Sheffield United v Wolves: Booker reflects on halcyon days as Blades celebrate anniversary

Bob Booker.
Bob Booker.
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BOB BOOKER may have been no Woodward or Currie in his playing days but it was working-class heroes like him upon whom Sheffield United were truly forged.

The Blades blow out the candles to mark their 125th birthday today and many of the great and the good who have represented the famous red and white stripes will be in attendance at Bramall Lane for a marquee occasion against another upstanding institution in Wolverhampton Wanderers.

A rank-and-file footballer in his playing days in the Eighties and early Nineties, Booker would not profess to being bracketed among the above.

But he, alongside others in the rich tapestry of the club’s history who spilled the equivalent of blood for the United cause and never gave less than 100 per cent each shift, perhaps embody more than anything what being a ‘Blade’ is all about.

Booker did have some halcyon moments, scoring the winner in a key victory at QPR in front of friends and family housed in the away end in April, 1991 which rubber-stamped the Blades’ Division One survival after a desperate first half of the season.

He also led the Blades, in the absence of Paul Stancliffe, back to the big time on a famous day in Leicester in May, 1989 when the club returned to the top division for the first time since 1976.

He even had his own inimitable song, while being honoured in a ‘Bob Booker Day’ by supporters. Not bad for a lad who played most of his career under the radar at Brentford.

A Londoner by birth, Booker gave his all on alien territory ‘up north’ – both on and off the pitch for his employers – as did a host of other southerners who took the Blades to their hearts in some heady days in the late 80s and early 90s led by irrepressible Dave Bassett.

The fact that a number still reside in the Sheffield area, including Tony Agana, John Gannon, Mark Morris and David Barnes, is testimony to the status of the Blades as not just being an ordinary ‘stop-off’ club and they and many others will all share in the moment today.

Booker, who in a Football Focus poll in 2005 was placed second in the list of Blades’ cult heroes – behind Tony Currie and just above Brian Deane – said: “To get a lot of people together steeped in Sheffield United history is a really good achievement and it should be a really special day.

“I struggled at first at the club as people all know. But it all came good and I have a special relationship with the fans. They helped me achieve something in my career and that’s something I will always treasure.

“Joe Elliott from Def Leppard made a very good comment in the FourFourTwo magazine once.

“He said I was his favourite player and that although I did not have a lot of skill, I had a big heart.

“It’s nice to be remembered by a rock star.

“But I think he typified us all in that he said I wasn’t the most gifted, but recognised what the fans want and gave it to them.

“I am just a normal guy and after training I’d go down the social after training or have a drink at the local pub at Woodseats with the fans. I loved my football and wanted to mix with the public.

“We weren’t all big-time Charlies, just down-to-earth men who wanted to earn a good living and put a shift in.

“We weren’t on big money, but we fought for the manager and club and I think the supporters recognised that.

“Hopefully, the club is on the up again under Nigel (Clough),” he said.

“I have met Nigel personally through football and everyone speaks very highly of him.

“He is just what the club need and taking us to Wembley has been the icing on the cake and, hopefully, there will be a bit of silverware. I’ll be there at Wembley, I wouldn’t miss it.”

While Booker will be present at S2 today, a leading team-mate from the side who stormed to back-to-back promotions up to the old First Division in 1988-89 and 1989-90 will be otherwise engaged in Norway preparing his Sarpsborg 08 side for the new season.

Namely Brian Deane, although the Lane legend has sent a special video message which will form part of a compilation that will be played to fans today and his old club will certainly not be far from his thoughts.

Deane is forever remembered for netting the first goal in Premier League history, for the Blades against Manchester United at Bramall Lane in August, 1992, while being the club’s first player to be capped at senior level by England since Currie.

Deane, who had three spells at the Blades, said: “Sheffield United put me on the map and I am grateful to the club and their fans, who are a fantastic bunch. There was never a dull moment down there, right to the time they sold me and Jan-Aage Fjortoft on the same day!

“It’s a working-class club with loyal supporters who love their club. They are passionate in a nice way and I saw the best of people in that era there.

“It was a special place for me and was apt I finished my career there and that my last ever appearance was at Bramall Lane.

“I remember coming back from Australia and was more or less retired. Mick Rooker (promotions manager) rang me up and said: ‘What are you doing?’ I said that I was playing a bit of golf and he just said: ‘Listen that’s not how Brian Deane retires.’ He told me that Kevin McCabe had asked what I was doing and said you need to have a proper send-off. I didn’t play much in that year, but to be around a team in a promotion year was great for me.

“I know the club will be there in 125 years. A team like Sheffield United might have a roller-coaster ride but they will always get over the line.

“Playing Wolves is actually a great game to mark the anniversary. I remember Wolves were our big rivals when we got promoted back in 1988-89 and it was me and Tony Agana versus Andy Mutch and Steve Bull.”