Richard Hercock: Steel City tales make Kenworthy and Bullen books great reading

Sheffield is a poorer place this season with no Steel City derbies to see the two sides of the city go head-to-head.

But two books landed on my desk this last week which at least reignite the passions between the red and blue half of Sheffield.

Two footballing legends from Bramall Lane and Hillsborough, Tony Kenworthy and Lee Bullen, have published autobiographies which make for superb reading and are sure to be stocking fillers this Christmas.

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Kenworthy, pictured, known affectionately to Blades fans as TK, is a Lane legend.

His book, ‘Blades Heart’ covers a decade of serving United, enjoying Wembley success with Mansfield Town before he was jailed for 12 months after a car crash.

It’s a terrific read – written with John Brindley, who also did Terry Curran’s book – and there are some amazing stories of his spell behind bars and how it changed his life.

But one footballing tale caught my eye, when the Leeds-born TK came face-to-face with his boyhood idols Leeds United at Elland Road.

“The biggest game of all in my First Division career, the midweek trip for the return match with Leeds United at Elland Road. Could we make it three unlikely wins out of three against the team I’d idolised? Madeley, from my old school, was back in the Leeds line up alongside the Gray brothers, Eddie and Frank, Trevor Cherry and Billy Bremner with the contrasting talents of Clarke and the unpredictable Duncan McKenzie up front.

“The guy all the pre-match hype was focused on, however, was tough-tackling England centre half Norman Hunter.

“The press was full of the idea that being a Leeds boy and a left-sided defender, who also enjoyed the physical side of the game, I was ‘the new Norman Hunter’.

“At first, it was an exciting thought but when the comparison got dug up again and again over the years it began to get more and more unhelpful. To be honest, I would have settled for being half as good as one of the very best defenders of his generation.

“The manager had masterminded a famous 1-0 League Cup win for Notts County earlier in the season at Elland Road, a result that very possibly clinched the Bramall Lane job for him. I don’t recall him mentioning that too much but we employed similar tactics of soaking up endless Leeds pressure and trying to catch them on the break. We had no choice as the home side battered our penalty area for most of the night.

“Goalkeeper Jim Brown, like the Magpies and Sunderland number ones before him, had an inspired night as we fought to stay in the contest until a memorable strike from Woodward edged us in front.

“I picked up one of three First Division bookings in that mini-season and had no complaints. Generally it was a case of trying to adjust to a much faster tempo of first-team football but on that occasion, it was a deliberate tactic to stop McKenzie.

“Signed by Brian Clough during his infamous 44 days at Elland Road, McKenzie was a very skilful maverick of a forward who could easily make defenders look silly. He skipped past a couple of Blades defenders and I decided he wasn’t going any further.

“There was no such thing as ‘the last man’, so little danger I’d pick up any more than a caution for preventing Leeds carving out a good scoring chance. ‘You’ll not get very far in the game like that,’ said McKenzie, picking himself up gingerly.

“We held on for our own famous 1-0 victory which felt like a cup final triumph. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable night for me.”

From one defender to another. Lee Bullen will always have a special place in Owls fans’ hearts as the captain of the 2005 promotion-winning side which triumphed in the play-off final against Hartlepool.

He wasn’t the best defender in the world, but his work-rate and huge heart endured him to the Hillsborough faithful.

His book, ‘No Bull’ – written with local journalist Alan Biggs – covers that play-off final in Cardiff, and a career so varied, stretching from Scotland to Australia and a few other soccer outposts. But it was an infamous night which caught my attention.

Cast your mind mind back to 1996, and the infamous dentist’s chair antics of the England squad while on a night out on a trip to Hong Kong to prepare for the Euro 96 finals.

Well, Bullen played against England in a friendly out in Hong Kong and recalls that night.

“It was a notorious night, still talked about to this day. And I was there. Not that anyone was too interested in me or my Hong Kong team-mates,” he writes.

“This was the evening of the day we played England. Oh, and quite a bit of the following morning as well.

“I refer to the ‘dentist’s chair.’ Yes, the infamous drinking escapade that made headlines around the world.

“And, first of all, let me tell you the dentist’s chair was for real, an actual one as used in Hong Kong. Its previous life must have been quite eventful and yet it became famous for another purpose altogether.

“First you pay at the bar and then, when your turn comes, you sit down and the chair goes back. There’s a spotlight on you just like in a surgery. A towel is put round your neck and across comes the barman in the role of the dentist. He has a bottle in each hand, one of vodka and one of lime. You get the drill! ‘Open wide’ and the contents of both bottles are poured down your throat until your mouth is overflowing.

“Of the England party, only two or three players booked for an ‘appointment.’

“As everyone knows, Gazza was one.

“It was a great night – and it went on all night. Obviously the coverage was bad for England at the time, just adding to the nation’s sense of gloom and doom.

“But was it really so bad? Looking back, my view is that it was a terrific boost for team spirit because England went on to have a fantastic tournament.”

So two great Sheffield football books. Which one is the best probably depends on what side of the city you come from? Personally, I will opt for a draw.

‘Blade Heart’ and ‘No Bull’ are both published by Vertical Editions, priced £16.99.