True Blade Wilder puts allegiance on hold for Cup return

CHRIS Wilder normally wants Sheffield United to win on a Saturday afternoon.

Not today.

A passionate Blades supporter, he had two spells with the club as a player but Wilder is also manager of today’s FA Cup first round opponents Oxford United.

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If only for 90 minutes, he wants the Blades to lose.

Wilder ‘jumped around the room for 10 minutes’ when he heard the first-round draw. A manager for 10 years, it offers his first opportunity to take a team to Bramall Lane.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about it,” Wilder told the Yorkshire Post.

“I have always supported Sheffield United and the club has played a big part in my life but my only concern this weekend is winning for the club that employs me.

“Growing up, I only lived a couple of miles from the ground. I could see the ground from my bedroom window and the school bus took me past Bramall Lane every day. I was a ball boy and I started by playing for the youth team and reserve team.

“The majority of my pals are season-ticket holders and have supported the club through thick and thin. I still like to attend the odd game now and again and catch up with those pals over a few beers but it is not so easy now that I have moved down to Oxford with my family.”

Wilder accepts that defeat or even an Oxford goal will not go down well with the locals this afternoon. The Blades have won just three of the last 10 games and frustration is starting to grow.

“I know it is going to be a strange sort of day but I have too much respect for Sheffield United to start jumping up and down or screaming and shouting if we score,” he revealed.

That respect also extends to manager Danny Wilson, whose appointment last summer split Blades supporters due to his past association with neighbours Sheffield Wednesday.

“You should always judge a manager on what he does not where he comes from,” insists Wilder. “The history of football is full of people who have moved across cities to work for the other club.

“Look at Denis Law in Manchester or Derek Dooley – easily the best example in Sheffield. There will always be people who do it and it doesn’t matter to me as long as the club is successful.

“I have a lot of respect for Danny and his assistant Frank Barlow. They have been in the game a long time and are proper football people. I know I can pick up the phone and call them anytime.

“But all managers should be judged on results and I think Sheffield United will be really strong contenders for promotion this season under Danny Wilson.”

Wilder, 44, has been in charge at Oxford since December, 2008, and inspired the club’s return to the Football League via a play-off final success over York City.

For the previous six years, he worked miracles at cash-strapped Halifax Town and came agonisingly close to play-off glory in 2006.

With Oxford now mounting another promotion challenge, Wilder’s star is firmly on the rise.

“I don’t think I did myself justice as a player,” he reflected. “I undersold myself but I am determined not to do that as a manager. I want to work at the highest level possible in management – wherever that may be. If I ever get an opportunity higher up the league I will take it my stride – but I have a 100 per cent desire to do the best I can whatever route that takes me.”

It goes without saying that, one day, Wilder might love to manage the Blades but his current goal is leading Oxford back towards the Championship.

“We are playing well but we possibly need to put the finish on the decent approach play we are seeing,” he said.

“We will have to step up our game defensively on Saturday and also with the ball. Sheffield United will be favourites this weekend but, like everyone, we are also looking to get to the third round.”

Another of Wilder’s former clubs, Bradford City, dumped the Blades out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on Tuesday night. Oxford, meanwhile, were knocked out of the competition by Southend United and also had two players sent off, goalkeeper Wayne Brown and striker Tom Craddock.

“I don’t think them losing in midweek is a good thing for us,” says Wilder. “I get the vibe that there were a few home truths told after Tuesday’s game and the supporters and the manager will expect to see a reaction from the players when they play us so there’s now a bit of extra in it for them.”

Professional rather than personal allegiances take priority but Wilder is not the only former Blade ‘coming home’ this afternoon.

Former England international Alan Hodgkinson, at the remarkable age of 76, is still coaching Oxford’s goalkeepers.

Hodkinson, awarded the MBE three years ago, made nearly 700 appearances for the Blades during an 18-year career. He picked up a lifetime achievement award from the club last summer.

“It’s a pity that a lot of the young supporters probably won’t realise who Alan is,” said Wilder. “I played 125 games for Sheffield United but he played over 600 and represented his country. Now that is a real servant and he is an absolute legend. In my eyes, he is possibly one of the top five greatest players in Sheffield United’s history. I hope it will be a really good day for him.”

Hodkinson, who was born in Rotherham, said: “Obviously it’ll be an emotional weekend. It’s where my roots started. They’re the club that put me on my way to becoming an international player and a journey which has lasted 58 years.

“I always look for their results because it’s been a big part of my life. I’ve always been a fan and, unlike many other people in the game, I’ve always been an avid saver of programmes. I still have the programme for every game I ever played in home or away.”

Striker Danny Philliskirk, who is on loan to Oxford from the Blades, is not allowed to play today.