Sheffield United v Doncaster Rovers
Bramall Lane / League One / 26th September 2015
‘You Fill Up My Senses /Like A Gallon of Magnet / Like A Packet of Woodbines / Like A Good Pinch of Snuff / Like A Night Out in Sheffield / Like A Greasy Chip Butty / Like Sheffield United / Come Fill Me Agaaaaaaaain / Na Na Na Naaa Naaaaa Oooooooooooooooo’
And so go the words of the infamous Sheffield United club anthem; arguably one of the more unorthodox in the realms of club anthems, but ultimately one of my favourites. The song, which follows the tune of John Denver’s Annie Song, celebrates the joys and frivolities on offer in the wonderful city of Sheffield. It’s not exactly the advertising for a city that the local tourist board would endorse. On offer in Sheffield we apparently have Magnet (a local bitter), Woodbine and Snuff (both different forms of tobacco) and of course ‘chip butties’. This is probably why I like the song so much as it gives the chip-filled bread snack its true name: it’s not a ‘chip roll’, it’s not a chip barm’ and it’s definitely not a ‘chip sandwich’ – it’s definitely a ‘chip butty’. Spot on Blades fans.
The song obviously finishes by saying that the ‘Steel City’ also gives us ‘Sheffield United’ and I suppose this is where it gets awkward for me. You see, I’ve never been a big lover of Sheffield United FC. I’ve never really been sure why, but I’ve always supposed that it spawns from my teen years watching their hustling and bustling team under Neil Warnock featuring the delightful (sarcasm alert) Michael Brown and Michael Tonge; calling them ‘uncompromising’ is probably the kindest word I can place upon them. Also, I suppose in the post-Warnock years I never really enjoyed Swansea’s encounters with them when we both frequented the Championship, as our renowned passing game was obliterated by…well, by being physically obliterated by the brawlers like Chris Morgan. This got me thinking that I suppose I’ve never really had anything against ‘the club’, just certain players who have worn the famous red and white of recent times. And with that in mind I headed to Bramall Lane with an open mind about Sheffield United Football Club.
It caught me by surprise a bit when it dawned on me the other day that I’m now entering my 5th year living in the north-west after moving from my home in the South Walian valleys. This has meant that I’ve covered the vast majority of northern Football League grounds, but there have been a small minority (4 by my counting) who have slipped past me: Sheffield United’ Bramall Lane was one of them. Plus, there was the added attraction of today’s game being a Yorkshire derby with Doncaster Rovers arriving into Sheffield for today’s League One fixture.
I adore Sheffield as a city. Undoubtedly it’s the coolest city in the north; after all, this is the city that produced the Arctic Monkeys – the band who I felt it only right to soundtrack my train journey across the Peninies from Manchester to Sheffield. I even instigated a bit of a debate on Twitter about what is the ‘t’Arctics’ finest song (my favourite is Brianstorm by the way – although ask me tomorrow and I’ll undoubtedly change my mind).
Soon I found myself standing in front of the water feature that announces that you have arrived in Sheffield, before turning right and back into the station and into the finest train station pub in the land: Sheffield Tap.
I’ve mentioned the Sheffield Tap on these pages before, but it is worth saying again just how brilliant it is with its extensive collection of local ales on tap and continental lagers bottled behind the bar. In here I randomly bumped into York fan Ben, who was on his way to Notts County with his York pals, before we were joined by Rob, who has recently started uni in Sheffield, and Donny fan Tony Greenall. Tony had looked after me and Gibbo superbly when we went to Doncaster in January and with him having been a student in Sheffield once upon a time, he proved to be a great guide today too.
Ben and his friends headed off to Nottingham; after much umming and ahhing Rob finally decided to groundhop over to Shirebrook FC; and me and Tony headed into Sheffield proper. Having walked under the building doused in the words of Andrew Motion’s What if.. poem, we headed a few steps into the centre and into the Brown Bear pub. Not too much to report here but all was pleasant enough. There was cheap Taddy lager on tap and the barman looked like an elderly Brian Clough, so I was content.
During my usual night before research, one pub that kept cropping up as recommended was the Rutland Arms and with it being en route to Bramall Lane it would have been rude to not pay the place a visit.
Tony led us through the streets of Sheffield heading west towards the Bramall Lane part of town, before suddenly he stopped us on a street corner outside the most modest-looking and most humdrum of pubs: this was the Rutland Arms – and it’s a beauty. This isn’t the largest pub you’ll find, but it has a run down charm to it. Real ale graces the taps and bottles from breweries nationwide and worldwide circle the ceiling above. There was a small group of Sheffield United fans in here, but the biggest respect had to go to the group of Norwegians who had travelled over for today’s game. I briefly regaled them with my last experience of Norwegians in a pub before a Football League game (it almost involved a brawl in a pub near Gigg Lane before Bury v Rochdale 2 years ago), before I gave them a #NoFlatCapNoParty sticker and headed back out into the glorious Sheffield sunshine.
