Most football fans that follow their team regularly tend to have a team or rival that they treat differently to the rest of the football world. Be it geography, success or historical context, every team has at least one team that they can’t stand. More often than not it tends to be geographical proximity that is the biggest factor in establishing a bona fide football rivalry, and with that considered there are arguably few bigger rivalries then the one shared between Sheffield’s 2 teams United and Wednesday.
The Steel city Derby takes place this Friday at Bramall Lane in front of a sold out crowd under the lights for what promises to be a highly charged and heated encounter. Last season saw the return of the Sheffield Derby after a 5 year hiatus while the 2 teams were in different leagues. The Wednesday fans have enjoyed a more successful period in the championship during that time, narrowly missing out on a long awaited return to the Premiership after losing to Hull City in the 2016 Play off final. In the same period, the blades have languished in League one through a succession of failed managers and never really recovered from missing out on automatic promotion from the third tier to their cross city rivals back in 2012.
That was until last season, when the ever swinging pendulum of football pride swung in the direction of S2.
Uncompromising Blades manager Chris Wilder guided his team to League 1 promotion at the first attempt in 2017 and set up the return of one of footballs most heralded fixtures.
In September last year, the red and white half of Sheffield descended on Hillsborough as newly promoted underdogs to the Owls’ high spending promotion chasers home turf. What followed was somewhat unexpected.
The Blades dominated for long periods of the match en route to a convincing 4-2 victory. But what the game is most famous for in Sheffield is the coining of the phrase ‘Bouncing day massacre’. A play on the long time reference of the 4-0 drubbing that Wednesday handed United on December 26th of 1979 that has since been dubbed as the ‘Boxing day massacre’ . Never to be forgotten in Sheffield, what occurred last September went some way to restoring some semblance of revenge for Sheffield United fans.
After controlling the game and taking an early 2-0 lead, the home side somehow found themselves back level at 2-2 shortly after half time. What happened next will live on in Sheffield folk lore forever. With 3 sides of the ageing stadium bouncing in unison to the terrace chat of ‘If you don’t bounce then you’re a blade’ following Wednesday’s unlikely equaliser, United forward Mark Duffy jinked his way into the box.
After turning the Owls defence inside out, he rifled the ball into the roof of the net to silence the home fans that had been celebrating themselves less than 60 seconds earlier. But what made the moment that much more memorable and infamous, was the number of videos documenting the moment that ‘the bouncing stopped’ at Hillsborough on social media. The majority actually being from Wednesday fans them selves. For blades that have lived with the agony of Boxing day for over 40 years, this was sweet vengeance on a generation of Wednesday fans that will need to endure something similar now.
And so onto tomorrow…..
While Wednesday’s millions sees them languishing perilously close to the relegation zone, a team bereft of form and confidence, and a fan base disconnected from the club. The red side of Sheffield head into the game challenging for top spot and in the rare football position of having an owner, manager and captain all born and bred in the city as Sheffield United fans. A feat that is unlikely to be repeated in English football ever again.
The roles have been somewhat reversed and the Blades head into the game as heavy favourites. But the truth is that on such occasions there are never really favourites. The old cliché goes that form goes out of the window. Anything can happen in a derby and whoever handles the occasion better on the day will likely prevail. For fans though it’s a horrible experience.
No true football fan enjoys derbies. The butterflies, the nausea, the nerves. All present throughout the 90 minutes. National press would have you believe it’s about ‘bragging rights’ and being able to look your colleague or school mate in the eye on Monday. But it’s more than that. It’s tribal. It’s them and us. It’s Red v Blue. It’s S2 v S6. It’s working class v middle class. It’s United v Wednesday, and it’s Hell.
For Sheffield this weekend and for football fans everywhere…..You don’t enjoy derbies. You endure them!
RGM Prediction Sheffield Utd 3 -1 Sheffield Wed