Leon Wobschall: Blades will seek to avoid further melancholy against ‘perfect’ Hull

Blades at Wembley.
Blades at Wembley.
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HULL CITY may be Wembley novices compared with seasoned visitors Sheffield United – but sometimes experience counts for nothing.

The Tigers have only been to the home of football once in their 110-year history in marked contrast to the Blades, who will make their seventh appearance there in next Sunday’s all-Yorkshire FA Cup semi-final.

Yet in this particular case, familarity has bred a fair bit of contempt.

Hull supporters are already in credit, having sampled something precious few, if any, Unitedites have in their lifetime thus far: that oh-so-sweet sensation of victory at Wembley.

Hull’s magic moment on a sweltering late Spring day in May 2008 will be safely stowed away in the memory vaults of virtually every amber-and-black clad fan who walks down Wembley way next weekend.

Given that the Blades’ sole triumph in north-west London came way back in April 1925, when they beat Cardiff City 1-0 in the third FA Cup final at Wembley, most of their fans will have to rely on history books, newsreels and grainy sepia images as opposed to their mind’s eye to recollect that fateful day.

It was the Blades’ first visit to Wembley, first known as the British Empire Exhibition Stadium, as they became the third northern-based club, after Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United, to play there following its opening on April 28, 1923.

A vibrant time for the game up north saw seven cup victors come from the industrial heart of England in the roaring Twenties, but how times have changed for the likes of the Blades, Trotters and Magpies.

Five times the red half of Sheffield have visited Wembley since the time they hoisted aloft the cup on April 25, 1925 – and across the occasions they have shown the worst sort of consistency, losing each time.

If anyone can perhaps empathise with the Blades, it is the team who they succeeded as FA Cup holders in 1924-25 in Newcastle.

After their cup heyday in the Fifties, which culminated in victory against Manchester City in 1955, Wembley has proved their graveyard, with the Geordies’ own malaise surpassing that of their South Yorkshire rivals with six consecutive defeats.

That said, another great northern institution in a different game in Hull FC surely possess the greatest Wembley hoodoo, having lost eight Challenge Cup finals in a row there, with joyous refrains of “Old Faithful – you’ll never win at Wembley” emanating from their rivals on the east side of the city in Hull KR over the years.

Just as Rovers had their day against the Airlie Birds in the all-Hull final of 1980, so the Tigers reigned against Bristol City in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on May 24, 2008, with a winning goal from a proud Hullonian in Dean Windass fittingly crowning the East Yorkshire city’s second biggest sporting occasion. And how Hull partied.

Two Yorkshiremen – Windass and a Darfield-born outside-left called Fred Tunstall – and a Midlander who made his home in the south in Alan Cork share the distinction of being the only players to have scored at Wembley for either the Blades or Tigers in seven combined visits, with the distinct possibility of one or two more names entering that list in six days.

While the cup semi-finals, let alone finals, are new territory for Hull, appearances in season-defining games were somewhat commonplace for the Blades, most notably at the end of the 19th century and first three decades of the 20th.

In a period spanning 1898-99 to 1935-36, the Blades reached nine cup semi-finals and six finals, winning four and being runners-up twice.

After winning the cup at Crystal Palace in 1898-99 and 1901-02, United won the so-called Khaki Cup final against Chelsea at Old Trafford in 1914-15 in the last final before football was suspended due to the First World War.

Their final cup success was destined to be played out in a swish new stadium, costing £750,000 and built by Sir Robert McAlpine, called Wembley.

The Blades flew the flag for England against Cardiff, the first team from outside the country to reach the final since Queens Park in 1885, with Tunstall’s goal on the half-hour settling the 50th cup final – their fourth and last success, with the cup raised by captain Billy Gillespie.

The frisson of cup excitement was again in the air for the Blades just over a decade later in 1935-36 when they met Arsenal, as they sought to emulate city rivals Sheffield Wednesday, who had won the cup the previous year.

The final saw the BBC experiment with sports commentators for the first time during its live final broadcast, with three legendary names in the game from yesteryear in Alex James, Cliff Bastin and Ted Drake combining for the latter to score the only goal of a dull final won by the Gunners.

United had to wait almost 57 years for their next appearance there and just as rival camps in East Yorkshire descended on the capital at the start of the Eighties, so the Steel City had its day in the sun on April 3, 1993 in the all-Sheffield FA Cup semi-final, with red and white and blue and white packing the M1 for the trip south.

The events of that day – Chris Waddle’s howitzer and Mark Bright’s late winner et al – will provide a smidgeon of solace to Wednesdayites being baited currently by their cross-city rivals after the Owls spurned their party invite to another marquee cup occasion with United last month, more so after they booked their Wembley spot.

If Unitedites suffered tears for souvenirs in ’93, they were just as bitter just over four years later on May 26, 1997 when a last-gasp goal from a flame-haired Scot called David Hopkin saw Crystal Palace triumph in the self-styled biggest game in domestic football – the second-tier play-off final – at the expense of the Blades, then managed by Howard Kendall.

Just as the name of Hopkin will make United fans shudder, so Wade Elliott can be added to that list with the Burnley player inflicting another grievous Wembley wound in another end-of-season play-off showpiece, in the Spring of 2009.

The curse of the Blades at Wembley remained, but the cruellest was yet to come.

A true theatre of the absurd came in an all-Yorkshire affair with Huddersfield Town in the League One play-off showpiece of 2011-12 and, just to twist the knife in further for United, defeat came not just through the shattering medium of penalty shoot-outs but after their senses were tantalised with victory.

Town missed their first three penalties. What happened next? Do not expect many answers on a postcard from Blades fans to BBC Question of Sport host Sue Barker.

And, please, pity poor Steve Simonsen ...

How Wembley treated Tigers and the Blades

Sheffield United and Hull City have appeared seven times at Wembley between them, with the Blades gracing the hallowed turf on six occasions and the Tigers just once.

While the KC Stadium outfit boast a 100 per cent record at the home of football, their South Yorkshire rivals have lost on their last five visits.

Below is the full list of games involving the White Rose duo in chronological order.

April 25, 1925: FA Cup final 1924-25 – Sheffield United 1 (Tunstall 30) Cardiff City 0; attendance: 91,763.

April 25, 1936: FA Cup final 1935-36 – Arsenal 1 (Drake 74) Sheffield United 0; attendance 93,384.

April 3, 1993: FA Cup semi-final 1992-93 – Sheffield Wednesday 2 (Waddle 2, Bright 108) Sheffield United 1 (Cork 44) AET; attendance: 75,384.

May 26, 1997: First Division play-off final – Crystal Palace 1 (Hopkin 90) Sheffield United 0; attendance 64,383.

May 24, 2008: Championship play-off final – Hull City 1 (Windass 38) Bristol City 0; attendance 86,703.

May 25, 2009: Championship play-off final – Burnley 1 (Elliott 13) Sheffield United 0; attendance 80,518.

May 26, 2012: League One play-off final – Huddersfield Town 0 Sheffield United 0 AET – Huddersfield won 8-7 on penalties; attendance 52,100.