There was still a fair bit of time until kick-off and so we made our last stop on our crawl to Bramall Lane: The Royal Standard. This pub wasn’t quite as bountiful with character as the previous place, but it was certainly a hell of a lot busier with Blades fans cramming themselves into the bar to watch the early kick-off between Tottenham and Manchester City. Another great pub and it was good to have a chat with a few Sheffield United fans about their club, before I’d be amongst them in the their home. And speaking of their home, it was time to go there.
Tony insisted that it was only minutes away, but for a stadium that holds 32,000+ I was surprised that I couldn’t see Bramall Lane anywhere. Then, suddenly, we turned a corner and there it was; there was the Lane in all its glory nestled in among the red-bricked streets of Sheffield. As many had told me beforehand, it looked glorious. Tony headed off to the away end, whilst I ogled and took photos of this beautiful, traditional looking stadium.
Perhaps ‘traditional’ is a huge understatement here, as the ground has stood there since 1855. Originally, it was built as cricket ground by the Bramall family, a family of file and graver manufacturers, but it is widely known as the oldest major stadium in the world still to be hosting professional association football matches. The ground housed Sheffield FC and Sheffield Wednesday in its early days, hosted the world’s first football tournament, the Youdan Cup between Sheffield FC and Hallam FC, had the first game ever played under floodlights and hosted the games between the Sheffield FA and the London FA, games which would see a unification of the laws of the game and would help shape football as we know it today.
Ironically, after playing such a large part in the nascent years of football history, you could argue that it was also here that ‘modern football’ was launched with the first ever Premier League goal being scored here by Brian Deane against Manchester United; some would say that this was the first goal ever scored in football history as Sky Sports would have you believe that football didn’t exist before that maiden Premier League weekend back in 1992.
Of course, Sheffield United have not graced the Premier League for the best of a decade after their Carlos Tevez-related relegation followed by relegation to League One a few years later. This would be the league I would be watching them battle in today. Ticket scanned and I was into Bramall Lane…well sort of.
You see, Bramall Lane is one of those brilliant grounds that doesn’t have a concourse within the stand, or at least not in the Kop where I would be sitting today anyway. I’m a big fan of an open air concourse and so I enjoyed a pint of beer in the sun at the bottom of the steps leading up over the small mound and into the back of the Kop. However, I’m sure such a concourse area is less gratifying on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Sheffield though.
As kick-off edged closer, I sunk my beer and began my ascent up the (rather steep) stairs, which winded towards the top row of Bramall Lane’s Kop. Having crossed the sort of balcony area across the back of the Kop, I found myself looking out at the Bramall Lane pitch. Once again, the place looked great. Although inevitably the ground has been renovated extensively over the past few decades, there is still a traditional vibe to the Lane. All four stands are the same height giving it a neat and tidy look with a couple of the corners filled in too. I was in the large single-tiered Kop behind the goal, whilst the away fans were in the opposite, two-tiered Bramall Lane Stand. Then either side of the pitch are fairly similar looking South Stand and John Street Stand – the stand largely used as a family stand.
Shortly after arriving at my seat and after having a large Sheffield United flag dragged over our heads, the teams were out on the pitch ready for this Yorkshire derby – Doncaster in a mainly navy shirt, but with a slick-looking red and white stripe down and Sheffield United in their famous red and white (although this season’s shirt is very much predominantly white). More impressive though was when the club anthem of Greasy Chip Butty resonated from the Kop with a passion rarely heard for a sandwich full of chips.
From the off, this was Sheffield United’s game and the opening 15 minutes was a display of neat passing, a hallmark of Nigel Adkins’ sides. There had been half chances for United, but soon the home team had the lead their early efforts deserved. Craig Alcock shot down the right hand side and whipped in a ball, which was soon blasted home emphatically by Blades captain Chris Basham. 1 – 0 to the Blades and deservedly so.
Sitting next to me was a group of young lads with one of their dad’s clearly on babysitting duty for the day. The young lads were clearly highly passionate United fans and it was great to hear them chatting so energetically about their local club and singing about chip butties. Although, admittedly, they were to be stunned just 8 minutes after Sheffield United’s opener.
Donny earned themselves a freekick on the edge of the box and I was secretly hoping that Donny striker Andy Williams would step up and drive it home, so I could use my ‘Just too good to be true’ joke; it wasn’t to be. However, up-stepped Cameron Stewart to curl over the United wall and leave keeper Mark Howard only able to palm Stewart’s’ effort into the goal. 1 – 1 – the equaliser very much against the run of play.
The goal seemed to do little to deter Sheffield United and they soon added another goal in the 35th minute to make it 2-1. The goal would even come from a player formerly mocked on these pages.
“That Connor Sammon…he’s like a fish out of water in the Premier League,” my pal Tom once quipped from the DW Stadium stand whilst we watched the bald-headed attacker have a shocker of a game as Swansea dismantled Wigan in our first year in the Premier League. Every time I’ve seen Sammon play since the same joke (whatever the league) has religiously been reeled out. But not today. Sammon was playing great and thoroughly deserved his goal. Another cross from the right went all the way through to Sammon at the back post, where he had an empty net to turn the ball into.
