Weekend Interview: Promotion eases sense of injustice for Sheffield United chief Kevin McCabe

On the up: Kevin McCabe can finally ceelbrate again.
Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
On the up: Kevin McCabe can finally ceelbrate again. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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IT has been a long and bruising decade for Kevin McCabe, but the pain is finally starting to subside a little.

After a good while, Sheffield United’s trajectory is of the upward variety once again, although you sense that the club’s co-owner will only truly settle when the Blades return to the Premier League stage which he feels they were unceremoniously – and unjustly – deprived of back in May, 2007.

Co Owner Kevin McCabe during the open top bus parade from Bramall Lane Stadium to Sheffield Town Hall, Sheffield. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Co Owner Kevin McCabe during the open top bus parade from Bramall Lane Stadium to Sheffield Town Hall, Sheffield. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

The Carlos Tevez-affair cut deep with the Blades and more especially McCabe, who still harbours a burning sense of injustice that West Ham suffered a fine, but no points deduction after being found guilty of breaching third-party ownership rules – with the Hammers effectively staying up at the Yorkshire club’s expense in that rancid 2006-07 denouement.

A compensation payment, reported to be £18.1m, may have been brokered down the line, but that financial reimbursement for the Blades has still not resulted in McCabe feeling any less sore.

The club’s League One penance over the course of six long years – incorporating several punishing late-season episodes – represented somewhat of an added ordeal for all Unitedites. For many, it was plain embarrassing.

What former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once referred to as ‘events, dear boy, events’ compounded the situation. Most prominent among them being the Ched Evans furore.

If you look at clubs in the Premier League now like Huddersfield, Burnley, Watford, Swansea and Bournemouth and even clubs, with respect, such as Stoke and West Brom, we know deep down that we are a bigger club.

Kevin McCabe

The striker was released by United in the summer of 2012 after he was found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman and sentenced to five years in prison. That conviction was subsequently quashed and, at a retrial last year, Evans was found not guilty, with the Welshman rejoining the club on a three-year deal in May.

Given the background of what has largely been a miserable decade, last season’s record-breaking and historic campaign, when the Blades became just the second Yorkshire club to reach a century of league points and lifted a league title for the first time since 1982 represented manna from heaven.

A proud footballing institution has roared back to life, under a manager in Chris Wilder who bleeds red and white and seems such a natural fit in the Bramall Lane dug-out compared with a number of his predecessors – of whom there have been several in the past 10 years.

A golden and redemptive 2016-17 harkened back to much happier times under the likes of Neil Warnock and Dave Bassett. McCabe is the first to allude to the fact, while acknowledging that the journey has only just recommenced with it now being all about the future and writing the wrongs of 2006-07.

McCabe told The Yorkshire Post: “As I have said to many and I am probably the only guy who can say it – and this is not sour grapes – we were illegally relegated in 2007. It was like being kicked in the groin and the groin still aches.

“Since that time, for some reason, we have had absolutely wretched luck with play-off defeats and semi-final defeats galore. Add the ‘Tevez-affair’ itself and the problems surrounding Ched – an innocent man, which came at a critical time – and it goes back 10 years.

“It is just over 10 years since May, 2007 but our curve is upwards now and fate does play a part in many parts of all our lives including sport.

“But I honestly believe that we are on that upward curve again.

“I think Chris will be with us a long time and that is what is required. Chopping and changing managers is, quite honestly, something that no owner really wants.

“We all know how to choose managers... Sometimes, you are pretty sure you have got it right, but what counts is what happens out there.

“It is all about winning and Chris has got that formula.

“Yes, we know the Championship is going to be a tough league and we are not kidding ourselves.

“There is a massive level of patience, but there is also the current under-current. When players are confident and gel as a team, many things are possible.”

That said, McCabe has been in the game long enough not to predict too much with certainty.

The initial on-pitch aim in the Blades’ first Championship campaign in seven seasons is ‘consolidation’, but with the caveat being that significant transfer moves are likely to be made in the January window if the Blades find themselves in a strong position.

It is a sensible and strategic approach that most would concur with.

On the Blades’ aims in 2017-18, McCabe said: “I think it is consolidation, mid-table or a little bit above. That is my view. We have got a super squad who we have got to try and keep.

“And I think we have seen the best football at Bramall Lane since the Tony Currie, Alan Woodward, Len Badger and Ted Hemsley era for attractive football.

“I also enjoyed the Bassett period immensely and Neil’s to a degree. With the quality of football we played (last year), hopefully that will continue.”

He added: “You can say football seasons can be a game of two halves. If you have got it wrong, then, in January, you have a chance to re-adjust. If you have got it right, there is a chance there to reinforce.”

“I often relate when I am talking to fans that one must never forget that under Neil in that January (in 2005-06 promotion season), he got (Ade) Akinbiyi, Bruce Dyer, Brian Deane, Garry Flitcroft, Geoff Horsfield and Chris Lucketti as if to say: ‘We are going to get promoted, now is the time to strengthen.’

“I am sure discussions would occur between myself and Prince Abdullah as we get close to that second period of January here.”

Mere mention of the P word of promotion is further evidence of the long-term vista for McCabe, without making an open declaration of immediate intent.

But the message is clear and the resolve there for all to see, fuelled by those difficult days of a decade ago. Out of adversity comes strength.

He continued: “The only one thing I care about is Sheffield United Football Club and the nub of the football club is first-team success and I will not rest easy until we are back in the Premier League.

“Prince Abdullah did not come on board to see us languishing in League One. We are now back in the Championship with much more of a profile and visibility on TV.

“But he has only got that sole aim which is the Premier League – if everything else is right.

“If you look at clubs in the Premier League now like Huddersfield, Burnley, Watford, Swansea and Bournemouth and even clubs, with respect, such as Stoke and West Brom, we know deep down that we are a bigger club.

“But there is only one way to prove it and that is getting back to the Premier League. Some of those clubs got back in the right way – with good team management.

“They did not sign fancy-dans for a fortune, but guys who wanted to come through with the club. Who knows...

“The first couple of chapters have been written and the rest is to come.

“So much is right about us.”