Sheffield United: Chris Wilder explains why a ‘special’ club and its supporters deserved to reach the Premier League

Three years ago, when he fulfilled his ambition of becoming Sheffield United manager, Chris Wilder came crashing rather than skulking through the doors of Bramall Lane.

By James Shield
Friday, 26 April, 2019, 15:00
Sheffield United, including Mark Duffy (left), are heading for the Premier League: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

As a lifelong supporter of the club, having been pained by the sight of it spending five seasons in League One, the former Halifax, Oxford and Northampton Town chief felt compelled to arrive in a blaze of passion and bravado. Shock therapy, not kid glove treatment, was required.

Nearly 36 months on, and with United preparing for life in the top-flight of English football after winning their second promotion under his tutelage, Wilder's hunch had proved correct. But, sounding thoroughly drained as the significance of Saturday's victory over Ipswich Town began to sink in, Wilder admitted the struggles which ultimately paved the way for his appointment made success taste even sweeter.

"It is emotional," he said, describing the scenes which followed the 2-0 win. "There were 30,000 there, including my wife, my family and all my pals who follow this club.

"It is not a glory hunting club, I have always said that. We do not win Premier League titles year after year, or compete in the European Cup.

"We have been down to the old Fourth Division, come back up and then gone down again. And back. We're down to earth and I think that counts."

Over a decade has passed since United last rubbed shoulders with the country's elite names on a weekly basis. As Wilder acknowledged, after goals from Scott Hogan and Jack O'Connell effectively secured their return before it was sealed 24 hours later, it has been quite a journey back.

Relegated in controversial circumstances following the Carlos Tevez Affair and then again, this time thanks to their own poor decision-making, four seasons later, United had just sleep-walked to a mid-table finish in the third tier when, having dispensed with Nigel Adkins' services, they appointed Wilder. Remarkably, proving intelligent recruitment and coaching can be a match for a chequebook, many of responsible for helping him lift the League One title in 2017 are still in situ now.

Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

And, like United itself, their backstory's could have been torn straight from the pages of a Roy of the Rovers annual. One, Mark Duffy, played for Vauxhall Motors and Prescot Cables after being released by Liverpool as a youngster. But, having resurrected his career in South Yorkshire, was involved in the move which saw Hogan lay the foundations for United's historic win.

"When I first came in, we had to change the mindset of the players," Wilder explained. "We had to give the supporters something to hang on to. We certainly did that in terms of our approach.

"We had a fantastic first season, historic. We then went again, keeping the same approach last season.

"The talk was about improving with the players we brought in. To add to lads like Mark Duffy. People talk about unbelievable stories but what about his story.

"Next year, he will be involved at Anfield and Old Trafford. What a fabulous reward for him and also for our support."

"They have taken an unbelievable amount of grief in this city over quite a long time," he added. "To achieve what we have achieved is great. This is a special time to be a Blade."