Alan Biggs' Sheffield United column: 'Folkore and Fables' book taps into the history of what Blades are all about

Right now there are only five better teams in England than Sheffield United. Just let that sink in.

Wednesday, 6th November 2019, 6:00 pm
General view of outside the stadium before the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 28, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Sheff Utd. Photo credit should read: Richard Sellers/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

There’s a backstage guy at Bramall Lane who pinpoints a fundamental reason for the astonishing reality presented by the current Premier League table.

If you want to go to the core of the Blades’ resurgence, try this: “We have only ever been truly successful as a club when we stop trying to be something we are not and concentrate on being Sheffield United.”

Well, being Sheffield United has involved a lot of suffering down the years, but not when the club has reconnected with its true values. Like now.

In-house historian John Garrett is revelling in a return to the good times, not just for its own sake but for the way it has been achieved.

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“We are living in our own skin again and it’s comfortable to be here.” So says United’s long-serving Supporter Liaison Officer. And how many clubs have one of them, by the way?

It’s one reason why this lifelong Blade can truly get under the skin of the place - as he does in his own inimitable story-telling style in a new book from the Danny Hall stable.

“Folklore and Fables” is the title, but it is also about keeping it real.

While the Chris Wilder era has been something of a fantasy compared to what went before, it has been rooted in being down to earth; of players putting in shifts; of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay; of making supporters part of the whole by promoting values in which they take pride.

Of course, there is more to it than that in terms of recruitment and style. Sophistication, too.

The football is fantastic at times, always positive.

But, above all, it is a story of reconnection.

Garrett notes: “I have seen constant comments thanking Chris for giving the club back to the fans ... he’s one of us and always has been ... he is what it says on the tin and not one that tries to get the backing of the fans by way of false words.”

Wilder’s matchday jogging to the ground from his home, even as a Premier League manager, is a reminder of this touchability.

It stirred echoes for me of the homely values and approach of the late, great Derek Dooley, such a bulwark of previous great days under Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock, a man who “always brought a bit of common sense to proceedings,” says Garrett.

The author recalls having the Friday morning job of “fetching DD from home” and how then “the rounds would start.”

“First stop the fishmongers to pick the finny haddock up; next stop the butchers for the meat ration for the Dooley household.

“Best of all was the bag of hot sausage rolls. Del used to take these around the staff on a Friday morning to have with your mid-morning cuppa - whilst the rest of his shopping was popped in the fridge until he went home.”

These, says John, were the “little things that set us apart”, adding that “for the first time in a while we are heading that way again” under a manager who “will probably remember all of the above about Derek.”

The common touch is actually a touch of class. It’s where Sheffield United are back at today.

As for yesterdays', Garrett’s encyclopaedic knowledge runs riot - back to the days of the legendary William “Fatty” Foulke, through to the Currie-Woodward era, revelations about the ground-breaking signing of Alex Sabella and a story about Warnock’s superstitious treatment of matchday mascots.

* “Folklore and Fables, an alternative view of life at Bramall Lane” - by John Garrett, edited by Kevin Cookson. Vertical Editions.