James Shield's Sheffield United Column: The Blades are glad to be in the Premier League. The Premier League should be glad to have The Blades
Tomorrow, when their players emerge from the tunnel at AFC Bournemouth, Sheffield United will enter a whole new world.
Twelve years have passed since the club's last top-flight appearance. And, as they have spent all summer being reminded, the Premier League now is a very different beast.
Make no mistake, entering the rarefied atmosphere of England's elite competition can be a game-changer for the club. The commercial opportunities and financial rewards have the potential, if Chris Wilder's side establish a foothold in the division, change its direction of travel for a generation. Everyone associated with The Blades - players, staff, directors and supporters - should be glad to be there.
But, before folk get too deferential, the Premier League should be delighted to have them as well. Why? Because United bring extra meaning, history and gravitas to an organisation which, at times, leaves itself open to accusations it is more about marketing than substance.
Before people scoff at that, lets consider the evidence. Founder members of the tournament, United hail from the city which shaped the sport as we know it. Home of the world's oldest club, the world's oldest ground and the world's most recognisable set of rules - responsible for introducing free-kicks and corners - Sheffield can legitimately claim to be the cradle of the modern game.
Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter
The i newsletter cut through the noise
United's home, Bramall Lane, is a stadium of firsts too. Floodlights were used there in 1878 - before anywhere else in football - while, having only previously met in London or Glasgow, England and Scotland locked horns on its pitch five years later.
Yet despite all this, and without trying to paint them as equals of teams such as Arsenal and Liverpool, United are often portrayed as some scruffy street-kid who has just been gifted a day pass into an exclusive gentlemen's club.
They might not have rubbed shoulders with the most famous names in the country for over a decade. But - and the same goes for their neighbours across town - United remain hugely significant.
Wilder, who has delivered two promotions in the space of three seasons, insisted he was not irritated by this treatment during his pre-match press conference yesterday. Deep down, being a lifelong United supporter, one suspects he probably is. But it was not a surprise to hear him peddle this line in public, because being dismissed by the commentariat suits United's 'us against the rest' mentality. As we witnessed last season, when they finished second in the Championship above numerous financial heavyweights, there is nothing his players like better than giving the establishment the finger. Discourteous narratives bring out the best in them. Which is why, because they are a damn sight more talented than people give them credit for, I believe they have enough to survive.