‘Two great cities, two great football clubs’ - Rivals united as Sheffield United look to kickstart season against Leeds United

Sometimes football’s tribal loyalties mean players and supporters cannot bring themselves to say anything positive about their neighbours.

Billy Sharp of Sheffield Utd. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

But having played for Leeds United as well as his boyhood team Sheffield United, Billy Sharp has no problem acknowledging his respect for the Elland Road club or Liam Cooper, his rival captain, good friend, former team-mate and golfing opponent.

Two Yorkshiremen who have represented their clubs in League One as well as the Premier League are well placed to ensure their players respect the importance of a Bramall Lane derby unfortunately diluted by empty terracing tomorrow.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

When the clubs last met, in 2018-19, Yorkshire bragging rights spurred both on in an already exciting three-horse automatic promotion race, with Leeds narrowly falling by the wayside. Now, Sharp is hoping the extra spice kick-starts the Blades’ season, which has started with consecutive Premier League defeats sandwiching a League Cup exit on penalties.

Leeds Unted's Liam Cooper tackles Sheffield United's Billy Sharp. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“My son’s got a few Leeds fans in his class, there are Leeds fans living in Sheffield and vice-versa,” he says. “It’s two great cities and two great football clubs who will do battle and that hasn’t happened in the Premier League for 26 years. It will hopefully be a good occasion and we can get our season up and running.”

Sharp has fond memories of going toe-to-toe with Leeds in the Championship.

“It was a good part of the ride,” he recalls. “There was a lot going on in Sheffield and Leeds about who would get promoted. It would have been nice if we’d both gone up at the same time but it wasn’t to be and fair play to Norwich, they did enough to win the league and we just had to make sure we held Leeds off.

“We’re both in the Premier League now and it’s great to see them here.”

The biggest compliment Sharp can pay Leeds is that only a third spell at Bramall Lane could tear him away after an eventful 2014-15.

“I enjoyed it even though I had four managers in one season,” he says. “It’s a great club, I couldn’t wait to get there. Some of the things that went on when I was there wasn’t quite what I was expecting – we didn’t have lunch, no kit to start off with.

“I scored on my debut, which was great, and Liam Cooper signed on the same day.

“If it wasn’t for Sheffield United coming in for me I would have stayed another season because it’s a great club and they deserve to be back in the Premier League.”

Even before the Blades add the extra striker they are looking for, Sharp is fighting for a start at Bramall Lane. The arrival of Diego Llorente means Leeds have spent big on two international centre-backs this summer (Robin Koch is the other), but it says a lot for what coach Marcelo Bielsa thinks of Cooper that he will lead the side out for his 200th appearance for the club.

“He’s a huge part of this club,” says Bielsa. “Institutions are bigger when they have someone who behaves impeccably.”

Llorente’s arrival from Real Sociedad this week is not a sign of a change in tactical thinking.

“It’s not that we plan to play with a back three more often,” he insists. “It’s not to increase competition either because Pascal (Strujik) played a very important game against Liverpool.

“Koch’s the only right-sided centre-back we had and if he got injured we would have had to get someone very young from the youth team or move (Luke) Ayling or (Kalvin) Phillips. I believed it was necessary to be able to count on two players for this position.

“If he (Llorente) needed to play he could. He was due to play against Real Madrid just before his transfer was agreed.”

Today the opposing captains are good friends and will be again at full-time tomorrow until the next match – of football or golf.

“I’ll shake his hand before the game and after the game but once we cross that white line we’ll try to kick lumps out of each other, which he understands and respects,” says Sharp.

“He’s Leeds captain, a Scottish international, you want to play against players like that.

“I was delighted for him getting promoted with Leeds last season but on Sunday I want to get one over him, definitely.

“We’ve been trying to get a game of golf for a while now but under the circumstances it’s difficult. I spoke to him on Thursday and will probably speak to him before the game.

“He signed on the same day as me and we’ve kept in touch ever since. He’s doing really well and I’m pleased for him.”

All that goes on hold tomorrow.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today.

Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers.

So, please - if you can - pay for our work. Just £5 per month is the starting point. If you think that which we are trying to achieve is worth more, you can pay us what you think we are worth. By doing so, you will be investing in something that is becoming increasingly rare. Independent journalism that cares less about right and left and more about right and wrong. Journalism you can trust.

Thank you

James Mitchinson