Sheffield United: Humility, attitude and mutual respect mean derbies against Rotherham United are different
Thirteeen years ago, when Rotherham United were in serious trouble on the pitch and in even direr straits off it, Sheffield United came to the rescue by providing financial and sporting support.
Collection buckets were passed around the terraces, with the monies raised helping their neighbours stave off the threat of liquidation. Two promising young talents, Stephen Quinn and Jonathan Forte, moved to Millmoor on loan after United's hierarchy pledged to waive any costs involved.
Nearly a decade and a half later, having built a brand new ground and returned to the Championship, Saturday's visitors to Bramall Lane are in pretty rude health. The same can be said for relations between the clubs, with the efforts of United's supporters, directors and coaching staff back then spawning a fierce but friendly rivalry.
"Why shouldn't we have done that? Why would you want to see that? These are historic football clubs and you don't want to see one of those in trouble," Chris Wilder said earlier today. "Obviously they got themselves into a bit of a tangle but I think our club did the right thing at the time. Looking back, it was definitely the right thing. I don't think there can be any doubt about that."
A different kind of derby
Although this weekend's match is a derby, and a damn important one for both teams involved, it will contain none of the bitterness or rancour of their meetings with Sheffield Wednesday. When United travelled to Hillsborough on Monday, defender Jack O'Connell was pelted with missiles as he prepared to take a throw-in, a member of Wilder's family was the subject of some derogatory chanting and both sets of fans clashed outside the stadium. Nine days earlier, when Wednesday journeyed to New York Stadium, Paul Warne made no attempt to disguise his anger after learning Steve Bruce had described the fixture as Rotherham's "cup final". Wilder, himself a former Rotherham player, struck a much more courteous tone this morning. Yes, he conceded, Warne's men are fighting relegation not chasing promotion. But that his assessment of the division and the clubs' respective statures came with an important caveat.
"These aren't cup finals," Wilder, the United manager, insisted. "If they beat us and then lose their next three, then what's the point of turning up against Sheffield United? That's the same for everyone.
"For me, that's our big thing. We turn up week in week out and give ourselves an opportunity. It's the same for Rotherham, they turn up week in week out too. It's a great quality to have as a manager. Listen, if you turn up and the opposition play better, so be it. But we're not a spike team and that's why I'm so proud of my group."
"Yes, we've had some bad days where I've let rip and had a pop," he continued. "But very rarely has it been down to a lack of attitude or competitive edge. Paul will say the same about his group as well."
United remained third in the table following their stalemate with Wednesday while Rotherham, despite beating Blackburn Rovers 48 hours earlier, enter round 36 of the competition ranked 22nd. Although his squad's latest assignment appears routine on paper, in reality Wilder suspects it will prove anything but.
"If you look back at when we went to their place earlier this season, I remember we were very fortunate to come away with a positive result," he said, reflecting upon November's 2-2 draw. "If it wasn't for Dean (Henderson, the United goalkeeper), they probably would have won. If I was Paul, (his assistant) Richie Barker, one of their players or fans, then I'd probably have felt pretty aggrieved."
Wilder's respect for Warne was evident during his latest pre-match media briefing. Barker, once a contender for the United job, received several honourable mentions too.
Returning briefly to the skirmish with Wednesday, which hatched a much more noxious narrative, he said: "A lot has been talked about the build-up and what went on last time out and I'll let others deal with that.
"This will be totally different, it's a different type of rivalry. The tone will be a little bit different and I totally respect them."
"It was the same with Steve on Monday," he added. "I went and had a beer with him. I've known him a long time and have a huge amount of respect for him. We all want the best for our clubs, we all want the next performance and the next three points. We'll all fight for it in our own different ways. There's always connections on the pitch as well. Maybe outside of what is a very tough industry people look at it a bit differently."
More than just proximity
Geography is only one reason why meetings between United and Rotherham are so intriguing. They are inextricably linked in other ways too. Both are managed by former players, Wilder's number two Alan Knill is one of Warne's predecessors and, according to the 51-year-old, the clubs have a similar approach to football; one based on character, and humility.
"Possibly, yes, they are similar," Wilder replied when asked if United and Rotherham have similar personalities. "I played for the club, I came from here to go there, and there wasn't much of a change in terms of the attitude of the supporters. They wanted you to run around, to compete and give everything. They didn't want you to be big time or arrogant. They wanted you to earn the right with what you did."
"Their most successful times, under Ronnie in the Championship and under Paul in the Championship, they have had that togetherness," he added. "They've got some talented boys there too. Like us, they've tried to harness that togetherness in the right way, put together with talent."