Kevin Gage: Why Super Sheffield United have blown me away
So at long last, after our final game of the season away at Southampton last weekend, the end of this amazing, incredible, unbelievable and frankly unforeseeable campaign has finally arrived.
As Blades fans, we’ve treated ‘Murphy’s Law’ as our club gospel over the past few decades, having become accustomed to the “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” mantra. To be fair, we’ve also had good reasons to believe it.
The list of our misfortunes is indeed varied and lengthy... relegation in 1994 in the final minute at Chelsea when all seemed safe. Constant play-off heartache. Last-day relegation again at home to Wigan. The Tevez saga. Nigel Adkins and Co... you get my drift, and there’s plenty more I’m sure!
But then Chris Wilder strode into Bramall Lane, waving his managerial magic wand and all that previous hardship seemed to vanish. Not quite in an instant (about four games it took!) but certainly quick enough! And four memorable seasons on, we proudly finished ninth in the biggest and arguably the best league in the world.
What an achievement from everyone concerned at the club. What a transformation it has truly been. Led by the manager, but with backing from all the club’s key decision-makers and staff, we have invested in the right areas, improved the facilities, and the club has grown in stature not only on the pitch due to the fabulous performances of the players, but off it as well.
To give just one example, I noticed a post on social media recently which showed a league table of ‘Fan Engagement’ regarding online digital audiences. Sheffield United’s has increased from 400,000 to just under 1.6million since the end of last season!
That is quite remarkable and epitomises just how far we’ve come as a club in such a short time. Fantastic work from everyone involved.
All this valuable ‘off the pitch’ work maybe only gets the recognition it deserves because of the team's performances on it, of course, and when attempting to put into words just how damned good we’ve been this season, I’m not even sure I can do them justice.
We’ve been utterly brilliant. It really is that simple.
I’d love to say when we kicked off last August at Bournemouth that I knew we’d be perfectly OK, we’d perform like we have, and I had predicted a top ten spot having pushed for the top six with 10 games to go.... I didn’t. I’m good, but I’m not that good!!!
I didn’t see this season coming, to be brutally honest. I will say that I never thought we’d be relegated (note: Chris Wilder teams NEVER get relegated) but the level of performances have absolutely blown me away at times. We’ve gone toe-to-toe with all of the best sides in England and not only matched them, but played them off the pitch at times with the sheer quality of our football.
Players who were outstanding in League One and the Championship have raised their games and now look as if they’ve been Premier League-quality footballers all their career.
All over the pitch, you could make a strong case for a player of the season, and you’ll know I’m not exaggerating when I say that there are about eight potentially worthy winners. I’ve voted for Chris Basham by the way, but I’ll not argue if someone else gets it!
What makes this season even more remarkable is that this has all been achieved with virtually every so-called ‘expert’ pundit writing us off before a ball was kicked. There have been a fair few helpings of humble pie dished out, and I believe most have realised the error of their ways!
It’s been wonderful to hear and see the more enlightened ones coming onto our TV screens and waxing lyrical about aspects of our play... ”a breath of fresh air”, “over-lapping centre-backs”, “team togetherness/spirit”.... blah blah blah. Keep up lads, we’ve been playing like this for the past four seasons!
So, the final curtain is about to come down, on a memorable, eventful season. No team since the mid-1970s has finished higher than this one, and ninth equals the effort of Dave Bassett's 1991-92 side.
I was a member of that team, and you’d maybe expect me to hope that our 91-92 finishing position wasn't matched by this current one. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. This current team thoroughly it, just purely based on the performances and the sheer joy they’ve given us this season.
If Covid-19 hadn’t struck I also genuinely think that we’d have been a place or two higher up the league as well, as it took us a few games to fully get back into our stride.
But we are where we are, and not even Murphy’s Law can affect us today. We’re a top ten Premier League team and when I wrote my first column for The Star four years ago, I never thought I’d be using those words! It’s been an amazing time to be writing about the club and with that in mind I think it’s also the time for me to make this my last column too.
So a huge thanks to all fellow Blades over the years for your great feedback, and also to Danny Hall and my journalist friends for the opportunity.
It's been an absolute pleasure.