Sheffield United: Chris Wilder's novel idea to help bring fans of The Blades and their West Ham counterparts together

Smiling, then laughing and fidgeting uncomfortably in his seat, Chris Wilder admitted this was a route he would prefer not to go down.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 2:45 pm
Updated Friday, 25th October 2019, 11:38 pm
The London Stadium, where Sheffield United and West Ham meet tomorrow: Aaron Chown/PA Wire.

But after asked about his thoughts on Sheffield United's relationship with West Ham - and the Carlos Tevez Affair to be specific - the Blades supporter turned manager dutifully obliged before suggesting a way of repairing the damage caused by one of the most controversial episodes in English football.

"I think a West Ham fan could have a beer with a United fan," he said. "And vice versa. They'd probably get on and maybe they should. There's a few clubs you wouldn't want to share a drink with though."

Tomorrow's match in the capital, the first Premier League fixture between the two clubs since their acrimonious legal wrangle 12 years ago, is ultimately about points rather than point-scoring. But, as Wilder acknowledged, events towards the end of the 2006/07 campaign mean off-the-pitch matters are impossible to ignore. Back then, when it emerged West Ham had entered into an illegal third party agreement in order to sign Tevez and his fellow Argentine Javier Mascherano, it spawned a row which became even more acrimonious when United were relegated and the Londoners, who had been fined rather than docked points after admitting their guilt, survived. Officials at Bramall Lane, led by then owner Kevin McCabe, eventually received around £20m in compensation. But only after failing to win a reprieve and being criticised, by some sections of the media, for refusing to accept their fate quietly. Seven years later, when they travelled to Upton Park for a Capital One Cup tie, United's followers were greeted by the sight of their counterparts in the home end donning Tevez masks. Time, it confirmed, is not always a great healer.

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After speaking of his respect for West Ham - "They're a working class club like us. I actually think we've got plenty in common" - Wilder suggested his employers had been right to pursue their grievance in the face of stiff opposition.

"As a Sheffield United supporter, if rules have been broken, well," he continued, before trailing off. "If you're a West Ham fan, and that had happened to your club, I think you'd have the same feelings. It was a difficult period."

United's slide into the Championship precipitated a decline in fortunes which eventually saw them spent six years in League One before, following Wilder's appointment three years ago, winning the first of two promotions under the former Northampton Town and Oxford chief.

Ninth in the table - two places above their latest opponents - United's encouraging start to life back in the top-flight continued when they beat Arsenal on Monday.

Sheffield United Manager Chris Wilder: Robin Parker/Sportimage

"I think it's time to look forward now and create new memories for our younger supporters," Wilder, who has previously outlined his desire to dominate the Steel City's footballing scene, said. "Like we did the other night and that will encourage them to follow us. Older fans will have the same thought process, and be looking forward to going down there (West Ham) and enjoy backing this group, to see what more great memories they can create.

"It's so far so good but we're only nine games in. But over the last two or three years, we can look back on those and be even more determined that we don't want to burst the bubble. We just want to roll on and create even more new memories for the generation of fans coming up and the older ones who have been through it with us at times."

Sheffield United are ninth in the table: James Wilson/Sportimage