Kevin Gage’s Sheffield United Column: This Blades team’s Premier League celebrations have, for the first time, made me want to be a player again

WOW! Just wow! And then another HUGE wow with bells and whistles on and drenched in copious quantities of champagne and Birra Moretti (Peroni is so last year).

By kevin.gage@jpress.co.uk
Tuesday, 07 May, 2019, 17:02

We did it! It happened, quite comfortably as it turned out, and now everyone in football is indeed going to believe us - “the Blades are going up.”

Up again actually, after catching our breath last season when we ran out of steam. This season, the promotion train was fully fired up and despite a few jolts along the rails at times, it powered home leaving the Leeds and a few other more fancied engines in our slip stream.

We shouldn’t really gloat, but what the heck, we’ve earned our right to and to see Leeds (especially) “falling apaaaart again” at home to Wigan was something very, very special. Bielsa’s training ground spies didn’t see that coming did they?

But, much as we like to have a chuckle at the failings of other supposedly ‘bigger, richer, more famous’ teams, the real beauty about this promotion for me has been for the way Chris Wilder and his squad have achieved it.

We’ve literally played teams off the park on numerous occasions, and when opponents have been good enough to have a go back at us, we’ve stood our ground and defensively been as solid as a rock.

I’d said earlier in the season that the football I’d seen this season was the best I’d witnessed in my 28 years up here as a player and a fan, and I still stand by every word of that.

Kieran Dowell of Sheffield Utd celebrates scoring with a dance to his song sung by the fans during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent. Simon Bellis/Sportimage

I’m not going to waste words by describing in detail what I’ve seen on the pitch this season, because if you’re reading this you’ll have seen it too and already know. What we hadn’t seen however, were the actions and the stuff that goes on as part of the life of a professional footballer OFF the pitch, and boy, were we in for a treat!

Love it or hate it, social media has revolutionised most of our lives, and where once all you really knew about the inner sanctums of dressing rooms and the type of celebrations that went on in there was a local news crew thrusting a TV camera in there for a minute or two on occasions.

How times have changed…..

These days, thanks to the thousands of mobile phone videos, photos, selfies, etc we feel as if we are right there alongside our Blades players.

Sheffield United fans in the stands during the Sky Bet Championship match at the bet365 Stadium, Stoke. Dave Howarth/PA Wire.

We’re in the dressing room with them. We’re joining in their songs, and we know every word. We’re getting coated in beer in the Inter Bar on John Street stand with them. We’re getting ‘Stearmaned’ in The Copthorne with Flecky and Billy on our shoulders. We’ve even been on the players’ bus for God’s sake!

Not got a ticket to the Plat Suite on Awards Night? No worries, its all live on our screens anyway. It’s been absolutely incredible. Tufty and his team have created a virtual tsunami of joy and led us fans from the front as they carried us along on a gigantic tidal wave of alcohol.

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It’s been actually quite amazing to witness, either in person at The Lane, at Stoke away, London Rd, Eccy Rd, or wherever this phenomenon has hit you, and even if it’s at home from the safety of an electronic screen, it’s been a sight to behold.

As I wrote this, the open-top bus parade was due to hit Sheffield city centre in a couple of hours. The previous one just two years ago was good. This one was ONE HELLAVA RIDE!!!

Billy Sharp of Sheffield United celebrates Sheffield United getting promoted to the Premier League after the Sky Bet Championship match at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent. James Wilson/Sportimage

And here’s the thing for me. The thing and the words I thought I’d never say. The scenes I’ve witnessed of the Blades players singing, dancing, chanting, and celebrating together all over Sheffield and beyond make me genuinely wish I was a player again.

Not for the money, or the glory, or the social standing or for any of the football-related reasons that you can think of. I just simply look at the scenes of togetherness and camaraderie of the group and want to be a part of this amazingly close-knit band of men.

What Chris and his management team have created is a seemingly unbreakable group of pro footballers. A team and a squad with no individual egos, nor attitude issues.

Managers look for leaders in a dressing room and this team appears to have about a dozen true proper leaders in their own right.

Billy, Bash, JOC, Egan, Stearman, Fleck, Norwood, Coutts, Hendo and I’m probably doing a disservice to some others in the squad if I haven’t mentioned them by name, but I know it’s a group effort.

We all do, because we see it on the pitch week in, week out. They work hard for each other, they fight for each other and they play hard for each other too.

When you blend that togetherness and the absolute desire to succeed, with the undoubted football ability we also have, it makes for a hugely effective combination, and sometimes an unstoppable force.

I’ve had my fair share of promotions with the successful ‘Crazy Gang’ rise through all the divisions at Wimbledon and played all 51 games as Villa bounced immediately back into the top flight in 1987-88. Great times and great memories, but hand on heart, I’ve never witnessed scenes the like of which I’ve seen in past couple of weeks.

We used to have a week in Magaluf to celebrate. For most of the last two weeks I think Sheffield S2 has been twinned with Magaluf, and now the lads are in Las Vegas! Truly outstanding, and players and thousands and thousands of fans have all played their part together….celebrating together AND united together.

How far can this team with this manager go? It’s going to be an exciting and fascinating journey next season, and I’m sure there are more chapters in this story yet to come.

But for now, let’s just enjoy the ride… after ANOTHER open-top bus one through tens of thousands of deliriously happy Blades!