buying our club and deciding to relocate it some 60/70 miles away, maybe to the East Coast. Then he changes the name (Bridlington Blades anyone?), the kit, the badge, etc and wallop! Sorry Sheffield, you are not United anymore. You are an ex-club. Like the parrot in Monty Python, you have ceased to be.
I should, of course, declare an interest here. Wimbledon FC were my first club; I joined straight from school, and I played 188 league and cup games in six years as we romped through the divisions managed by a certain Dave Bassett. In all they remained in the top division of English Football for THIRTEEN consecutive seasons. Oh, and they won the FA Cup in 1988 for good measure! The footballing ‘Crazy Gang’ were also born and raised during my time there, and despite being a South Yorkshireman of 25 years standing and now an adopted Blade, Wimbledon, be it FC or AFC (for they are really as one), will always hold a special place in my heart.
Bassett achieved legendary status at both clubs and the connections between the clubs don’t stop with the manager. A roll-call of players who played for both clubs in the 1980s and 90s is too long to list, but from the high profile, well-known names such as Vinnie Jones and Glyn Hodges, through to the lesser known but equally vital names such as John Gannon and Mark Morris, every one played a huge part in successful Blades teams after starting out at Wimbledon.
Because of all these many connections, there will always be a certain special link between supporters of both clubs. The name ‘Dave Bassett’ will spark endless hours of conversations alone, and as we Blades endure what we consider tough times in our sixth League One season, when compared to the turmoil the Wimbledon fans went through, we haven’t really got that much to moan about!
For me personally? I can’t lie. I’m now a Blade. For the rest of the season against all others in League One, it's “Come on you Dons”. But on Saturday, as with every game, it’s UTB.