THE PARTY started the moment the final whistle blew at Northampton’s Sixfields Stadium to signal Sheffield United were up and didn’t seem to ease up for a month.
It did, of course, as Chris Wilder’s Blades still had four games to negotiate if a place in Bramall Lane folklore – and a century of points – was to be theirs.
No team can steam-roller the opposition to such an extent that the required 12 points are pocketed along with a dozen goals on a diet of champagne alone.
Nevertheless, Wilder and his players rightly toasted their achievement in style by wringing every last drop out of celebrations that will live long in the memory of anyone from the red and white half of the Steel City.
“We all gave it a good go celebrating promotion,” says the United manager with a smile when asked about a party that included an open-top bus tour around Sheffield that almost ended in disaster courtesy of him slipping when showing off the League One trophy.
“Seeing the effect that the staff and players had had (on supporters) was great.
“People say we have given them a bit of pride and passion back, almost giving the club back to its supporters. That pleased me, it was a great compliment to everyone involved in what was achieved.
“I found it quite emotional at times. It was good on the open-top bus, spotting lads (in the crowd) I hadn’t seen for ages and realising what it meant to them.
“Now, though, we have to look ahead. I am not one for standing still, patting myself on the back. Same with the players, it is all about now and carrying things on.”
The Championship beckons for Wilder and United, a level the club last graced in 2011. Much has changed over the intervening years, not least in terms of transfer fees and wages.
Here, we pride ourselves on the group being strong. Players have a choice to get what we are about or not and the new signings have definitely got it. That has pleased me because we will need it this season.Sheffield United boss, Chris Wilder
Both Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton Wanderers have splashed £15m apiece on one player this summer, while even the highest-paid presenters on the BBC must look on enviously at the salaries being trousered by some who ply their trade in the second tier of English football.
United, for their part, have enjoyed a lucrative summer thanks to their own foresight. Substantial sell-ons inserted in the deals that took Kyle Walker to Tottenham Hotspur in 2009 and Harry Maguire to Hull City five years later have brought a welcome boost to the Lane coffers.
Wilder has already made his case for some of those funds to be released.
“We put together a presentation to the owners for the players we want to get and I am confident the ones we want will be signed off,” he said when asked about a recruitment drive that has already seen five new faces arrive this summer.
What he won’t do, however, is endanger the future of a club he has served as fan, ballboy, player and manager.
“Everyone talks about the financial aspect of the Championship and the gambles that clubs are taking,” he said. “And they are gambles, I am in no doubt about that. We won’t do that, we can’t gamble this club’s future. Enough have paid the price for doing that, from Portsmouth to Leeds United and many, many others.
“Once the gamble back-fires, it isn’t the players who feel the pain but those who work at the club. Those in the offices, who get laid off. And the supporters feel the pain.
“Fans need to know we will do this in a structured way and with a plan. We were creative last season, getting players in from different areas. We are doing the same this year in terms of signings.”
United’s return to the Championship is not for the faint-hearted with Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Derby County all laying in wait during the opening month or so.
Asked if clinching promotion so early meant he spent the final few weeks of last season paying extra attention to Championship games, Wilder laughs before replying: “It was a bit blurred at times with the celebrating we did! But, yes, of course I watched.
“I love watching football, be it a Sunday when my pals are playing or the Premier League. Though not international football, so much, as I prefer the domestic game.
“There are some big teams, the fixture list tells you that. We have to be careful we don’t get overawed by the size of the clubs.
“Especially as this club has a great history and should be at the very minimum, in the Championship. Togetherness and spirit go a long way, Leicester showed that in 2016 (by winning the Premier League) and Huddersfield last year by going up.
“I watched a few Championship games last season and, without naming names, saw a few of the top sides turned over. Barnsley did it to a couple and that was through having good players, being fit and organised, and working hard.
“I would imagine their manager (Paul Heckingbottom) would say the spirit got them through against teams who were not together.
“Here, we pride ourselves on the group being strong. Players have a choice to get what we are about or not and the new signings have definitely got it. That has pleased me because we will need it this season.”