THE tantalising prospect presents itself for someone to firmly etch their name into Sheffield United folklore tomorrow lunch-time – by firing the Blades to Wembley.
Neill Collins may be a defensive foot-soldier, but he fancies a bit of that, as should all his team-mates who line up against Charlton.
Football is about dreams and the chance of becoming the man to bag the winner to book his side – let’s not forget a League One outfit at that – a place in an FA Cup semi-final doesn’t come around every day of the week.
The odds are that someone will claim hero status tomorrow and grab the headlines in the Monday morning newspapers – and be afforded a free pint or two whenever they frequent a hostelry, whether that be in the vicinity of Bramall Lane or The Valley.
The Blades’ list of luminaries feted for famous goalscoring contributions over the years is considerable.
They might not enjoy the status of Blades’ ‘royalty’ such as Alan Woodward, Tony Currie and Brian Deane, but these players are still fondly recalled.
Such as Dane Whitehouse, forever remembered for scoring famous goals in both Steel City top-flight derbies in 1991-92. And Paul Peschisolido, who bagged many an important goal, including a memorable one in that thrilling 4-3 play-off second-leg win over Nottingham Forest in May 2003.
Even allowing for Bob Booker’s cult hero status, he is equally remembered by many Unitedites for a goal at QPR in 1990-91 which kept the Blades in the top-flight.
Now the Lane is holding out for another hero tomorrow.
Collins said: “A trait of 99 per cent of footballers is that they want success and all the things that go with success, which is being in the limelight.
“If you asked all the players who would want to score the winner on Sunday in front of the Kop, who wouldn’t! It’s a case of: ‘I’ll have a bit of that.’ Everyone’s mindset should be about trying to make a name for themselves.
“Because, make no mistake, if you do that, you will forever be remembered at Sheffield United.
“For a League One side to be this far in the Cup and have an opportunity of getting to Wembley, is just fantastic. It ranks very high for me and if we win on Sunday, it will be something that will go down in history and people will remember for a long time.”
Collins’s football career may have began at an auspicious venue in Hampden Park, but that doesn’t quite tell the entire story.
The young defender was plying his trade at amateur outfit Queen’s Park, who played in front of the equivalent of ‘one man and his dog’ at the vast – and empty –Hampden Park.
Playing at the footballing headquarters south of the border in front of the bumper crowd next month would represent the polar opposite of his early experiences, in terms of stature and profile.
The ‘Cup’ may be a strictly Football League concern, but it is still part of the sporting calendar in Scotland and its romance holds true, according to Collins.
He said: “It’s a fantastic Cup. For us to go and beat Aston Villa with them having more or less a full-strength team out – I don’t think that happens in too many cups. Hearing on the radio recently, I heard someone say what is needed to be done to improve and change it. I just think you have got the best cup competition in the world, without a shadow of a doubt. There’s no need for it to be changed.”
On the Blades’ own thrilling charge, with the club seeking to become just the fourth third-tier club in the last 30 years to reach the cup semi-finals, he added: “To be in this round, having started in the first is just phenomenal and if we can go another step, it will be a fantastic achievement.
“It’s strange, when you think of Wembley as a League One or Championship player, you automatically think ‘play-offs.’ With it being the chance to get to an FA Cup semi-final, some people might not be able to comprehend it. It would be totally different and a different level with the national media, who are excited about the FA Cup.
“We are so close, but yet so far. You try not to think about it, although I think it’s good to know what is awaiting you.
“I actually started out playing at Queen’s Park at Hampden, but only in front of about 1,000 people. The ball used to go in the stands and you’d have to wait five minutes for it to come back!
“You want to be playing in games where people are interested and it means something for them to come.”
While there will be mass expectancy among the near sell-out 32,000 crowd at Bramall Lane tomorrow, the South Yorkshire air will not carry the whiff of complacency, according to Collins, mindful of how the Blades’ city rivals choked on their date with destiny with Charlton at Hillsborough late last month.
Indeed, Blades manager Nigel Clough has scoffed at talk of his side being favourites ahead of the last-eight tie and Collins concurs. While the majority of the crowd will be willing on a home victory – some even demanding it – the players will pay Charlton their rightful dues.
Collins said: “People might be mentioning us as favourites, but that’s ridiculous. They are in a higher league than us and we are in mid-table in League One.
“We don’t want to give them any more ammunition than what they had in the previous round when they were really out to prove people wrong.
“They did that and hopefully they won’t do that again.”