JIM TELFER’S famous motivational ‘Everest’ speech to the British and Irish Lions back in 1997 would not be lost upon Chris Wilder this weekend.
For the Sheffield United manager and lifelong supporter, playing for the Blades always carries an ‘awesome responsibility’ with it, a phrase that no-nonsense forwards coach Telfer used to convey what being a Lion meant to that elite group of rugby players ahead of the first Test in South Africa almost three decades ago.
It involves sacrifice and a bit of blood, sweat and a few tears along the way to achieve glory and the Blades will scale their own ‘Everest’ tomorrow if they join that very special band of clubs who reach 100 points in a season.
Only special teams achieve that milestone and in a season when records have tumbled at S2, it would perhaps be fitting if Wilder’s unflinching class of 2016-17 became the first Yorkshire side to reach a century of points in a Football League season since Denis Smith’s feted York City side of 1983-84.
Wilder, urging his troops to pen the final chapter of an unforgettable season in front of a sell-out crowd, said: “To have the opportunity to get to 100 points, the first club since York in the region to do that, would be something.
“To finish off like that, in front of our fantastic, passionate supporters, would be something else. All the plaudits for them are fully deserved.
They are a brave group of players. At the start, they were under pressure. I think this club was at a tipping point.Sheffield United boss, Chris Wilder
“Ninety-seven points is tough enough. To get to 100 would be special.
“I have told these lads how people talk about the big moments here in glowing terms. it makes no odds about the division.
“Yes, this club has played in higher divisions and including the Premier League. But the togetherness of this group is there to be seen in every aspect. The same goes for the points tally and the goals too.”
From his perspective as a fan, Wilder can still remember the 1981-82 campaign when the Blades, roared on by around 10,000 fans, ended the season with a promotion party at Darlington’s old Feethams ground – a year when they lifted the old Division Four title with 96 points.
With silverware safely in the bag, United can now guild their first championship in 35 years with a rare points milestone, something that Wilder first envisaged earlier this spring.
He added: “About a month ago, I said we were powering towards the finishing line and I have thought about it in the last three games really.
“The way they went about it against Bradford at home and then last Saturday, which I potentially thought was the hardest game left (at MK Dons) with their home record and technical players. But I thought we were in second gear and absolutely bossed it with the way we controlled the game. We want to finish the job on Sunday.”
For Unitedities, the warm memories of the club’s best ever statistical season are plentiful in number in a campaign when they have claimed a record 29 league wins and scored 89 goals.
Wilder himself struggles to pinpoint one definitive moment and it is hardly surprising given a magnificent season in which the Blades’ class, character, belief and resolve has shone through, even accounting for a few edgy days in August.
Wilder said: “The season’s been littered with big moments. There was Sharpy cutting his head against Bristol Rovers after coming on as sub and chucking himself in the way of the ball in injury time and Jack O’Connell absolutely cementing a Bradford City player at the end of the game when we were 3-0 up...
“Right the way through, I cannot pinpoint one (special) moment. Even when we had a bad start, in those four games and even the Southend game, when it was a horrific position to be in, the players never chucked it in or hid. They recognised what they had to do.
“There was the goal from Willo (James Wilson) against Oxford; Sharpy’s penalty against Gillingham. Basically there have just been consistently big moments all the way.
“They are a brave group of players. At the start, they were under pressure. I think this club was at a tipping point.
“I was sat having a beer with (club historian) John Garrett in the Lescar and I have never seen him, who has passionately watched, supported and worked for this football club, so down. I had to take his belt off him and his laces out of his shoes...
“Now, Sunday will be a special day to end a special season and, for the boys, it is fully, fully deserved. However you want to look at it, objectively or subjectively, it has been superb.”