Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp explains why he believes lockdown has brought out the best in people
Supporters of a certain vintage will remember ‘Phoenix from the Flames’; a segment of the Fantasy Football television show, which saw hosts Frank Skinner and David Baddiel reenact famous moments from the game’s history.
A new, revamped version has just been unveiled on social media with Leo, the son of Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp, recreating Alan Shearer’s goal for England against Georgia in 1996 and Paul Gascoigne’s FA Cup final free-kick five years earlier.
The video vignettes, published on Twitter by his father, have introduced the youngster’s skills to a new audience. They also provide an insight into how Sharp and his family are passing the time as they isolate at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Like many of his fellow professionals, Sharp would prefer to be spending April playing actual matches rather than choreographing kickabouts in the back garden. But every cloud has a silver lining and, as the Premier League approaches its sixth week in lockdown, the centre-forward admits the suspension of the fixture calendar has brought some benefits.
“It’s been nice,” Sharp says. “The weather has helped and it’s been nice to be out in the fresh air spending quality time with the kids. I’ve got that bond with them anyway but the 24/7 thing, which I’m not always able to do at this time of year, is really good. It’s nice to be able to do all the things I sometimes don’t get to do.”
Although his wife Jade has been taking charge of their children’s home schooling - “I never liked maths, stuff like that and English, so she takes care of those” - Sharp has been providing lessons on a subject he is qualified to teach. Leo and his younger brother Milo have been enjoying crash courses in the history of football and learning about some of its most iconic names.
“His favourite player changes every day,” Sharp says, referring to Leo. “I’ve told him about Gazza and he thought that goal was brilliant. They both know about Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks as well, as my dad told them about those guys. We’ve got little figures of those two in the house.
“It’s good to know about past players as well as the ones out there at the moment. But football isn’t the be all and end all.”
“I do feel a little bit bad that he (Leo) has been a bit of a guinea pig with the videos,” Sharp continues. “He’s just a seven year old kid enjoying himself in the back garden. I just wanted to give an insight into what we’re up to.
“But it’s great that people are now posting things back to me to show to him. It’s inspiring others and he’s doing really well with it.”
Sharp, aged 34, was approaching a potentially career defining run of matches when the season was indefinitely postponed. Seventh in the table and preparing for an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, United were chasing European qualification on two different fronts only a year after being promoted from the Championship.
Although the break in competition could not have come at a more inconvenient time for a squad unbeaten in its last six outings before the shutdown was announced, Sharp acknowledges it has given him a renewed sense of perspective about what he has given to football and what football has given back.
“I’m lucky to be a footballer. I’ve worked hard to get here and to be in these surroundings, with all the material things. But that’s what they are, material things. As long as I have the kids and the wife and know my family and friends are safe, that’s what really matters.
“The time we are going through now is surreal, When you do go to the shops, it’s so quiet out there and it makes you appreciate what you do have and what you’ve worked for.
“Hopefully we don’t have to go through this again, hopefully it doesn’t last too long. But you’ve got to stay strong, make sure you look after your loved ones and when it’s all over, reflect on the lessons you’ve learned. Take the good things out of it and forget about the bad things.”
Revealing he has developed a new skill since United were forced to mothball their training complex in order to comply with social distancing measures - “Cutting up cardboard boxes with a Stanley knife, that’s been my thing. We’ve been getting lots of things delivered so credit to the drivers for still being out there at work” - Sharp has also been reflecting upon the responsibilities the captain’s armband brings.
“We’ve got a big WhatsApp group and there’s a few smaller ones,” he says. “We’ve had video calls with the lads and I’ve got in contact with the overseas lads, who have just come here, because it must be really hard for them; especially the ones on their own.
“They’ve only just signed for the club and then this happens. They must be wondering what they’ve done? But they’re all in a good place and when football returns, they can have their families over. So we’re getting in touch with them everyday and the same goes for the manager.”
Sharp suspects it will be the middle of next month at the earliest when United’s players meet in person again.
“Initially they said it was going to be two weeks but now I’m probably doing Jade’s head in and the kids are getting restless,” he laughs. “But it isn’t going to last forever and you see people doing some amazing things out there in the world right now; all the NHS staff, the health care workers and people like bus drivers, delivery drivers and dustbin men who are still doing what they have to do.
“We’re the lucky ones really, being in our own homes and occupying each other until all this disappeared and we can continue with normal life.”