Doncaster tried to get back at United and soon they had themselves a corner, a corner which would ultimately backfire for the away team. A high ball headed towards the far post and as Alcock cleared with his head, Donny’s Gary McKenzie came flying in with a high foot and took out Alcock. It was clear from the reactions on the pitch that McKenzie was going to be walking soon and predictably the ref was soon brandishing the red card to leave Rovers with 10 men.
Half-time: Sheffield United 2 – 1 Doncaster Rovers.
The queues for the bar at half-time were fairly substantial, yet pies seemed less popular at half-time; that’s only half true actually. Without any queues there, I headed straight to the food vendors at the top of the steps behind the Kop, only to be told that chicken balti pies had sold out. Steak would have to do. If you were in any doubt to the brand of pie on offer at Bramall Lane, you would only have to look around the ground to see ‘Pukka Pies’ advertised everywhere. Pukka Pies: always a good pie, but nothing to get too excited about.
Time for the second half.
With the Blades 2 – 1 up and now against 10 men Doncaster, the second half was very one-sided, although the home team appeared to be in no rush to properly wrap up the 3 points.
Sammon had chances to score, but despite beating the goalie twice he could only hit the post and have another shot cleared off the line.
Soon the game was becoming fairly dull with Sheffield United retaining the ball, but not really getting anywhere with it. This evidently had an adverse effect on the atmosphere as the place seemed to go virtually silent at times.
One part of the game I was enjoying though was the performance of 18-year-old Louis Reed, the midfielder who came on in the 55th minute. I’d never seen Reed play before or ever heard of him before today, but I thought he looked a very classy youngster for the Blades as he looked composed and confident in midfield. No doubt for me he’ll be a top player at this level at the very least in the coming years.
Finally, after all of Sheffield United’s possession, they grabbed their 3rd; although it didn’t come from one of their own passing moves, but an underhit back pass from Doncaster club legend James Coppinger. The ball was seized upon by Billy Sharp 20 yards from goal, before he took the ball around the onrushing Rovers goalie and tucked it into the empty net easily.
There was still time for some half chances, but Sheffield United had the 3 points wrapped up with the 3rd goal and it was now just a case of waiting for the clock to tick down.
Full-time: Sheffield United 3 – 1 Doncaster Rovers.
A fairly entertaining game, especially the first half, but it was now time to leave the wonderful Bramall Lane. After taking my usual ‘post-match-empty-stadium’ photos, I found myself back in the streets of Sheffield and navigating my way back to the city centre.
I got cocky and figured I knew the way back without needing the use of Google maps, but I was soon a bit clueless to where the hell I was going. I had planned on meeting Tony in the Devonshire Cat, but I had overshot my destination massively and was unclear to where exactly I was, apart from that I was somewhere in the city centre.
Tony phoned me to ask where I was and I replied by telling him the name of the street I was currently standing on. Apparently, he was minutes away and told me to wait there, but I’m not really one for standing still and, after 30 seconds of being static, I got bored and headed toward the sound of Arctic Monkeys’ tune Red Lights Indicate Doors Are Secured coming from around the corner. Here I found the Rocking Chair pub and with it having a large 23 sign on it, my lucky number, I figured I should go in. A bit bland within, but the bar did present a raised view of the city below and I could see Tony coming in search of me, before I phoned him to confirm my new location.
It was only a brief drink with Tony, as he was off to watch some local Sheffield wrestling and so I was left to fend for myself in the Steel City. I coped though. Being an English teacher and a lover of literature, I felt it almost compulsory to have a drink in the bar named ‘The Great Gatsby’ – the bar was not quite as lavish as the home of the book’s eponymous ‘hero’ though – but I was soon more contented with Sheffield’s branch of BrewDog. One pint of Dead Young Pony please barman!
The rest of the night was a carousel of generic pubs and bars, which all blend into one as I look back on the events of the night. Things become even hazier as I ended up missing the 8.23pm train and had to hang about the bars of Sheffield for another half-hour while I waited (okay I chose the going to the bars bit, but what else was I supposed to do?) Plus, this being the north of England, nobody seemed arsed in putting the England v Wales Rugby World Cup game; you’d have to be a bit dull to not work out I’m a far more football-leaning Welshman anyway, so I wasn’t too bothered about jumping on the egg-chasing bandwagon – that was until I learned that we had beaten the English, which was obviously cause for more celebration.
I do lolve Sheffield as a city and I could have quite easily continued my revelry into the early hours, but sensibility lurked its ugly head and forced me onwards back to the train station and the train home.
I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m a fan of the Sheffield and on to my list of ‘What makes Sheffield cool’ I shall add on Bramall Lane. Despite a few praising me about Bramall Lane beforehand, I’d still say that it is slightly underrated as a Football League ground. Definitely worth a visit and I look forward to returning some time in the future.
So Sheffield it is goodbye for now. I’ve now been to Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Hallam FC, so I’m open to suggestions for another excuse to head back to the Steel City some time soon.
Highlights: Sheffield Tap, Rutland Arms, Bramall Lane is a great ground, Kop is great (as is the open concourse), Greasy Chip Butty Song, Connor Sammon not playing ‘like a fish out of water’, superb city.
Low Points: atmosphere was a bit lacking.
See all my photos from my day at Bramall Lane here.