Sheffield United: How being released by Newcastle made Chris Basham
Chris Basham remembers it as if it were yesterday; the pain when his father Paul and mother Julie told him, after opening the letter posted to their home in Hebburn, that he was being released by Newcastle.
“It was a bit embarrassing because it was in front of friends,” he admits, describing the moment his dream of becoming a footballer appeared to have been dashed. “But it’s worked out alright in the end.”
Basham isn’t wrong. Fifteen years after being shown the door at St James’ Park, he is a regular starter for Sheffield United where, after twice winning promotion in the space of three seasons, Chris Wilder’s side are now one of the most talked-about teams in Premier League competition.
The defender’s story - which reminds how sporting rejection can be turned into something positive - is a familiar one at Bramall Lane. A huge swathe of Wilder’s squad, including John Egan and John Lundstram, were forced to start all over after being informed they would not make the grade at top-flight clubs. Unbeaten in seven and having prepared for tonight’s meeting with Basham’s former employers eighth in the table, the overwhelming majority have had the last laugh with United peering down on the likes of Everton and Sunderland, who turned their backs on Egan, from near the top of the pyramid.
Another graduate of the school of hard knocks, Basham believes there is a direct correlation between the CV’s of his team mates and their recent results.
“The main thing about this group is that we’re so together because everyone has got their own little story about themselves. Look at Lunny. He got let go at Goodison Park and had to go again with Oxford before working his way back up. Lots of us have gone the long way round, if you like. Now he (Lundstram) is developing into a brilliant Premier League player and is out there every week.
“Clubs might look at our backgrounds and think ‘he didn’t make it there, so we won’t bother taking a punt.’ But we’ve twisted it and it’s great to see the boys standing up for themselves.
“There’s so many boys who have done that here, you can take a real confidence from it.”
Basham, now in his sixth season with United, is convinced Newcastle’s decision to cut him loose turned out to be the making of his career. Following a spell working in a McDonald’s restaurant, he turned professional with Bolton Wanderers after being spotted playing at county level before eventually moving to Blackpool. Signed by Wilder’s predecessor Nigel Clough, Basham recently made his 250th appearance for United.
“You find out about yourself when something like that happens,” he says. “You either down tools, as the manager here would say, or you get yourself going and carry on playing football and enjoying it. Some people don’t do that, they go the other way and you do find out a lot at a young age.”
Basham, who grew-up supporting their arch-rivals Sunderland, has never faced Newcastle in competitive action before. Despite insisting he will not be motivated by revenge when Steve Bruce’s side visit South Yorkshire, it is telling he can still recall nearly every single detail of the report card which confirmed his departure.
“In there, there was a bit of a write-up about how I could improve my game,” Basham continues, confessing he thought he was destined for a full-time contract. “There was also a bit about them saying they’d keep an eye on me but I knew that wouldn’t be the case and that it wouldn’t happen. It was a hard one to take at the time.
“The routine you had has gone. You end up going to exit trials, with lads you’ve never kicked a ball with in your life, and that can be quite nerve-wracking. But it builds you into the person you become.”
“When we got the letter, my dad read it to me because it was addressed to mum and dad. He put his arm around me and said ‘your time isn’t done yet son, just keep going.’ Two years later Bolton picked me up.”
United will enter the fixture having not lost since September and, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Norwich City, unbeaten away from home this term.
“I want the bragging rights back home but it’s just another game really,” Basham says, “I’m feeling confident and the boys are too. That record away, even though this is at our place, shows we’re really tight-knit. Everyone is willing and fighting for each other.”
Despite retaining his broad North-East accent, Basham is settled at Bramall Lane.
“I enjoy life around here,” he says. No one pesters or bothers you are everyone knows we are trying to do well for the city. I’m not sure why I settled here, I just found it easier. I don’t no if it’s the Yorkshire people, being so laid back and letting you get on with your life. They’ll also support you when you need it as well. It’s similar to where I’m from and, the same as the Geordies, we’ll be desperate to go out there and take the points.”