Other than a post about my sporting hobbies and writing, I haven’t written much about my support of particular sports teams. As a break from my usual posts, I am doing some posts on this subject now – although, as I mentioned in the post on writing, there are links between these sporting interests and my writing. Having done a post about supporting the Cincinnati Bengals, this time I’m turning to Sheffield United – probably the team that most of my friends, colleagues and students associate me with.
I grew up in Shropshire and my local team was Shrewsbury Town and, as a glory-hunting kid in the late 70s, when I first got into football, I settled on Liverpool as my main team. By the time I was in my mid to late teens, I turned back to Shrewsbury, but upon leaving Shropshire when I went to university in Sheffield, I decided that I would take the opportunity to finally support a large team that I would be able to go and watch on a regular basis. This was autumn 1989. It’s before the Premier League and the various renaming of divisions – the main divisions were 1, 2, 3, and 4. One Sheffield team was in Division 1 and struggling, while United was near the top of Division 2, having just got promotion from Division 3 under the leadership of Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett. By spring 1990, it was looking like I would move into shared accommodation on Shoreham Street for my second year at university, and that sealed the deal – I would support United. The first game I saw was the home defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup in the 1989/90 season. I was then off to Japan for studies – but kept up with the football news and was delighted when a fellow Blade on the course came in one morning to tell us that United had been promoted to Division 1 thanks to the away win at Leicester City. That the other lot got relegated on the same day was an added bonus.
Back in the UK, my accommodation plans fell through & I ended up in Broomhill instead, but there was no change to my football loyalties. I got my first United shirt and then watched the BBC TV series that followed United during their promotion season. During the 1990/1 season I hardly missed a home game, and would go to many in the next couple of seasons before going to Japan for a year (about the only one I missed when I was in Sheffield during term-time was our 6-0 defeat of Spurs… I didn’t even know the match was on until I heard the cheers coming through the window, all the way in Broomhill). While in Japan, United got relegated from what was now the Premier League (with Brian Deane having got the first Premier League goal back in 1992).
After a year in Japan I returned to Sheffield and tended to go mostly to mid-week matches only. I still prefer Tuesday evening matches than any other day of the week – though I do remember the atmosphere being odd for many of these years thanks to the absence of the John Street Stand.
After a move to London for a few months, and then Cardiff (since 2000), I continued to follow United – easy to do these days thanks to the internet, etc. – but going to matches (even before the COVID-19 lockdowns) became more of an annual pilgrimage to one or two games than a regular occurrence. In the years when United and Cardiff City have been in the same league, then I have tried to get to the away game in Cardiff – the most memorable being the weekend when we effectively sealed promotion up to the Premier League in 2006 (we won’t mention another infamous match that took place in Cardiff a few years before that) – although I also remember the crowd trouble after that match and the issues of having parked where locals would park rather than where the away fans’ coaches were. Luckily, the Cardiff fans were more interested in fighting each other than us by the time we were eventually let out of the ground.
There are many specific memories that I could discuss in relation to supporting United – but perhaps they are best saved for other posts and another time. Instead, I will mention a couple of other general things.
First, Sheffield United has the best football song – the Greasy Chip Butty Song (though, I admit, as a non-northerner to occasionally mis-pronouncing ‘butty’)…
I took the video above at the last home match before the 2020 lockdown – a match that I remember from a great headed goal by Billy Sharp. I also remember that day due to bumping into Harry Bassett in the car park before kick off – he graciously agreed to having a photo taken (which my son, Montgomery – partly named after Nick Montgomery, took).
During the past few years I’ve read a number of books related to Sheffield United (you should be able to find them in my list of read books on Goodreads). One of these, You Fill Up My Senses: The Joy and Despair of Following Sheffield United, deserves a particular mention as the style of what it covered and how it covered the subject helped to inspire me to write my book related to Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
I’ve generally kept my sporting interests separate from my work on social media, but I have brought them together in my writing. As I mentioned in my post on sporting hobbies and my writing, in my book, Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan, I managed to get a mention of Sheffield United into the main text (and its own index entry) and elsewhere more subtly (e.g. a chapter called ‘United and Successful’ in my book Japanese Education Reform) or in the form of a photograph in my book Japan: The Basics.