When you mention Sheffield United, you’d be forgiven for regressing back to pictures of Neil Warnock bollocking poor Chris Morgan for not tracking the pocket-tweeter himself Joleon Lescott for a last minute corner.
People get misty-eyed about the Warnock era at Bramall Lane and rightly so. The team he built between 1999 and his departure in May 2007 achieved extraordinary things.
Promotion to the Premier League in 2006 and that pair of League Cup semi-finals with Liverpool in 2003 spring immediately to mind, not to mention David Seaman’s save of a lifetime that just prevented The Blades from appearing in an FA Cup final that same season.
In fact, only a controversial goal (over questions of third party ownership) from Carlos Tevez saw them return to the Championship that 2006-07 season and ended the reign of Warnock. Leaving many to ponder where they would be now if the popular Yorkshireman was still in charge.
Yes, they had a lot to be proud of. However, while people are stuck romancing about that side, they are quick to forget that for the better part of the last ten years times have been tough for Sheffield United – until recently that is.
After Warnock’s departure, there may as well have been a revolving door at the Blades training ground as the likes of Bryan Robson, Mickie Adams, Nigel Clough and even the late great Gary Speed (among others) tried and failed to pull them out of mediocrity.
Amazingly, three different managers came and went in the 2010-11 campaign as United quietly slipped off the footballing radar into League One with not many football fans giving them a second thought.
There, they floundered for six long seasons, occasionally dropping hints of a return to their giant-killing roots, appearing in another FA Cup semi in May 2014 and losing out to Spurs in the League Cup last four in the following campaign.
Despite those cup successes offering brief glimmers of light in the darkness, The Blades remained firmly stuck in the pit that is League One.
Finishing a lowly 11th in the table, eight points from even a play-off spot.
A fresh take was needed and after Nigel Adkins said his goodbyes in May 2016, local boy Chris Wilder was given the unenviable task of breathing new life into the club he’d followed since he was a boy.
Wilder, who also made over 100 appearance for The Blades as a player, arrived with some lower league pedigree behind him having overseen promotions at Oxford United and Northampton Town. However, he’d never managed a club the size of Sheffield United before and was seen as a bit of a gamble.
What followed, however, was a joyful rebirth of one of British football’s most historic clubs as Wilder’s men ran… well, wild on League One last season.
Sheffield United racked up an astounding 100 points to top the shop, as crowds averaging over 21,000 swelled back into the Lane.
Bolton Wanderers finished in a far distant second place, 14 points behind United, and there was no doubt who was the dominant force in the division come season’s end. Thirty also emerged as an unforgettable number for fans of those famous red and white stripes – not only is it the number of victories they secured that campaign, but also the figure in league goals that home favourite Billy Sharp had buried in League One nets.
However, if you thought Wilder and Co would settle for promotion and survival in the Championship this year, then you really haven’t been reading this piece closely enough. This Sheffield United side are moulded in the dogged, unrelenting spirit of their manager and are showing no respect to the lofty opponents now being put in their path.
The likes of Derby, Sunderland, Reading and table-toppers Wolves have all been vanquished so far, but it was their 4-2 drubbing of great rivals Sheffield Wednesday in the Steel City derby that finally woke up the masses to what’s going on at Bramall Lane.
With 13 games gone of a 46-match campaign, The Blades sit just a couple of points from the summit of the Championship with a trip to Elland Road to play Leeds United ahead of them on Friday night.
Given that Leeds have lost four of their five, Wilder’s men may even enter the contest in many people’s mind as favourites. Who’d have thought that two years ago?
Is it any wonder Chris Wilder is now being heavily touted for the Burnley job should Sean Dyche decide to make the short hop to Merseyside to take over at Everton?
While the future is always uncertain, one thing is for sure though. It’s been wonderful to watch The Blades rediscover their edge…