Sheffield United's alternative end of season awards from James Shield dominated by one star player

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Sheffield United are heading back to the Premier League following a memorable campaign which saw them win promotion from the Championship and reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

So, after praising the likes of Iliman Ndiaye, Rhian Brewster and of course manager Paul Heckingbottom in The Star earlier this week, it’s time for me to present my alternative end of season awards.

Best Commentary

When United signed off the season with a victory over Birmingham City at St Andrews, journalists in the press box wondered why a couple of security guards suddenly took up positions at either end of the long desks where they work. Midway through the first-half, several reporters were probably tempted to tell what they thought was the excitable analyst sat with a number of John Eustace’s backroom staff to shut the whatsit up as he constantly barked instructions at the home players - moaning that one ‘Never runs f*****g backwards’ and labelling another as ‘Soft as s**t’. Well, that was until they realised it was Eustace himself, who had decided to watch the action from the back of the main stand.

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The Liam Neeson ‘I Wish I’d Never Said That’ Gong

No one dared to tell United, as Heckingbottom’s players paraded through the streets en route to a civic reception on Thursday, that they hadn’t actually gone up. They can’t have done. Because even though they finished 16 points clear of fourth placed Middlesbrough, wasn’t it Michael Carrick’s men who came second? That was what we were all being told in February, by a legion of expert pundits, when they beat United at Bramall Lane. The team from Teesside was already guaranteed Premier League football next term. Well, that is what we were told anyway.

Most Interesting Interviewee

How can you not like Chris Basham, a player who is always faultlessly polite whenever he’s put up in front of the media and readily admits to keeping a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings about his matches. Bash knows how to win over even the most cynical members of the Fourth Estate. Rhian Brewster is another of my personal favourites. Because, even though he began his career with Chelsea and Liverpool, the lad clearly skipped those media training courses run by the really big clubs’ PR departments which are designed to squeeze every ounce of character out of those who attend. But Oli McBurnie just edges his fellow striker out. “My life’s become a bit quiet at the moment,” he told journalists during one pre-match press conference in December, just after one highly publicised off-the-pitch event. “I might have to do something to liven it up.’ Honourable mentions for Oli Norwood and Billy Sharp too, who are both happy to have a little dig at opponents whenever they feel slighted.

Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie (centre) with his team mates: Paul Thomas /SportimageSheffield United's Oli McBurnie (centre) with his team mates: Paul Thomas /Sportimage
Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie (centre) with his team mates: Paul Thomas /Sportimage

Hardest Staff Member Medal, as not sponsored by Stormin’ Norman Buckland

His wardrobe staple - the three quarter length trouser - puts goalkeeping coach Matt Duke in the frame. Because, no matter what the weather, he always wears them. But Carl Hopwood, United’s long-serving kit man, gets the nod. Rain, hail or probably even a hurricane, he never seems to wear anything other than a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms when collecting the players’ training gear following the pre-match warm-up. Can frequently be seen sat pitchside, in December, dressed for a spring afternoon on the beach.

Least Convincing Act of Concern

Again, another win for another late entry. Referee David Webb took a ball right in his, well, own balls during United’s game against Birmingham City on the final day of the campaign. Fair play the official, he somehow summoned enough breath to blow his whistle for half-time soon after. You couldn’t blame him for calling time early either. Several of Heckingbottom’s players rushed over to check if David was okay. But only after having a bloody good laugh at his expense first.

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The Star's Sheffield United writer James ShieldThe Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

The Leon Clark Fashion Tribute Cup

Anyone who saw the former United striker once arrive for training wearing a patchwork parka, which no doubt cost more than the UK’s national debt, is still recovering from the sight. Strangely, given the reception it received from some of his team mates, it was never seen again. The same goes for the bright pink Stone Island tracksuit McBurnie proudly wore to one get together with journalists. Never, ever, doubt that lad’s bravery. His dress sense, maybe. But his courage, no.

The David Brooks Best Use of Social Media Certificate

Remember when the now AFC Bournemouth star once took to Instagram to announce he would be missing a game against Aston Villa due to illness? Then manager Chris Wilder, who was less than impressed, then referred any questions about his possible team selections “To Brooksy” for about the next four weeks. I was reminded of this in November when, before a match against Cardiff City, McBurnie published a video of him watching boxing at Sheffield Arena the night before. Twenty-four hours earlier, Heckingbottom had been doing his best to pretend that McBurnie would be making the trip to South Wales. Clearly, the message got lost in translation.