DERBY BUILD-UP | “The Odd Couple”

DERBY BUILD-UP | “The Odd Couple”

So, after a five year wait, we arrive at the old familiar feeling of Steel City derby week. It is an odd week filled with many nerves, but also a hell of a lot of excitement. Although if you’re anything like me, you also start to become unable to eat for, well, reasons probably best not to go into…

This particular derby however is a very intriguing one for myself personally. Usually, I surround myself with Wednesdayites, both during the match and after, but this time round I am living with a Blade called Callum Jones. Furthermore, we’re both living in Hillsborough! I know what you’re all thinking, how does he not burn into a crisp when he steps out into the fine streets of S6? Well, he may be a blade but he’s not one of those Vampire blades, who you can find hanging upside down from the street light on Shoreham Street (I may be getting a little off topic…)

So, back on topic, the genius minds at Owls Alive thought why not have us do a segment together? After all, to the neutrals the Steel City derby should be explored from all angles, both Wednesday and United, to see what makes it so important to both sets of fans. So to start, you’re going to hear my part on Sheffield Wednesday, followed then by Callum talking about Sheffield United. Now, let’s get started…

Bill

My first Steel City derby experience

I will be completely honest, this will be the shortest segment because I was very young (8 or 9 I can’t remember which) and my memory of Wednesday games before the 04/05 season when we got up through the playoffs is quite hazy. However, the game in question was in the cup when Lloyd Owusu came on as a substitute and scored with his very first touch in a Wednesday. Being so young I don’t really remember feeling like I would do now, but I do remember being taken aback by everyone around me. People were going crazy for a cup game… As a youngster, it baffled me, but it stuck with me purely because of that. Over time and after watching us more and more around that period, I began to realise what the game meant to everyone, you could say that was really where it all started for me.

Hero

There have been a fair few, I was almost tempted to put down Chris O’Grady as his goal led to there being this long wait for another derby, but as he has since played for the Blades, I thought better! An honourable mention has to go to Steve Watson for sublimely chipping Paddy Kenny, made even better by the instant fallout between Kenny and his defenders, but I think we all know where I am, probably predictably, going. I know in the 90s we had the likes of Waddle and Bright who could easily claim this title, but I never truly experienced them or that 90s team. So, for me, it has to go to the one and only, Marcus Tudgay. He is just everything you would want in these games, he raises his own game and lifts the fans as well. That goal at the lane, boy, that will take some beating on Sunday. It speaks volumes about his character as well that he still thinks of us to this day, reading his comments recently on the official website got me right up for this game. I also feel that we have a special connection after I drunkenly yelled “AND IT’S ABSOLUTELY WORLD CLASS FROM MARCUS TUDGAY!” at him when we were both on a night out in Derby, which he laughed off even though I could tell he was a little scared. So yes, for me, you will always be one of my true heroes when I think of these games, Tudders.

Villain

Again, there a few contenders here. Jamie Ward (insert expletive here), Alan Quinn and Leigh Bromby because of their treacherous ways (although over time I came to accept that they left because they weren’t wanted rather than because they betrayed us), and who could forget old Colin Wanker (Neil Warnock for any neutrals). For me though, it has to go to Chris Morgan. Another player whom I have had a drunken conversation with (at an under 23s match when he came to watch our youngsters play because United were playing them the following week). In fairness I feel a bit two faced here because he actually came across as quite a nice bloke after my initial “boo Chris Morgan boo” comments…

Never the less, he was everything you didn’t want to face in these games, a solid defender with a dirty side and the potential to be a true pantomime villain, the kind of player you would irrationally tell to fuck off for no real reason in the heat of the derby. I remember him frustrating us a couple of times, and it nearly spilled over when him and Akpo Sodje decided to square up to each other. In summary, he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.

Best derby

I remember it well and not well in equal measure. We had already beaten them 1-0 at Hillsborough and me, my mum and dad and fellow Owls Aliver JP had all gone

Some strike

one to the beamback to watch the game as we couldn’t get tickets in the away end. Having already won at home, we all felt we could have a massive chance of finally seeing a double. A very early goal from Tommy Spurr put us in the lead, but we were pegged back quite quickly by a goal mouth scramble that eventually led to a goal from Arturo Lupoli (I can’t really remember him either). Of course, any Wednesday fan knows what happened next… After Michael Gray broke up play, the ball was launched forward to Tudgay. He took a while to decide what to do, he could have easily put Leon Clarke through (a name we may hear being mentioned on the other side of the derby on Sunday). He opted instead to blast an absolute monster of a shot that nestled in the top corner (much to the surprise of the Blade behind the goal who was so adamant that it was going wide he stood up, quite theatrically, with his arms waving about in the air).

