Split personalities: Sheffield’s football identity explained by a man who’s played for Wednesday and United

Richard Cresswell shakes hands with Chris O'Grady before the STeel City derby in Blades colours
Richard Cresswell shakes hands with Chris O'Grady before the STeel City derby in Blades colours
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Richard Cresswell, the former Sheffield United and Wednesday striker, discusses derbies and identity with James Shield

One city but two, Richard Cresswell believes, very different teams.

Richard Cresswell

Richard Cresswell

The former Sheffield United centre-forward is eminently qualified to judge having also played for Sheffield Wednesday at the beginning of his career. But it is their contrasting character traits which, Cresswell asserts, makes meetings between the clubs such emotive games.

“The don’t have the same personalities, they both view themselves in entirely different ways. That’s what makes the rivalry so strong if you ask me. Other people might not agree but that’s how I see it anyway.”

Football is littered with derbies fuelled by class, politics or religion. The Old Firm (Rangers/Celtic), Derby della Madonnina (Internazionale/Milan) and El Classico (Barcelona/Real Madrid) are three examples from Europe.

Across the Atlantic, Boca Juniors and River Plate, who traditionally represent blue collar workers and the intelligentsia, have spent the past 104 years vying for supremacy in Buenos Aires.

Richard Cresswell in action for the Blades

Richard Cresswell in action for the Blades

United versus Wednesday might not be built across the same faultlines but, according to Cresswell, identity is an issue.

“If you ask United fans about their best times, they talk about the teams of Neil Warnock, Dave Bassett and now probably Chris Wilder as well,” he says.

“They are the ones they’ve connected with the most.

“Across the city, they’ll tell you about John Sheridan, Chris Waddle and people like that. It’s two very distinct types.

“United supporters really do demand hard work, commitment and desire. First and foremost, they demand that from their players.

“I’m not saying people like Sheridan and Waddle didn’t have all of those things. I’m not saying United didn’t have some top quality players under Neil or Harry because that’s patently not the case.

“But they did have a different type of approach. That attitude’s there now. I’ve played for both and I do think there’s a difference.”

Cresswell made 36 appearances for Wednesday after leaving York City in 1999. But, having spent nearly four years at Bramall Lane, playing under the likes of Kevin Blackwell, Gary Speed and Danny Wilson, his allegiances now lie on the red and white side of the divide.

Cresswell, who cites winning over United’s followers as “one of my biggest and most proudest achievements” following his move from Stoke eight seasons ago, believes Wilder’s understanding of what makes them tick is a major factor behind the club’s recent renaissance.

“Even when United got off to a slow start under Chris, I said publicly at the time he was the right man and he’d get it right,” Cresswell remembers.

“He’s certainly done that hasn’t he. Chris just ‘gets’ what United are about, he knows what the fans want and that’s because, apart from being a damn good manager, he’s one himself. I still come back to Bramall Lane and, whenever I do, you can tell everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

“The directors deserve credit for bringing Chris in because they’ve had some good managers before him but it’s never quite clicked. But the way Chris approaches things is very similar to those great eras under the likes of Neil and Bassett.”

“United have got a fan as manager, a fan as captain (Billy Sharp) and a fan as owner (Kevin McCabe) or co-owner now,” he adds. “That’s a great position to be in.

“I think it gives the whole place at edge.”

Cresswell, now aged 39, took part in three games against Wednesday during his spell with United.

“They’re so intense,” he says.

“You feel that at the start of the week and it builds all the way through.

“When you arrive at the stadium, they’re already full of people because everyone is so excited about the game and that really pumps everybody, including the managers, right up.

“The key is to feed off that but not be overwhelmed by it.”