'It was mad' - Paul Rogers remembers the day he swapped City trading for Sheffield United - and a derby against Wednesday

As he stood in the centre circle and prepared to kick the first ball of his first Sheffield Derby, Paul Rogers allowed himself a second to look around and wonder how the hell he had ended up there.
Dave Bassett with New Signing Paul Rodgers - January 1992Dave Bassett with New Signing Paul Rodgers - January 1992
Dave Bassett with New Signing Paul Rodgers - January 1992

Just over 42,000 fans were packed inside Hillsborough. A few weeks earlier, Rogers had been playing in front of 400 in non-league for Sutton United.

"It was mad," Rogers remembers now with a smile. "The ground at Hillsborough was literally shaking and I could feel it from the centre circle.

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"I had gone from playing for fun in non-league to suddenly playing for my livelihood, and so everything was on the line.

Rogers worked briefly with Howard Kendall at Bramall Lane after Bassett's exit: Allsport/ALLSPORTRogers worked briefly with Howard Kendall at Bramall Lane after Bassett's exit: Allsport/ALLSPORT
Rogers worked briefly with Howard Kendall at Bramall Lane after Bassett's exit: Allsport/ALLSPORT

"I was up against Carlton Palmer, so I had to learn and learn quickly. But we were so well set-up that we knew how they played, while still knowing how to do our jobs as well.

"There were flares and all that, thousands of people all along the route from Bramall Lane to Hillsborough. But after the game started, everything else faded away. The game couldn't have gone any better for us, really... it was a dream."

That game is better known as Sir Bobby Davison day, after the on-loan striker scored twice on his Blades debut to secure a 3-1 win - and a first double over Wednesday in 30 years.

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It was also Rogers' second game as a Blade, after he had been plucked out of non-league by Dave 'Harry' Bassett. He went straight into the side, in the old Division One, and played almost 140 times for the Blades in the 1990s.

But if Davison's debut was a dream, Rogers' story is like something out of a Roy of the Rovers annual. He worked in the City as a commodities trader, dealing in gold, platinum and other precious metals, and was part of the Sutton side that famously dumped previous winners Coventry City out of the FA Cup in 1989 before Bassett made his move.

"I had suddenly gone from playing against the likes of Aylesbury United and Carshalton Athletic to playing against Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool," Rogers added.

"I worked in the City straight from school and started as a messenger, collecting cheques and moving cars around for people and getting them a sandwich. Then I progressed to a broker, basically managing clients' money.

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"It was a great time to be in the City. People were making good money and it was the start of the computer revolution. It was a great place to work, with such a buzz and a good social life. But it was a little bit like living life on the treadmill. I used to get the 6.42am train to London and 8.42pm train back home, three days a week, to give me the freedom to get to training and games with Sutton."

Then, one Wednesday, Bassett called Rogers at his office - "no mobiles then," Rogers laughs - and offered him the chance to discuss a contract with his First Division Blades.

"I didn't have an agent or anything like that," Rogers added. "I went in to see my managing director and luckily, he was football-mad, so told me to go for it and see how it went. I always had the back-up option of going back there if things didn't go right, so it was a win/win scenario for me really.

"I went and spoke to Harry and Derek Dooley, bless him, and they offered me a two-and-a-half year deal. Harry was quite clear with me: 'You're not here to make up the numbers. I've got a small squad, and I'm looking for you to play.'

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"So the decision took no time at all. And although I wouldn't have told Harry at the time, I'd have signed for even less than he offered me for the chance to be a professional!

"I went into United and it was like a different world. There were brand new goals at the training ground and 30 brand-new matching footballs, instead of three Nikes, a couple of Mitres and a flat Adidas!

"A lot of people talk about Harry being a long-ball merchant but he was ahead of a lot of teams at the time. We had a psychologist and a fitness coach and a nutritionist.

"Harry's great strength was surrounding himself with the right people. He had a blend of characters; not just the team, but the staff as well."

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Rogers played on that fateful day at Stamford Bridge when United were relegated on the final day of the 1993/94 season, after a monumental swing of goals, and still audibly winces at the memory.

At half-time on the last day, United were seventh bottom and well clear of relegation. By the time the final whistle blew, all their rivals had picked up points and United had lost in the last minute. They were relegated.

Ironically, Rogers supported Chelsea as a boy and is reminded of that day every time he visits the Bridge.

"Overall, I have brilliant memories of Sheffield," Rogers said. "The people are football-mad and there was a real good feel about the place back then, as there is now under Chris Wilder.

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"My daughter was born in Sheffield and I make it back up when I can. The memories are fantastic.

"I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to try and make it as a professional footballer under Harry.

"I thought I'd missed the chance... so I loved every single day of my career."

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