FA Cup semi-finalists in 2014, League Cup semi-finalists in 2015, Sheffield United haven’t held a regular spot in the top flight for decades.
Formed, as rivals Wednesday, by a local cricket club at the city’s Adelphi Hotel under the auspices of Sir Charles Clegg, United have been based at Bramall Lane since their foundation year of 1889.
Within a decade, United had been crowned league champions and FA Cup winners, Walter Bennett the prolific, bullish centre-forward who would soon lose his life in a mining tragedy.
Hero of United’s second cup win was legendarily large goalkeeper William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, whose saves kept his club in the replayed final against Southampton in 1902.
Club secretary-cum-manager John Nicholson was still in charge when the Blades won a third trophy in 1915 – the so-called Khaki Cup Final against Chelsea – and still in charge ten years later when United beat Cardiff at Wembley. This loyal club servant of 33 years and four FA Cup wins was killed by a lorry in 1932 when running for a train to see his beloved United play at Aston Villa.
The Blades never recaptured the glory days either side (and during) World War I. After a first relegation in 1934, United only flitted back to the top flight intermittently, before a longer run in the 1960s and 1970s.
Stalwarts such as goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson, defender Len Badger and winger Alan Woodward notched some 500 United games each and became recognised names in this early TV era as the Blades spent 12 seasons in the First Division, taking on Revie’s Leeds, Shankly’s Liverpool and Busby’s Manchester United. Most of all, there was Tony Currie, a mercurial presence in the midfield, a classic 1970s’ maverick whose number of England caps barely reflected his ability. Today is he commonly recognised as United’s best-ever player.
Currie played at Bramall Lane until 1976, Woodward until 1978, by which time United were adrift of the top flight. They would even sink as low as the fourth. Rare bright moments were provided by Argentine Alejandro (‘Alex’) Sabella, signed by silver-tongued manager Harry Haslam.
Paying for Bramall Lane’s new South Stand forced the sale of flair players Currie and Sabella, and few managers lasted long. The coaching assistant Haslam brought with him from Luton, Montevideo-born Danny Bergara, gave way to Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett. Picking up strikers Tony Agana from his previous club, Watford, and Brian Deane from Doncaster, Bassett masterminded a two-season jump from third flight to first.
Once back in the First Division, Bassett’s men didn’t win a game until Christmas but rallied in the new year to avoid relegation. Deane’s goals then helped United finish ninth the following season but he was soon sold to Leeds. Blunted, the Blades succumbed to a late turnaround by Chelsea in the decisive last fixture of the 1993-94 campaign.
Relegation consigned United to 12 years in the Championship. Locally born Neil Warnock led the club back to the Premier League in 2006, for one short season – central midfield lynchpin Phil Jagielka duly opted for a move to Everton after heroic efforts to keep the Blades up, including keeping a clean sheet in goal for most of a second half against Arsenal.
With Warnock and Jagielka gone, and owner Kevin McCabe expanding his worldwide property and football empire, United sank from the first to third flights in five seasons.
With Saudi prince Abdullah bin Mosaad Al Saud buying taking over the club’s debts in 2013, the Blades made the League One play-offs in 2015, a crazy 5-5 draw meaning that United had lost eight straight times at the sudden-death stage.
A year earlier, Nigel Clough’s United had starred in an eight-goal thriller at Wembley, losing 5-3 to Hull in the FA Cup semi-final. In January 2015, 30,000 packed into Bramall Lane to see teenage substitute Che Adams score his first goals for the club, two in three minutes, to push Spurs to the wire for a place in the League Cup final.
Without promotion though, United brought in Nigel Adkins for Clough for the 2015-16 campaign. Despite goals from returning Billy Sharp, a mid-table finish was the end result. Former United defender Chris Wilder then stepped in as manager and, with Sharp still prolific, 2016-17 saw The Blades embark on two 15-game unbeaten runs, culminating in winning the League One crown in front of nearly 27,000 at Bramall Lane.
Bramall Lane is etched into football history. Scene of the game’s first floodlit match, it remains the world’s oldest stadium still staging professional fixtures.
Originally a cricket ground, Bramall Lane held its first football match in 1862, between Sheffield FC and Hallam. Home to both Sheffield United and Wednesday, Bramall Lane witnessed a friendly game with experimental lighting in 1877 and a handful of England internationals from the 1880s onwards.
Until the development of the larger Hillsborough after Wednesday moved out in 1887, Bramall Lane was also a popular choice of FA Cup semi-final venue. For major tournaments, though, it was always Hillsborough.
The building of the South Stand in 1975 all but bankrupted the club. Forced to sell the likes of Tony Currie, United were relegated and Bramall Lane would not witness top-flight football for 15 years. With the Premier League revenues of the early 1990s, the club built the John Street Stand, holding executive boxes. Its current name is the Duchy Homes Family Stand.
With its corners also developed, one containing an enterprise centre, and a hotel opened, Bramall Lane is modern, impressive and, as opposed to Hillsborough, close to the city centre, an easy stroll from the train station. Capacity is an all-seated 32,600.
The club shop and ticket office are behind the Topspring South Stand. The steep-seated Redbrik Stand houses away fans (turnstiles 13-23), Kennedy’s Kop is the home end.
Bramall Lane is close to the city centre, less than 15 minutes’ walk from Sheffield train station. Exit the station left, along the main road. After less than 5min, this road forks – take right-hand Shoreham Street, past BBC Radio Sheffield, and keep going for 10min.
If you’re coming from the city centre, four stops from central Cathedral on the blue and purple tramlines, Granville Road by Sheffield College is reasonably close. Once you arrive, walk up to the main junction, away from the college, keeping McDonald’s to your left, and keep heading in the same direction. Shoreham Street is about 300 metres ahead.
Tickets go on sale four to six weeks before every home game, sold to away fans two to four weeks in advance. With a capacity of 30,000-plus and average gates around 20,000, availability is not a problem – and at present there’s no danger of a Steel City derby, not in the league at least.
The main ticket office (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, non-matchday Sat 9am-2pm, match days 9am-half-time then 30min after match) is behind the Topspring South Stand by the car park on Cherry Street. A booking fee of £1 is charged for telephone (0114 253 7200) and online sales.
Pricing is in two types of category, premium A dearer by £2. On the day for a category B game, you’ll pay £20 in the Kop, £24 in the South Stand and John Street family enclosure, £22 in the South Corner and away end. Advance purchases are £2 cheaper. Over 60s pay around £20, students/young adults £10-£17 and under-18s £9-£15.
The Blades Superstore (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, non-matchday Sat 9am-4pm, matchdays 9am-kick-off, Sat 30min after match) is behind the South Stand. More unusual gifts include masks modelled after bearded defender John Brayford, tape measures and latte mugs.
Museum & tours
Club historian John Garrett takes tours (£6/£4 reductions) of the stadium and Legends of the Lane museum on occasional match days. See www.sufc.talent-sport.co.uk or call 0871 995 1889 for details.
With Bramall Lane so close to the train station, away fans can drink nearby. Or, in fact, at the station itself: the Sheffield Tap at its two dozen handpull ales/continental lagers can accessed by platform 1b or Sheaf Street alongside the station building. Set in the station’s Edwardian dining rooms, the Tap is fiercely independent and proud of its brews – no away colours please.
Close by, just the other side of Sheaf Square, The Globe welcomes both sets of fans if not rowdy, with decent pub grub and live sports on TV.
Another option is Sheaf Island, (not to be confused with Sheaf House, see below), a large Wetherspoons set in an early Victorian brewery. You’ll find it on Ecclesall Road, the other side of a large Waitrose, some 7min walk from the ground.