NEVER before in 125 years of Steel City rivalry has a manager made his bow in a derby.
Jos Luhukay’s breaking of new ground on Friday, therefore, represents a true footballing baptism of fire for someone whose playing and coaching career has been spent entirely in Holland and Germany.
Dave Bassett, a veteran of seven Sheffield derbies during his reign at United, will be at Bramall Lane to watch the Dutchman’s debut and he believes the new Wednesday chief could be caught by surprise.
“People outside Sheffield don’t have a clue about what this derby means,” the 73-year-old tells The Yorkshire Post. “They see it as not carrying the same name as others and don’t respect it.
“We saw that before the first derby (won 4-2 by United at Hillsborough in September). I was listening to the Wednesday manager (Carlos Carvalhal) and his players beforehand and they didn’t have a clue what the derby meant.
“All this, ‘It is just another three points’ rubbish, it was like they saw it as a Mickey Mouse game. They heard the word ‘derby’ and thought (El) Clasico, Merseyside or North London.
He can’t be expected to know, because he hasn’t that first-hand knowledge. He can’t be expected to know, because he hasn’t that first-hand knowledge.Dave Bassett on what is in store for Jos Luhukay.
“Their manager seemed to think he was still in Portugal when talking about the Sheffield derby, he didn’t have a clue about how the fans feel. He just didn’t get it, or at least that was what it looked like to me.
“At least with Trevor (Francis) and the Wednesday lads when I was involved, they knew exactly what it meant. You didn’t get them strolling through a derby. They got stuck in, just as we did.”
Luhukay, as he was keen to stress at his unveiling on Monday, arrived in England with plenty of derby experience from his time in charge of Borussia Monchengladbach and Hertha Berlin in Germany.
Bassett, however, points to his own experience and how it was only after taking charge of the Blades in 1988 that he began to understand the strength of feeling on either side of the Steel City’s footballing divide.
“I didn’t manage United against Wednesday until I had been there about three years,” recalls Bassett, whose entire career up to arriving at the Lane had been down south.
“It was the first derby for a long, long time – something like 11 years – and the build-up was huge. The entire city was excited.
“I had been in Sheffield a few years and people had kept saying, ‘Be great to get the derby back’. But we were miles apart at the beginning so I thought, ‘Let’s get in the same league first before we start saying things like that’.
“Eventually, we were in the First Division together. We were struggling and they were doing okay. All I heard about beforehand was the ‘Boxing Day Massacre’ (when Wednesday triumphed 4-0 in 1979).
“But it didn’t mean anything to me, it wasn’t a motivation or anything like that. You can’t change history, all I wanted to do was win this one – and we did.”
Goals from Dane Whitehouse and Brian Deane were enough to settle that October, 1991, encounter. A 3-1 triumph in the return at Hillsborough then meant a league double for the Blades over their neighbours that Chris Wilder’s side will be looking to emulate on Friday night.
“The atmosphere, passion and intensity were incredible,” recalls Bassett about his first taste of a Steel City showdown. “But the thing I remember the most is the final couple of minutes. We were 2-0 up and I knew Wednesday weren’t coming back.
“I remember looking round the ground and thinking, ‘This is great’. It was that feeling you have with a nice brandy, all mellow and happy. It was similar at Hillsborough later that season when we were two goals ahead again with a couple of minutes to go.
“I wanted the game to be over, as you always do when winning. But I also wanted those last couple of minutes to go really slowly. I wanted to enjoy the moment.”
The following season brought revenge for Wednesday, via a 2-1 victory at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final that saw Mel Rees, the former United goalkeeper who died just a few weeks later from cancer, lead out Bassett’s team.
“We were knackered and the occasion got to us,” says the former Blades chief, who has been a mentor to Wilder in his own career. “It didn’t help that I picked the wrong team, but Wednesday had more players who had played at Wembley and it showed.
“I wish we could have played the semi-final at Elland Road (originally the FA’s choice for the tie) rather than Wembley. It would have suited us more.
“What I will say about the Wednesday fans that day is just how terrific they were to Mel. As he walked round Wembley, they all stood and applauded. It must have been a very poignant moment for Mel and his family.”
As for Friday’s impending derby, Bassett believes Luhukay is in for an eye-opening introduction to English football.
“This is going to be a tough one for him,” he adds. “Bless him, he is coming in not knowing what to expect. He can’t be expected to know because he hasn’t that first-hand knowledge.
“Chris, on the other hand, is a Sheffield lad and United through and through. He is desperate to win and his players should be able to feed off that.”