I will be honest, the rest of the derby went by in a bit of a blur. I remember it being tenser than pretty much any match I had been to previously (bar Cardiff), and I do remember James O’Connor (a name some Wednesday fans might have tried to block out) being a little bit fortunate to stay on the pitch. However, none of that mattered when the final whistle had been blown and we had sealed a famous double.

For reasons that are still unclear to me today, we decided to go to the Blue Ball after the match (none of us have been back since then and thankfully it has now been bulldozed), but even walking into a pub that looked like the set of Shameless couldn’t dampen our spirits, a truly great day for me and my fellow Wednesdayites that will live long in the memory.

Worst derby
As is such in life, you have to take the rough with the smooth, and by far the worst was when we lost 3-2 at the Lane. In their infinite wisdom, Sky decided it was a great idea to put an already feisty derby on a Friday evening. I remember the atmosphere before, during and after the game being fairly heated, which wasn’t exactly much of a shock considering both sets of fans had been drinking throughout the day. The first half, well, the less said about it the better. Inside 20 minutes we had gone 2-0 down due to goals from Jamie Ward (anyone who knows me well will know I am not his biggest fan) and Darius Henderson. It got even worse when Lewis Buxton headed into his own net just before the break.

Admittedly, it could have been a lot worse looking back on it. An early goal from Tudgay in the second half and a great free kick from Etienne Esajas (I won’t lie to you reader, I had to google his name to remember how to spell it) made it 3-2 and it is fair to say that if we had got that third goal, we would all look back on it quite differently. But football can be a cruel mistress, and we failed to do so.

Coupled with the fact that we went down in the same season, and all the trouble that occurred before and after the game, this game is definitely one that will not live long in the memory for any Wednesday fan.

My thoughts for Sunday

So, we’ve all had a nice stroll down memory lane, but alas it is now time to come back to the present day. We’re faced with debuts for both managers, and I feel fairly confident in saying that, despite Wilder being geographically much more aligned with this fixture than Carlos Carvalhal, both managers will know exactly what this game means. Carvalhal has been involved in big derbies before, both in Lisbon and Istanbul, and Wilder grew up with Sheffield United so there is no doubting how he will be feeling.

My thoughts on it? I have to be honest, I am quite scared in a lot of ways. This is the first one I will be watching where, on paper at least, we are favourites. I have never really had that feeling before, so I can’t help but feel a little unnerved. That being said however, I know that at our best we are a match for anyone in this division, and we should be going into the game with that knowledge. I have also found it slightly comforting to see that a fair few Blades fans seem to be underestimating the team spirit we have, as well as the passion of Carvalhal. Whilst it can’t be questioned that Wilder has a lot of passion for this game, if United underestimate the passion on our side they could be in for a shock.

All in all, I am just hoping for a good game played in the right spirit, but obviously with a Wednesday win alongside it. I would hate it if the wannabe hooligans ruined it, and that is something that both me and Callum have talked about and we both agree that it would be a travesty if that did occur. On that note, I shall hand you over to my fellow football fan and Blade (play nice) now. Bring on Sunday and, of course, UTO (sorry Cal).

Callum

My first Steel City derby experience

Having not attended the league cup game in 2000 my first memory of the steel city derby was when Sheffield Wednesday were relegated from the Premier League in the 1999/2000 season. Being quite young I was unsure what to expect. I remember my friends and family talking of being ‘nervous’ and how important this game was. The Blades and The Owls had not clashed in the league for some years and there was a lot riding on this game. The game at Bramall Lane ended up in a one 1-1 draw with goals from a Bobby Ford penalty and an equaliser from Ian Hendon. I don’t remember many details from the match but remember the atmosphere. The crowd was electric as both sets of fans always put on a fantastic show. Looking back this is when I realised the importance of the fixture. It ingrained in me the pride and the passion that comes with the derby and makes this the most important game of any season for me.

 

Hero

Many names come to mind when writing this section, as there are many good players having played in the derby games. Steve Kabba always played well in the derby games and Jags was always solid as was Chris Morgan who also frustrated the opposition and lured players into his type of game. Paddy Kenny was always a good keeper and I will always thank James Beattie if I see him for rescuing us from the jaws of defeat with a sublime free kick.

