FOR two internationals in Leicester City’s star-studded squad tonight’s Cup occasion with Sheffield United possesses as much spice as a liberal serving of the Steel City’s famed condiment Henderson’s Relish.
It is a tie close to home for the Foxes’ England duo of Harry Maguire and Jamie Vardy, with the latter revealing that his team-mate and fellow Sheffielder has been on the receiving end of some teasing this week regarding his own footballing loyalties from the city where he was born.
Vardy is a boyhood Sheffield Wednesday fan with his affinities never wavering despite being released by the Owls at the age of 16 before joining Stocksbridge Park Steels.
In Sheffield you are either blue and white or red and white although in Maguire’s case there are a few grey areas, according to his team-mate.
Vardy has gently ribbed his colleague ahead of tonight’s last-16 tie at the King Power Stadium, suggesting that he was a Wednesdayite before switching his allegiances to the Blades after joining the club’s academy.
When you are from Sheffield thisis not the sort of accusation that you take lying down.
On being reminded of his Wednesday ‘roots’, former Blades and Hull City defender Maguire, handed a warm ovation on his first return to Bramall Lane with Leicester in a Capital One Cup meeting in August, said: “He always plays around saying that.
“When I was a young boy, my dad supported Sheffield Wednesday and my mum supported Sheffield United.
“When I was around 10 years old my dad used to take me to a couple of games, but ever since I played for Sheffield United (he has supported them). I played for them since when I was 11 years old.
“I was a ballboy week-in, week -out at Bramall Lane from when I was 14 until 16 or 17.
When I was around 10 years old, my dad used to take me to a couple of games, but ever since I played for Sheffield United (I have supported them), I played for them since when I was 11 years old.Harry Maguire
“Then I broke in and made my debut. I definitely follow Sheffield United now.
“It is a great club and I thank them a lot because they have done so much for my career.
“I keep in touch with a lot of the players and know a lot of the players and staff, so it is a game that I wanted when the draw came along.
“Obviously it is a big game for myself to come up against a team that I have played for.
“Frankly, it was Hull or Sheffield United, they were both in the hat.
“To draw Sheffield United at home is a big game. It is a big game for the team in a great cup that we want to go far in.”
For United’s Stocksbridge-born manager Chris Wilder, there was never any doubt, his lifelong devotion to ‘his’ club being such that he has sported a Blades tattoo since his days as a young supporter at Bramall Lane.
But for Maguire and Vardy it will be all about Leicester blue tonight as they seek progress at the expense of one half of their home city – while being sage enough to realise that they will be subjected to some banter from ‘back home’ if they do not.
On a tie complete with a juicy Steel City sub-plot, Wilder acknowledged: “You will always find that with Sheffield people at any club, be it here or elsewhere at other clubs.
“They will want to get through and for their own personal pride as well. There is an opportunity for them to lift a trophy if you get into the quarter-finals.
“With the teams left in it you never know and there is a pathway through for you.
“They will be desperate to win. Harry will want to do well and Jamie, from the other side of the city, also.”
For seasoned Unitedites, mention of Leicester sparks memories that extend far beyond the sight of two Sheffielders in Maguire and Vardy in Foxes’ colours.
The East Midlands city is, after all, the venue for one of the Blades’ most famous days back in May, 5, 1990 on an unforgettable balmy Spring afternoon.
It was across the way from the King Power where the Blades ended their 14-year top-flight exile with a 5-2 win at the Foxes’ old Filbert Street home, with a travelling army of 10,000 Unitedites there for the promotion party.
Back then, Wilder was a squad player with United, with his memories of that feted occasion still vivid to this day.
Then a middle-of-the-road second-tier side, Leicester are a club transformed these days in terms of their home, infrastructure and ownership, with the Blades aspiring to reach their level. Wilder said: “That was a few years ago at the old ground, but the transformation that club has seen has been incredible.
“Back then they used to drop in and out of the two divisions. There were similarities between us and them.
“But things can quickly change if someone grabs hold of it. So long as it is done in the right way and does not affect the long-term future of the club which, in some cases elsewhere, has happened.”
On his memories of that intoxicating day in 1990, the Blades’ chief, hoping for another venerated occasion in Leicester tonight, added: “I have got loads of memories.
“As we went to the game we could see all the people outside of the pubs.
“I remember one of the most ridiculous goals ever where it was pinging around the box for what seemed like 10 minutes... and of Tony (Agana) scoring and having to tell all the people to get off the pitch.
“Getting back to Bramall Lane was brilliant, too. That was a tough few weeks. It was hard work.
“Getting out of the car park and across to Josephine’s (night club) was hard work, let me tell you.”