My First Game: The day I fell in love with Sheffield United... and tasted the first of many disappointments as a Blade!

As part of our #myfirstgame series, The Star will feature one supporter’s memories of their first experience seeing Sheffield United on these pages every day this week.

Monday, 30th March 2020, 4:59 pm
My First Game series - Reliving fans' first taste of Sheffield United

Kicking us off today is Mark Howsham, a Blade who now lives in Bury.

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Aren't first games great? As a certain Mr Whitehouse of Fast Show acclaim may well say.

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Like every other first in life, it's just that - something you never get again. You cant repeat a first. Sadly. Unless we get a time machine; and then wow, which era or event would we Blades go back to in order to rectify? Tevez? That save? That penalty miss? Yeah, too many options, but then, if we undid history, we wouldn’t have ‘one of our own’ would we?

My first game, was on January 8, 1977 at BDTBL. FA Cup third round. Newcastle United.

Saturday 3pm kick off; remember those?

My story starts some time before that fateful day when a love affair began that is now seeped so deep it will pass on for at least two more generations.

Alan Woodward and Tony Currie

I was born in 1964, grew up in Wincobank. As a kid at first school I became aware of football, then Sheff Utd at about five or six years old. Playground games would have almost every kid being ‘Alan Woodward’…. I was no different.

I knew he scored the goals and that was about it, I'd never even seen a picture of him or the team at that time. I sort of recall in my dark distant memory bank later catching a glimpse of the red and white striped shirt and just falling in love with it.

Around the age of eight or nine I began to pester my dad to take me to a game, although he wasn’t keen on football. His dad was an avid Sheffield lover, as proud a Yorkshireman as they come, but he was a lover of both sides of the divide. HUH? How does that work? Never got it!

He would chat to me about the old players and games as well as going to see the cricket too. He was in attendance at the game v Bury, where I now live, when during the game a player collapsed on the field and passed away.

Alan Woodward Benefit Match at Bramall Lane - 9th May 1974. Sheffield United's Alan Woodward runs out onto the field to the applause of the Sheffield Wednesday players and the crowd Alan Woodward (died 21 May 2015)

The pestering increased over the next couple of years always met with a typical “how much?”

He didn’t earn much those days and I can now understand how affording a match day ticket is beyond many. Crikey, it's £40 for some now! And I'm saying the same to myself. 'How much?'

Eventually the beautiful day arrived. Dad caved in and off we set; walking from Wincobank to town centre to see The Blades.

I'm certain that what comes next is very likely the same story for most first-timers.

Funnily enough I don’t recall too much about the actual match itself, it ended 0-0 and we hit the bar I think. But that’s about it for what went on during the game that day.

However from walking past St Mary’s roundabout, catching the first glimpse of the roof and floodlights; oh, those floodlights, they were on as it was deep winter and grey skies, I can even now feel that tightening of my chest with excitement and anticipation; something that still grips me to this very day.

A few hundred yards later the atmosphere intensified, the ground became visible; John Street was where we were heading. The crowds of folks heading the same way grew and grew and to a kid not ever experiencing it before, it felt like the whole of Sheffield was there. A mass gathering of the like sadly, as I type this, we are being sternly encouraged to avoid with Covid19 on the rampage.

Then it hit me, WE … I .. was going to see a YOUNIGHTED match.

That last few yards seemed to take longer than the other four miles. The aroma of burgers and chips, smoke from fags and pipes, oh and beer; though I didn’t realise it at the time.

Over the years we take things for granted, and don’t notice such things as much as we should, mind you, I'm glad smoking is banned in the grounds nowadays.

We picked up our tickets from that shed of a ticket office on John Street then made our way to the turnstile, pushing and shoving amongst the throng. I think at the point we entered the gate if my heart had gone any faster it would have done a Meatloaf. Google it.

I noticed how bleak the interior was going up to the alleyway as we went to our section, dark dank walls cold steps and walkway.

BUT THEN….. the awesome moment of truth, that never ever to be forgotten moment, when you come to the plateau after the steps and... even as I type I'm getting emotional, and the old heart is racing, there's a grin on my face, I'm sure you know what I mean.

THERE... there, just a few feet below is the brightest green I shall ever have the pleasure of witnessing in my life. There is nothing like, or can come close to a floodlit pitch; it takes your breath away.

The away section was an amazing sea of black and white, the toon army as always were there in force. The noise was deafening, the roar from one end then the other as they bated each other. It was the 70s after all and it was quite intense and frightening too, I mean, I didn’t want my f***ing head kicked in!

The sway on the Kop was incredible, from our seated position I knew it was somewhere I wanted to be - although it took a lot more persuasion before we got to see a match from that vantage point.

As I said, I don’t really recall much from beyond kick-off. But when the teams ran out and the roar went up from all four sides I knew I was in love.

No greasy chip butty song back then but the whistle to get this romance underway was piercing.

The long walk home was one of enthrallment - me asking when we could go again, ‘we’ll see’ the repeated reply.

I can still feel that sense of disappointment that I hadn’t seen my hero Woodward get a goal and that we hadn’t won. Oh, how many more times was I to have that experience - as we know life as a Blade is full of such!