But my derby hero has to be Michael Brown. It’s difficult to pick a single player out of that team in 2003 as I felt we had quality players in every position in that side. Michael Brown seemed to have a very special season that year and scared most oppositions. He was a fantastic all round player and a general on the pitch. He could score, defend and beat players, a well rounded quality player. He could have scored a brace that day had it not been a great save by Kevin Pressman again. But I will never forget the volley that Browny scored against Kevin Pressman in the derby at Bramall Lane. Kevin Pressman had a particularly good game and it took a world class strike to beat him. Watching the goal back on the replay was just as special as you really saw the technique used as he struck the ball. Both feet left the ground as he hit the ball that rocketed past Pressman. I had a fantastic view from the kop end and I feel it has to be the best derby goal from either side since I have been watching.

Villian

Again another difficult choice. Marcus Tudgay could be in there as could Shefki Kuqi. Kuqi being one of those big forwards that nobody liked to play against, clumsy and not particularly skilful but seemed to play well against the Blades. Alan Quinn’s celebration in 2003 when he scored the first goal of the game stands out too, but I suppose he redeemed himself later on.

My choice will be Kevin Pressman. No doubt he was a quality player and fantastic goalkeeper and in his prime considered one of the best goalkeepers in England. Not really remembering Pressman’s prime, I can only go on what I saw of him from the 2000’s onwards. I saw an older, wiser and chubbier Kevin Pressman. Enduring the calls of ‘you fat bastard’ from the Blades crowd and using experience to get on with the job in hand. He always raised his game against the blades and stands out to me as a great pain in the arse. His class showed through even in the later years to every United fans dismay. Everything thrown at him seemed to be just within reach and tipped around the post or over the bar. I lost count of how many times I said ‘how the f**k has he saved that?’ whilst watching him play.

Best Derby

My best derby has a bit of a bitter sweet sensation to it. Not being old enough (luckily) to remember boxing day I remember my elders telling tales of defeat and wanting revenge. Going back to Michael Brown and teammates in 2003. A game where on paper United was the better team and the blades wanted a good battering to happen. As in all derby day games this is far from what happened. Typically Wednesday scored first,  Alan Quinn with a great goal in the 47th minute put Wednesday ahead against the run of play. The thought was unbearable. Groans from the crowd included the usual ‘f**k off’ to ‘not again’. What happened next is what makes this my favourite derby memory. The United players brushed themselves off and carried on playing their game. Steve Kabba getting the equaliser in the 62nd minute with a brilliant toe poked finish that curled around the ever annoying Kevin Pressman. This followed 3 minutes later with worldie that Browny scored to put United ahead. All topped off with a cheeky tap in made by Steve Kabba who made one of his brilliant winding runs down the right hand side, Wayne Alison being the unlikely scorer. Having come back from a goal down it was a great feeling. United were the better team on that day although we didn’t dominate the score line it was still a great result.

 

 

 Worst Derby

6 years of misery.

Worst Derby for me would have to go to the most recent one. 26th February 2012. This one sticks out clearly for me as the one that turned the tides of the season. Having a clear points advantage in the league United looked favourites for automatic promotion and as a blade, for obvious reasons, I’ve never been fond of the playoffs.

Both sides having a good season in League One. It wasn’t a particularly memorable derby performance wise in what was a very scrappy game. Wednesday having better chances but both teams never really controlled, however the game was finished by Chris O’Grady scoring a header past Steve Simonsen. It left me with a feeling of dread having never had much optimism as a Blade. Ending Wednesdays pure run of form and giving them the catalyst to go on and clinch second place. Thus dooming Sheffield United to 6 years in League 1. One season, one game and one goal has put so much distance between the two Sheffield sides.

 My Thoughts for Sunday

 

Sunday bloody Sunday. It’s been a long time coming. Who can’t be excited? Well there’s that and sick, nervous, doubtful, hopeful and nervous. Did I say nervous gain? Well in any case that’s what makes it such a special day for us. Not just the United fans or the Owls but us a city and supporters. The pick and mix of feelings shows us what it means to us. I can only imagine this is what it feels like on a wedding day (just more important).Joking aside I hope that the game is a good competitive game with both sides bringing their A-game. Undoubtedly Wednesday have the bigger cash signings, wage bill and names in the team. But it wouldn’t be a Sheffield derby if it was that simple. The Wednesday side has more depth than the United team, and this may show on the day. This United team for me plays with passion and belief. Chris Wilder will fire a rocket up them and ensure they know this is not ‘just a game’. The Blades have been underestimated since the beginning of the season and I hope it continues on Sunday. It’s taken a few years to give the United fans a team to be proud of. This also means defeat would be especially painful. Like Bill said, I just hope for a decent game played in the right spirits, UTB.


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