Sheffield United: The story of how Billy Sharp became a record-breaking goalscorer

Billy Sharp has scored more league goals than any other player in England this century: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Billy Sharp has scored more league goals than any other player in England this century: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Ron Reid still remembers the moment he knew Billy Sharp was destined for greatness.

The Sheffield United captain, then an aspiring young footballer within Bramall Lane's youth system, probably feared being shown a red card during a bad-tempered development fixture would hamper his prospects. But as he trudged off the pitch, head bowed and ego dented, Reid realised the teenage centre-forward had what it takes to make the grade.

Ron Reid with a young Billy Sharp (front right)

Ron Reid with a young Billy Sharp (front right)

"We were playing Sunderland, we'd gone into that one on the back of a 10 match winning streak and hoped to make it eleven," Reid explains. "Things weren't going well and Billy lost his rag a bit. What that told me though, despite the fact we went on to lose, was that he had such a passion for United."

Over a decade-and-a-half later, Reid is sitting at home on the outskirts of Chesterfield as he reflects upon Sharp's achievements in the game. Earlier this week, when Chris Wilder's team beat Wigan Athletic, the 32-year-old became the highest scoring player in English football this century by claiming their third and final goal of an emphatic win. It is a feat which confirmed not only his status as one of the sport's most ruthless marksmen but also that Reid's suspicions were correct. Still, explaining why Sharp stood-out right from the beginning, he cites attitude rather than an ability as his most important quality.

"That whole group coming through was full of really talented lads," Reid, the former director of United's Steelphalt Academy, continues. "There was Ian Ross, James Ashmore and Jon Forte. They all knew they were good so we had to make sure they knuckled down.

"Billy caught your eye because he scored goals, scored them for fun in fact, but he was really down to earth as well.

Chris Morgan (right) was in the team when Billy Sharp made his Sheffield United debut: Nigel Roddis/PA Wire.

Chris Morgan (right) was in the team when Billy Sharp made his Sheffield United debut: Nigel Roddis/PA Wire.

"Yes, he had a bit of an edge about him. But it was the right sort of edge, confident not cocksure, and it's hard to find that in a player."

Reid, drawing comparisons between Sharp and some of the academy's other famous alumni, attributes his character to being raised in a disciplined, United-mad, family.

"Billy reminds me of Jags (Phil Jagielka), Monty (Nick Montgomery), the two Kyles (Walker and Naughton) and Tongey (Michael Tonge). All of them were good solid boys from different backgrounds but they all had that support behind them. They were brought up well and that clearly rubbed off on them as kids. They were grounded and knew that nothing comes easy."

Sharp, who is expected to be rested for Sunday's FA Cup tie against Barnet, has hit the target 220 times in league competition since making his professional debut in 2004. Despite being sold by United twice, first to Scunthorpe and then Doncaster Rovers, the striker's third spell with the club has been the most successful of his career; delivering a League One title, a Championship play-off challenge and now, with Chris Wilder's side third in the table, push for automatic promotion.

Billy Sharp has now scored 220 league goals: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Billy Sharp has now scored 220 league goals: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Chris Morgan believes it is no coincidence his former club are excelling with two lifelong supporters in key positions.

"People can talk about tactics and systems all they want," Morgan, who was in the team when Sharp made his senior bow, during a draw with Watford, says. "But the manager and skipper are both die-hard Blades and that's got to count for something. Billy has always put pressure on himself and, when he was moved on to begin with, he possibly saw that as a rejection and that's driven him on. He's played for big clubs, gone for big money but possibly that's a blessing because this is his club and he wants the best for it."

"There's a really good group there at the moment and that comes from Chris at the top," Morgan, who also captained United, adds. "Billy will have played a huge part in that, though. He knows the area, he knows the people and so the boys who come in will automatically pick up on that. Billy will let them know they're not just coming to play for any old club.

"He's arguably got it tougher than me when I had the armband because back then, you didn't see lads open up laptops or put headphones on the minute they get on the bus. In my day, we just talked so you automatically had that togetherness. But I know Billy has worked hard, really hard in fact, to get that unity going."

Billy Sharp presents a trophy during a tournament at Middlewood Rovers

Billy Sharp presents a trophy during a tournament at Middlewood Rovers

Sharp returned to United three seasons ago following a brief stint with Leeds and has also boasts spells at Rushden and Diamonds, Nottingham Forest, Reading and Southampton on an impressive CV. Rickie Lambert, his former team mate at St Mary's, previously held the record he broke in Greater Manchester.

Before being signed by United, Sharp represented Middlewood Rovers at junior level.

"There's an old Green 'Un report on the wall of the cafe at our ground.," Richard Asquith, the Handsworth-based club's secretary, says. "It's about Billy, who was with our under-10's then, scoring his 10th hat-trick of the season in a match against Brunsmeer Athletic.

"Everything we do is run by volunteers and Billy, when he was a lad, will have been up on a mate's shoulders helping to take down the nets. That's the background he's come from and everyone here, whether they're United'ites or Wednesday'ites, is just so proud of him and career he's having."

Sharp's first senior goal came against Chester City, when Rushden, where he was on loan at the time, visited the Deva Stadium.

Wayne Brown, now a coach at Oxford United, was in between the posts for the hosts that day.

"He's got to be one of the best forwards in Britain," Brown insists, despite acknowledging he does not remember the moment. "The figure he's reached, especially in the modern game, is nothing short of phenomenal. He deserves every single plaudit and is a role-model for kids everywhere."

Reid agrees, claiming it is Sharp's response to moments of adversity which make him a special, enduring player.

"Billy's personality is key," he says. "He's taken stick at certain points, with people saying he couldn't score in the Championship and all that rubbish.

“But he looks fitter, stronger and brighter now than ever. When you combine that with his instinct for scoring goals, it's no wonder he's done what he's done. Billy will always want more but he should be proud, really proud in fact, of what he's achieved."