Sheffield United and Leeds United turning back the clock to when they won promotion together

THE statistical parallels are striking and, for Sheffield United and Leeds United, the devout hope is that the outcome will be the same come next May.

Deja vu: Vinnie Jones celebrates as Leeds head toward a 4-0 win against fellow promoted club Sheffield United in 1990. Graphic: Graeme Bandeira
Deja vu: Vinnie Jones celebrates as Leeds head toward a 4-0 win against fellow promoted club Sheffield United in 1990. Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

Rewind the clock almost three decades to mid-October, 1989. It was a time when Rotherham-based novelty act Jive Bunny and The Mastermixers were at No 1 in the charts with That’s What I Like and two Yorkshire sides were setting the pace at the top of the second tier.

Then, as now, the Blades led the way with 25 points from 12 games at the start of 1989-90, with third-placed Leeds breathing down their necks with 23 points from the same amount of matches.

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That season ended in final-day glory for the pair amid chaotic scenes at the sun-drenched venues of Leicester City’s former Filbert Street home and Dean Court, Bournemouth where away victories kick-started the mother-of-all promotion parties – Leeds claiming the title.

The ecstatic scenes in the East Midlands were ones that Blades cult hero Bob Booker will remember forever for he wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Paul Stancliffe as the visitors, backed by a 10,000-strong travelling army, secured promotion in style by way of a 5-2 win.

Earlier on in proceedings an intense fight for promotion had seen both White Rose combatants lock horns in a December meeting at Bramall Lane before a Spring return at Elland Road – the scheduling is the same almost three decades on.

It was a rivalry that possessed a Hertfordshire edge, along with a Yorkshire one, with Booker and good friend Vinnie Jones pitted in a personal tug-of-war in two famous contests that neither will forget.

On the battle for bragging rights with Jones, who later become a team-mate when he joined the Blades, Booker told The Yorkshire Post: “We were both from Bedmond and lived quite local to each other.

“Vinnie was a little bit younger than me and he went to Wimbledon and I went to Brentford and then we caught up again.

“It was quite nice to play against him and I was lucky enough to get the man-of-the-match award in the 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane and that was a good day. I made it quite public knowledge to him.

“He did get his own back when I went down to Elland Road when he got hold of my kit before the game and destroyed my shirt and put Deep Heat in my pants and cut the laces on my boots.

“Then we got a bit of a drubbing... (Leeds won 4-0).

“Funnily enough Leeds United was my club as a boy. My step-brother was at Leeds University and I spent a lot of time at Elland Road watching games as a kid. Allan Clarke and Eddie Gray were my boyhood heroes, so I did have an affinity with Leeds, too.”

It was a season that ended happily for both clubs and the tantalising prospects of a re-run is not likely to be lost upon supporters of the Blades and Leeds either.

“For two clubs from Yorkshire to go up to the next level was fantastic for both teams and the fans”, Booker added.

“We were up there all season with Newcastle and kept swapping places a few times. We just kept ourselves in the race and stuck in there and managed to nip in and get promotion.

“We had a couple of hiccoughs, but kept the ball rolling. We got stuffed 5-0 at West Ham and Harry (Dave Bassett) give us a bit of a slaughtering and we had a tough one away at Leeds.

“But what we did not do was lose too many games back-to-back and both us and Leeds stayed strong as the season wore on and did not go away.”

The Blades’ feted class of 89-90 included another good friend of Booker’s in current Blades manager Chris Wilder, who he lived with in the Sheffield suburb of Gleadless for a spell along with saxophone-loving striker Tony Agana.

As with the motley crew that former Blades manager Dave Bassett assembled, Wilder’s squad are similarly rich with hard-working and humble footballers who have paid their dues in the lower leagues and are high on talent and togetherness.

It is an intoxicating mix that Booker believes has all the potential to be similarly successful.

Booker said: “I have noticed that Chris has got a group of players together who you definitely would not call big names, a bit like Harry’s side. (Brian) Deane and Agana became big names, but Deano was a forty-grand buy from Doncaster and Agana joined for thirty grand from Watford.

“We were a team of nobodies really. There might be a few more names in this Sheffield United team, but there are still no big household names as such.

“Chris has a group of players who are passionate and hungry and I think the fans are seeing that. That is what we were, too, we were not on mega-money. We just wanted to do it for Harry.

“With Chris I can imagine him being one of the lads in the dressing room, but the ‘gaffer’ as well. There are big similarities with Harry with his man-management. I am really pleased he (Chris) is doing well.

“We had a group character and Harry played a master-stroke in that there were quite a lot of southerners and northerners in the team.

“We had a great mix and it made for a great dressing room. You had to be strong or you would never have survived. It could be lethal, but enjoyable.

“If someone did not do their job they were told and no one hid.”