Familiar faces prepare to be reunited in Blades’ celebration

Sheffield United's Phil Jagielka will return for the club's 125th anniversary celebrations.
Sheffield United's Phil Jagielka will return for the club's 125th anniversary celebrations.
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Phil Jagielka has a busy day ahead of him tomorrow.

Firstly, the Everton defender will compete in the Merseyside derby with Liverpool in the Premier League before heading over the Pennines to Sheffield.

For the England centre-half will be one of 100 former Sheffield United players attending a 125th anniversary dinner in the city.

A 1,200 sell-out evening at Ponds Forge will celebrate the Blades’ 125th birthday, where awards will be handed out for the club’s greatest. Accolades for goal, team, captain, manager, game and player will be handed out and Jagielka will be a leading contender to scoop an award.

“The best player I have ever worked with, and probably one of the best I have seen, is Phil Jagielka,” said club historian John Garrett, who has been tasked with liaising with the invited former Blades from down the decades.

“Jags had it all, he would do anything for you, and seriously proud of the club, that’s why he stayed as long as he did.

“(He was an) absolute class act in a red and white shirt, and he probably tops it. There are so many good players who have been at the club while I have been here, it’s frightening.

“So it’s quite easy to do events like this, former players come willingly, there’s no duress. I spoke to Phil Jagielka this morning, and he has the Liverpool derby at lunchtime.

“But as soon as the game is out of the way, he is in a car and straight over to Sheffield to see his mates, the fans and be a part of the night.

“The logistics are always going to be difficult, but it’s a proper family reunion. As club historian I also act as liaison to former players as well. It’s going to be fabulous, probably the biggest gathering of former players and their families since the centenary 25 years ago. We have about 100 former players.”

Among those are 92-year-old Fred Furniss, born in the Steel City in 1922, and who played for the Blades in the Forties and Fifties.

Garrett said: “Fred Furniss will be there, he made his debut for Sheffield United against Everton at Goodison Park during an air raid. Fred still comes to games when he can and is still an active member of our Senior Blades.

“Fifteen years ago we had quite a wealth of pre-war and early post-war players, but we have lost loads of them. Sadly, you have to go to the late Fifties before you can start piecing together a team.

“Alan Hodgkinson can’t make it unfortunately, he has been quite poorly, he was another great United player.

“It’s like having a family do, you get some members of the family in their 80s and 90s you are on a wing and a prayer hoping they are there. You have to respect that, we all slow down a bit.”

The Blades pride themselves on being a family club, and Garrett recalls some of the players who have passed through the Bramall Lane gates.

“Colin Morris – who is flying in from Portugal – and Keith Edwards were my Gods,” he said. “Tony Kenworthy is brilliant, if you chopped his arm off he would bleed red and white.

“There’s something about this club which draws people close.”

The Blades are in the Garrett family’s blood from the club’s early days when it was formed.

“My family and Sheffield United go back to nearly the beginning,” said Garrett. “My granddad moved to Sheffield in the early 1890s and lived near Bramall Lane. My dad used to pick up litter in the summer to get a ticket for the cricket, then roll snow and put straw down to do anything he could to get a ticket for the football in the winter. I have two sons myself now who are also both fanatics.”