Sheffield United's Chris Basham explains why he feels "truly privileged" as he prepares to renew his long-standing rivalry with Spurs
It was 28 January 2015 and although Wembley was within touching distance, as they prepared to begin the second leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur, the Premier League appeared light years away for Chris Basham and his Sheffield United team mates.
“It was all set up nicely and it turned out to be a great game, with them coming to us on a snowy night,” the defender, who seven days earlier had started the tie’s first instalment, remembered earlier this week. “We were only trailing by a goal, it was a snowy night and were really fired-up for the match.”
Basham is the only surviving member of the side which eventually bowed-out 3-2 on aggregate still on United’s books. He cherishes the memory of that dramatic evening in South Yorkshire - “I remember Christian Erikssen scoring a worldie and then we came right back into it” - but admits, because the club was still languishing in League One at the time, he never dreamt it would soon be competing with Spurs as top-flight equals.
Tomorrow, when the Londoners make their first return to Bramall Lane since Che Adams and Erikssen claimed a brace apiece during that thrilling 2-2- draw - the Dane’s 88th minute finish preventing the tie from entering extra-time - Basham is set to make his 32nd appearance in the Premier League this season after helping United win promotion from the Championship last term. Two years earlier, he was also a member of the squad which powered out of the third tier following Chris Wilder’s appointment as manager.
“I couldn’t have imagined, five or six years ago, that we’d be going from League One to playing in the Premier League against Tottenham,” Basham continued. “That’s one of the most important things, to realise where we’ve come from and how quickly we’ve done it. At the start of the season, the aim was to stay up and we’ve done that now. We’re so close to Spurs in the table and if we beat them, which obviously we believe we can do, then we’ll go back above them.”
Only a point separates United from Jose Mourinho’s men, who prepared for this match in seventh. Despite seeing the Covid-19 pandemic rob them of the momentum they had built up before the fixture programme was suspended in March, it is remarkable to think that seven members of the squad which faced Chesterfield on the final day of the 2016/17 season could feature among the 20 names Wilder selects later this evening.
Although some commentators felt United lacked the pedigree to compete at the highest level, Basham highlighted their humble backgrounds as one of the group’s greatest strengths.
“I actually think it helps the club massively,” Basham, who was signed by Wilder’s predecessor Nigel Clough, said. “Even the gaffer, he’s had to work his way up from the bottom and I think the fact so many of us have done that shows the hunger we’ve all got.
“Going back five and a half years or so to our last game against Spurs, I think we can say it’s been a pretty amazing achievement but we want more. I never thought it would happen but we all want to just drive it forward.”
Basham, previously of Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool, cited Wilder’s ability to release previously untapped potential as a reason why, after once finding themselves languishing in the lower divisions, the likes of John Fleck, Enda Stevens, Jack O’Connell and himself have been able to make the improvements necessary to become elite professionals.
“Personally, I just think it’s the way the manager is on the training ground and the way we are as people,” Basham said. “We’ve probably always had the talent. But maybe it’s just taken us a little bit longer for us to prove ourselves than other people.
“I’ve been at this level before and so have lads like Enda, Flecky and John Egan. But we had to take a couple of steps back to come back up again. I’m not talking about myself but I do think it says something about the lads’ characters here that so many of them have been willing and able to do that.”
Despite emerging as one of the most talked about teams in the country before lockdown, United have suffered more than most by the decision to stage matches behind closed doors - drawing one and losing two of their three outings since competition resumed last month. Spurs, who hired Mourinho after parting company with Mauricio Pochettino following November’s draw with United in north London, are unbeaten in two having faced Manchester United and West Ham on home soil.
"I'm missing the fans, we all are, and it will be great when we can have them back in the ground with us," Basham said. "They're always a huge help to us but we have to try and do them proud on our own at the moment, and we're working for each other as well."
“Tottenham are a very dangerous team but we’ll work on them and we enjoy coming up against the best, pitting our wits against them,” he. added. “I really feel truly privileged to be where I am now and that’s why I and the rest of the lads, who all think the same, will be giving it everything.”