LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Sheffield United

Blades gain best finish in top tier since the ’70s

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

FA Cup semi-finalists in 2014, League Cup semi-finalists in 2015, Sheffield United gained promotion to the Premier League in 2019, followed by a surprise a ninth-placed finish, a best-ever performance since 1975. This achievement was even more remarkable considering it took place during a bitter dispute over club ownership. 

This took its toll in 2020-21 when the Blades lost 29 games out of 38 and sank back down to the Championship. It’s now 1976 since they’ve been able to put together anything more than a two-season run in the top flight. A bitter play-off defeat to Nottingham Forest on penalties in May 2022 takes United manager Paul Heckingbottom back to square one for 2022-23.

Formed, as were rivals Sheffield 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.

Bramall Lane mural/Paul Martin

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.

Sheaf House/Paul Martin

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.

Bramall Lane/Joe Stubley

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/Joe Stubley

Sharp then provided the lion’s share of the goals as Wilder’s men stormed to an automatic promotion place in the Championship in 2018-19, losing only two games after Christmas. Many people’s tip to go straight down from the Premier League, United were well organised by Wilder and didn’t concede easily. Putting together an unbeaten run that autumn, the precious few goals coming from new signings Oli McBurnie and Lys Mousset, Scottish and French U-21 internationals, the Blades maintained a mid-table position and finished the season in ninth. 

This success had come at a price, however, as previous owner Kevin McCabe and incoming one Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia fought a legal battle over their 50/50 stake in the club. As the saga played out, and the sport-obsessed royal took full control, United’s began breaking negative records in the Premier League, not winning a single game until January. 

Laudably, Prince Abdullah allowed Wilder to make his own decision in March before the inevitable relegation. Respected ex-Fulham coach Slaviša Jokanović was handed the reins before the 2021-22 campaign, but only lasted until November. Former Wednesday defender Paul Heckingbottom then stepped in to steer the Blades to the play-offs, lifting his men to reverse a 1-2 home defeat to Nottingham Forest in the play-offs to level the aggregate at the City Ground. 

Three saved penalties bookended a thrilling contest, marred by a vicious attack on United striker Billy Sharp during the post-match pitch invasion.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

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.

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 32,000.

The club shop and ticket office are behind the South Stand. The steep-seated Redbrik Estate Agency (Bramall Lane) Stand houses away fans (turnstiles 13-23), The Kop is the home end.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

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 5mins, this road forks – take right-hand Shoreham Street, past BBC Radio Sheffield, and keep going for 10mins.

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.

The sat nav code for Bramall Lane is S2 4SU. It’s permit-parking only around the ground on match days. The club recommends using the parking facilities at The Moor Sheffield-APCOA on Eyre Street (S1 4QU) in town, a 15min walk from the ground. It should cost £5/day or £3.50 with a match/season ticket. 

Another option is to park for free at the Meadowhall Centre (S9 1EP), a mall with 12,000 spaces, opposite Meadowhall station. Frequent trains to Sheffield (£2) take 7-8mins. The tram stop is also alongside, but services are infrequent, take twice as long and aren’t direct to the station.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets go on sale four to six weeks before every home game. With a capacity of 30,000-plus and average gates around 26,000 in the Championship in 2018-19, availability may be a problem – although 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-noon, match days from 9am) is behind the South Stand by the car park on Cherry Street. There are online sales, too. For information, call 0114 253 7200, option 1. 

Pricing is in two types of category, premium A dearer by £2. On the day for a category B game, you’ll pay around £25-£30 in The Kop, South Stand, South Corner and away end. Advance purchases are £2 cheaper. Over-60s pay around £20, students/under-22s £15-£20 and under-18s around £10.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Blades Superstore (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, non-matchday Sat 10am-4pm, match days) is behind the South Stand. For 2020-21, away shirts were pink, never a recipe for success (ask Palermo), the third kit bottle green with a yellow trim. 

Worthy souvenirs include Our Time, a photo history of the 2018-19 season, and He’s One of Our Own, local journalist Danny Hall’s in-the-know background look at the man behind the recent success, manager Chris Wilder. You can also buy a brick in the SUFC Wall of Fame for £35.

There’s another outlet in the Meadowhall Centre (Mon-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat  9am-8pm, Sun 11am-5pm), Lower The Gallery level, opposite Meadowhall station just outside Sheffield.

tours & Museum

Explore the club inside and out

Club historian John Garrett takes tours (£6/£4 reductions) of the stadium and Legends of the Lane museum on occasional match days. Exhibits include the match ball from the 1915 FA Cup Final, and all kinds of medals and shirts related to past United triumphs.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

With Bramall Lane so close to the train station, away fans have several options nearby. Depending on the opposition, Sheaf Island welcomes both visiting and home supporters on match days. It’s a large Wetherspoons set in an early Victorian brewery, on Ecclesall Road, the other side of a large Waitrose some 7mins walk from the ground. There are plenty of TV screens and an outdoor area. 

Further along the same street, Champs Sports Bar & Grill provides a suitable nearby alternative.

Between there and the stadium, London Road is lined with pubs and eateries, starting with sport-focused The Clubhouse, moving onto The Albion, a traditional showcase for the local Stancill Brewery, and homely old local, the Barrel Inn. Alongside, The Stack Lounge is filled with 20 screens for sport and four pool tables.

Home fans gather nearer the ground at the Golden Lion on Alderson Road, with TV sports, darts and a small beer garden, and, on Bramall Lane itself, the partisan Sheaf House (note the framed pictorial history of United) and the Cricketers Arms.

Neutral visitors should also enjoy the Railway Hotel at 184 Bramall Lane, a cosy, three-room local squeezed into a wedge-shaped building, where time stands still over craft beer and pool. No away supporters on match days.

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