Supporting a MEDIUM-sized Football Club
Between the seasons of 2011/12 and 2016/17 Sheffield United, affectionately known by their loyal fan base as “The Blades” languished in League One, the third division of the English football pyramid and throughout their time there were described by many an article and publication as ‘a sleeping giant’. I would rather describe my beloved football club as one of medium stature, not a phrase often thrown about!
I am one of the loyal fan-base and have been ever since I switched allegiances from Manchester United, a fully conscious giant, at 12 years of age when my cousin took me to see the play off semi final victory over Nottingham Forest which went into extra time and was probably, to this day, the best match I have ever seen live, ending in 4–3 victory.
I am the first in my immediate family to have a passion for football with my Dad preferring rugby or Formula 1 and my Mum preferring gardening. We also never had access to Sky Sports so the first football I really remember watching on TV was the FA Cup and Champions League matches from Manchester United’s treble winning campaign in 1999.
Since I started to favour my local club I haven’t looked back and have developed friendships with those I have met at and visited BDTBL (beautiful downtown Bramall Lane) with over the years.
Those years languishing in the third division didn’t make it the easiest to follow the Blades, with little to no Sky Sports or BBC News coverage, I relied on a daily look at RSS feeds to gather the information, stories and updates on the club. The minimal televised games shown over the season became a main event for me and something I would look forward to weeks in advance.
Working weekends made it difficult for me to get to many games so I often relied on the Tuesday night fixtures and settled for watching the highlights on sheffieldutube, the club’s well maintained youtube channel, when I couldn’t catch a whole game live or on tele.
Wherever you are in the world, supporting a big club, a premier league club is easy, with worldwide television and news coverage, it is hard to avoid games or results so supporting a club outside that division, even if you only live a couple of miles from the ground is a commitment.
Despite these ‘hardships’, the passion, pride and support is no less in the lower divisions, Sheffield United have the makings of a big club, a great academy which through various age levels has produced plenty of England and home nations internationals. We have a large stadium with 32,702 seats, of which we often fill a large percentage showing that their is a strong and loyal fan base.
What lets us down and relates this article to it’s title is our recent history and our finances (finances in relation to our peers currently in the Championship at least). We are well documented to have one of the lowest budgets in this year’s competition, recent figures produced by the FA show that we spent the sixth lowest amount on agents fees this season in the division, which makes it all the sweeter for us Blades that with only a one game remaining, it has only just become mathematically impossible to reach the Championship play-offs and the chance to get back into the Premier League for the first time in 11 years. Having been top of the league at Christmas and humiliating our local rivals at their own ground, for a first season back in this league, I would happily call it a successful one.
Now there are some of our loyal support who claim for us to already be a big club and I would love to agree but looking at our recent history and since dropping out of the Premier League under cruel circumstances in 2006/7, we have spent five seasons (including this year’s competition) in the Championship and six years in League One.
With the exception of last season’s incredible title winning campaign, we must look back to the season of 1981/82 for our last trophy but this was won in the uninspiring old division 4, hardly a coup for a ‘big club’. The coup trophies in English football have to be the Premier League and the FA Cup, with emphasis and respect now also being given to the League Cup.
The last time the Blades won the top league in English football was 1897/98, the FA Cup last had our name on it in 1925 and we have never lifted the League Cup.
In the list of league/cup champions throughout the history of professional English football, we sit 18th which isn’t a bad position out of 40 clubs who have lifted silverware — The Blades winning 6 competitions — but with many of these coming in the past, we must now look at where our club is currently.
Our history doesn’t stop at trophies won, we scored the first ever Premier League goal, our stadium is the oldest still used in professional football worldwide and it was the first to host a floodlit game, we were also involved in the first ever football match to be broadcasted on radio, playing against Arsenal back in 1927. This is hardly a list of brags which will stand up against the trophies won by the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United but it is more than a lot of clubs up and down the country can claim.
There is something about Sheffield United where a season is rarely a dull one. Since exiting the Premier League last, we have never been far from the play-offs or automatic places with the exceptions of 2010/11 when we suffered relegation from the Championship — hardly an unexciting season, playing our part in a long relegation battle — and 2015/16 where we suffered our lowest league position in over 30 years, finishing 11th in League One. Big club or not, us fans are not short of entertainment, especially when looking back on twice reaching the semi finals in both the League Cup and FA Cup over the past 15 years.
To conclude, a message to my fellow Blades, I mean no disrespect to our club by calling it medium sized, a term not often banded around the footballsphere but to mention us in the same breath as big clubs just isn’t an honest account of our beloved club. We do have a lot to be proud of, a history, tradition and identity to cherish but for now lets just enjoy where we are, where we deserve to be and see where next season takes us before we can once again call ourselves, with full honesty, a big club.