Thirteen years on and Carlos Tevez affair still rankles with former Sheffield United striker Jon Stead

On this day 13 years ago, Sheffield United were relegated from the Premier League in both dramatic and controversial circumstances.

The drama came in the form of their final-day-of-the-season defeat to fellow strugglers Wigan, ex-Blade David Unsworth converting a penalty against the club he had left on a free just four months earlier as the Latics leapfrogged their hosts in the table courtesy of a 2-1 win.

The controversy? Well, look no further than relegation rivals West Ham, who pulled off a shock 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford to escape the drop zone at the Yorkshire club’s expense.

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The Hammers’ goal over the Pennines was scored by Carlos Tevez, signed in a deal that was found to be in breach of rules that prohibit a third party from holding a stake in the financial rights to a player.

Striker Jon Stead in action for Sheffield United.Striker Jon Stead in action for Sheffield United.
Striker Jon Stead in action for Sheffield United.

The East-Londoners were fined £5.5m by the Premier League for their indiscretion and later ended up paying the Blades £20m compensation in an out-of-court settlement.

West Ham did however avoid any kind of points deduction, and thus they retained their top-flight status, at devastated United’s expense.

When looking back at the 2006/07 campaign from a Blades perspective, it is impossible to do so without consideration of the Tevez affair.

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Well over a decade on, what happened still rankles with former United striker Jon Stead.

As hard as he tries to look past the significance of West Ham’s rule-breaking, it is undisputable that their actions – described by the Premier League panel who investigated the incident as “dishonest” – ultimately cost him and his team-mates another year in the top tier.

“There’s always self-reflection. We looked at ourselves first. Could we have done more?” Stead said.

“If we’d have done more on the pitch we’d have had more points and then we’d have stayed up.

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“It’s difficult to sit here and say that what West Ham did with Tevez was the only reason we went down, but it was a massive factor. At the back of your mind it’s always there.

“As a group of lads we were devastated. We saw it as cheating. It’s alright them paying fines and the club getting compensation, but as players we missed out on another season in the Premier League.

“We [the players] tried for a little while to see if we could raise our own legal challenge, but that quickly fizzled out.”

With no reprieve forthcoming, the Blades dropped back into the Championship for 2007/08, but that was not the extent of the fall-out from the Tevez saga.

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“What happened led to Neil Warnock leaving the club in the summer. It affected him mentally so he had to step away for a while,” Stead added.

“That team also got broken up. I’d only caught the back end of it after arriving in January, but it was the end of an era.

“There were so many good characters in that dressing room, down to earth blokes, who were never expected to play in the Premier League, but were so proud to do so for Blades. It was a massive, massive deal for a lot of them.

“They had the chance of another year in that league taken away from them and a lot of them never made it back to the level, which I think is a real shame.

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“The club got millions of pounds from West Ham, but as players we never had any kind of compensation for the fact that we’d been deprived of another chance in the top-flight.”

As for the 2-1 defeat to Wigan, Stead remembers plenty for a man who was knocked unconscious by visiting goalkeeper Mike Pollit in the act of heading in his side’s 38th-minute equaliser.

“There was a lot of emotion that day,” added Stead, now 37 and turning out for National League title contenders Harrogate Town.

“I remember we went into the game pretty confident. We were strong at home and Wigan were struggling. We also never expected West Ham to go and get a result at Old Trafford.

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“I scored a header to get us level and got knocked clean out by Mike Pollitt in the process. I just remember coming round and everyone was jumping on me thinking it was a celebration, when actually I must have been out cold on the floor for a good 10 seconds.

“Surprisingly, I managed to finish the 90 minutes and during the game I felt like we were doing enough to get what we needed. We were pretty comfortable at 1-1 but then Jags [Phil Jagielka] punches one inside our box and Unsworth scores the penalty.

“There were tears on the pitch at the end and in the dressing room. It was very quiet when we went back in. Everyone was so disappointed. 

“With four or five weeks to go, we’d been quite confident of staying up, but there we were sat in disbelief having been relegated. It was really sad.”

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