Had the campaign unfolded as scheduled, and coronavirus not prevented them from playing a game since the beginning of March, the trip to Southampton could also have marked their entry into Europe. Or, after reaching the quarter-finals of the competition as well as seventh in the table, a precursor for an appearance in the FA Cup final which was supposed to take place at Wembley this weekend.
Chris Wilder’s side have become one of the most talked about teams in the country following their promotion from the Championship, with a number of squad members being praised by pundits, supporters and fellow professionals alike for making such a smooth transition to top-flight football.
So, after defender Jack O’Connell was named as The Star’s United Player of the Year, our correspondent James Shield decided to hand out some other honours to celebrate the club’s achievements: An ‘alternative’ list of trophies following a truly memorable season for everyone associated with Bramall Lane.
The David Lynch ‘It doesn’t quite tell the whole story’ Award: It looked like being the moment. The chance which, after more fluffed finishes than the Dutch national team, marked the end of his long and at times heart-wrenching search for a Premier League goal. But after rounding Matt Ryan, as the AMEX Stadium held its breath, he somehow managed to miss the target from point blank range. Fortunately United went on to beat Brighton and Hove Albion and, despite still searching for his first effort in the competition, he remains a bloody good player. A delightful player in fact. Winner: David McGoldrick.
The Gemma Collins Prize for being the best diva: He was run close by Wilder, who after one of his fellow managers failed to turn-up for a post-match drink at the start of the campaign, still looked as if he could commit GBH two weeks later. Fail to share a Peroni with United’s commander-in-chief at your peril. But when an advance party from one of the biggest clubs in the division arrived at Bramall Lane some months later, the sight of one of its members throwing a hissy fit because there was no green tea in the away dressing room meant the 52-year-old was always going to miss out. Winner: An unidentified kitman from a team based in the south.
The Ralph Ineson gong for services to great British comedy: It was one of the more bizarre ‘Stay at Home’ challenges created by footballers with too much time on their hands during lockdown. But after one of his former team mates threw down the gauntlet, this United player picked it up in determined fashion by choosing, rather than juggling some bog roll, to summon their inner Chris Finch by lobbing a small metal jug over their garage roof. Just a shame it wasn’t a kettle and that the incident took place on a driveway rather than outside a Berkshire country pub. Winner: Ben Osborn.
The Jose Mourinho medal for in-depth pre-match planning: He probably set the alarm clock for 6am in the morning, scheduled breakfast for 7am and, despite basing United in a hotel only a couple of goal kicks away, ordered the coach to set off for the stadium, where kick-off was scheduled to take place later that afternoon, less than an hour later. Detailed scrutiny of traffic patterns and surrounding one way systems had been undertaken the night before. After chastising Norwich City for turning up late to Bramall Lane a couple of years earlier, there was no way United could afford to be caught off guard when they visited Carrow Road in December. Winner: Chris Wilder.
The Eric Bristow ‘I really couldn’t give a monkey’s whatsits’ Trophy: What better way to spend your free Sunday than giving the old ‘Nescafe Shake’ to supporters of the team your former club loves to hate? Especially if, seeing as the match was being screened live on television, you are a professional footballer who probably suspects the cameras, tipped off about your presence, will be desperately searching you out? This United centre-forward clearly feels it beats lunch with the family or a gentle stroll through the Peak District every time. And, do you know what? Fair play to the man who made everyone but the suits at the FA laugh with his antics during this season’s South Wales derby between Cardiff and his previous employers Swansea. Winner: Oli McBurnie.
The Trevor Leota medal for sheer brutality: It was half-time and, after watching one member of the press corp selflessly try a slice of all eight cakes on the Emirates Stadium sweet trolley during the build-up to United’s draw at Arsenal - “I’m only doing it so I can tell you lot which one is best” - the queue for refreshments when the referee brought opening period to a close should have been well-ordered. I say ‘should have been’ because, when the catering staff wheeled out the mini fish and chips - individually wrapped in fake newspaper - it turned into a scrum of epic proportions. Winner: Everyone who survived.
The ‘This game has gone to the dogs’ cup, sponsored by Pedigree Chum: Football is a game of small details. Very small details. And also digits, as events at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium six months ago proved. (It seems like an age now). McGoldrick put the ball in the back of the net but it was just the striker’s luck when, although no one else inside the ground had noticed, they VAR official spotted John Lundstram had strayed offside. Not all of him. Just his big toe. Actually make that his big toe nail. Fortunately United went on to secure the equaliser their efforts deserved. Winner: Everyone who wanted VAR.
The Phoenix Club certificate for great ideas that turned out to be not so great: When Brian Potter decided to hire a novelty bouncy castle for his venue’s family fun day, ‘Sammy the Snake’ seemed like the perfect choice. Except it wasn’t. And for those who don’t know why, I can’t explain here. Organisers of the ePremier League Invitational, a concept designed to satisfy people’s appetite for football during lockdown, probably thought it would be fun to interview this player before his victory over Todd Cantwell. His bemused look when the questions were posed - in a language he is still getting to grips with - suggested it won’t be happening again if the tournament is revived. Still, us Brits can’t scoff. We’re not exactly known for our linguistic skills. Winner: Lys Mousset.
The Andy Millman Prize for sheer persistence: He’s a top bloke. A brilliant bloke in fact. And he poses the question every single week. ‘Do you want to try some Henderson’s Relish with that?’ Every single journalist queuing up for food at the media suite’s hot plate gets asked if they fancy trying the famous Sheffield delicacy. Whether they want rice, chips, cake, a pie or chilli con carne. The same goes when the sandwich tray arrives too, or someone pours themselves a cup of tea or coffee. Winner: The chief press room steward at Bramall Lane.