'A lot of things can get in the way...' The Sheffield United fan preparing to miss his first home game in 48 YEARS when Arsenal visit in FA Cup this weekend
When Sheffield United and Arsenal walk separately out of the Bramall Lane tunnel ahead of their FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday afternoon, Dave Hardisty will join millions around the world in watching on TV.
“I have accepted not being there better than I thought I would,” Dave added. “Everyone is in the same boat, aren’t they?”
Few, though, can rival Dave’s impressive streak, which will come to an unfortunate end when the sound of the referee’s whistle reverberates around an empty Bramall Lane.
The last Blades home game that Dave missed was April 1972, a 1-1 draw against Manchester United. He has been at Bramall Lane for well over a thousand games that followed, through faking illness to attend midweek afternoon games during the miners’ strike and jumping over a wall on Cherry Street, aided by some Leeds fans, after the full-to-bursting Kop was locked.
More recently Dave slipped and hit his head on some rocks, while walking in the Lake District. He was airlifted to Carlisle Hospital with a fractured skull and broken eye-socket, but was still at the game that weekend.
“A lot of things can get in the way of football,” Dave added. “There was one game that I really should have missed, against Cambridge. I was really ill and could hardly get out of bed, but I struggled down to the station. I just wanted to make the effort to be there.
“Another time by car broke down on the way to Blackburn, on the hard shoulder. But I was more concerned about getting to the match, so I left it there and thumbed a lift with a van load of Blades fans.”
Dave, now 66 and living in Smithy Bridge, a suburb of Littleborough in Rochdale, is perhaps better known to fans as Blademan Dave, a social media sensation who records songs about the club and posts them on social media.
He grew up in Sedbergh, over 100 miles from Sheffield in the Yorkshire Dales, and had little interest in football as a child until he began junior school. He copied his classmates by collecting football stickers, and the first one he ever ‘packed’ was of United striker Doc Pace.
“As it happened, there was a family in our village from Sheffield,” Dave said. “The lad, Gary, was in my class and his uncle Charlie used to take him to Bramall Lane when he went back to Sheffield. Charlie was the only Unitedite in the family, and Gary used to come back and tell me about United. I got more and more interested as time went on.”
His first Bramall Lane game was a 3-2 victory over Wednesday, and a love of the Blades which exists to this day was cemented.
“My life sorts of revolves around United with planning things,” Dave added. “I feel sorry for my family a little bit in that respect!
“I won’t take holidays when United are playing. I have missed away matches when my kids were small and we went onto one income, but I haven’t missed an away game since 2010.
“I was in hospital with my dad when we played Millwall on Boxing Day in 2010. He was on his last legs, and died on New Year’s Eve. But I haven’t missed an away game since.”
Dave, who used to attend games with his daughters Anna and Robyn, joined the 92 Club in the early 1980s when he ticked Swansea off his list and remembers fondly the time that David ‘Shred’ Spencer found out that he slept in a disused rail carriage at Sheffield Midland station after returning home late from an away game in London.
“He insisted I slept at his house in the future,” Dave said. “His family was fantastic. There are some great people that you meet watching United.”
Like Dave, though, all are destined to have to follow Sunday’s quarter-final on television, with games to be played behind-closed-doors for the foreseeable future because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
United are searching for some form after picking up just one point from their three games since the season restarted, and have lost back-to-back games against Newcastle and Manchester United by 3-0 scorelines.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with how it’s gone since the restart,” Dave said, “but it’s very much like a pre-season.
“Except in pre-season, we tend to play lesser teams to get on the ball and gain fitness at the same time. But now we’re playing decent sides so it’s not ideal.
“What I will say is that this is one of the best periods in my time, without doubt. The team has that togetherness and there is also more of a bond with the fans than there has ever been. That’s the most important thing, really.
“The club has come a long way. I remember when Bramall Lane was three-sided and you could waste time by booting the ball right onto the cricket pitch. We once beat Ipswich 7-0 and Len Badger was running around the cricket pitch celebrating.
“When we played Swindon in the play-off semi-finals a few years back, Anna was due to get married on the day of the play-off final and she asked my permission to book it first.
“They couldn’t get a Saturday and that Bank Holiday Sunday was the only date that was available. I was making plans of how I could watch the game on a TV somewhere at the wedding!
“It didn’t come to that in the end. My missus was cheering Swindon like you wouldn’t believe.
“But I told Anna to book it anyway. You’ve got to show the family that they’re more important than football, haven’t you?”