Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday: Over half a century of highs and lows in the Steel City derby

Thumbs up: 'Blonde forward' Alan Birchenall scored as United beat Wednesday in Richard Crooks' first Sheffield derby back in 1965.
Thumbs up: 'Blonde forward' Alan Birchenall scored as United beat Wednesday in Richard Crooks' first Sheffield derby back in 1965.
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Continuing our build-up to the Sheffield derby, Richard Crooks, author of ‘Wednesday v United – The Sheffield Derby’, has not missed a Steel City clash since 1965. Here, he takes a trip down memory lane.

Nine years old and my first visit to Bramall Lane.

We lived in the Heeley district of Sheffield, in one of the old Victorian terraced houses built for the steelworkers on which the local economy depended at the time. Ten minutes’ walk to the Lane with Dad.

Queue up for the Boys’ turnstile on Shoreham Street. A long queue, Dad quickly through the Adults’ turnstile. Cash only for entry – 6d for me (2.5p), 1s. 0d (5p) for Dad.

Once through, then up the slope that led to the top of the covered Shoreham Street Kop. Down below to our right stood the cricket nets used in the summer when Bramall Lane hosted cricket for the Sheffield United Cricket and Football Club.

Indeed, the football ground was three-sided, the fourth side open and leading across the cricket field to the pavilion in the far distance.

Sheffield United fans celebrate the win over Sheffield Wednesday on 18th February 2006.

Sheffield United fans celebrate the win over Sheffield Wednesday on 18th February 2006.

We made our way down the terraced steps on the covered Kop, settling for a position just below half-way down and to the right of goal as we looked.

Straight ahead the covered Bramall Lane terracing that housed predominantly Wednesday supporters. To our right the covered John Street Stand – seats at the back, terrace at the front.

There was no segregation of supporters. Mainly United supporters at the home end with some Wednesdayites amongst them, Dad and I included. No evident police presence inside or outside the ground. There was no trouble in the crowd.

And the game? United won. One goal in it, scored in the second-half at our end by Alan Birchenall, the Blades’ blonde forward.

The anticipation, the expectation, the adrenalin, the hope, the fear, the tribal belonging, the history, the present all played out in front of fanatical supporters.

Richard Crooks

Was it a good goal? Almost by definition it could not be from a Wednesdayite’s point of view. That said, all I saw was Birchenall strike the ball in the area. I could not see the ball hit the back of the net.

But I did see arms waving, bodies jumping, red and white scarves waving, men shouting and cheering. The Kop, at that point for a young Wednesday supporter, a very lonely place to be. “There is always next season,” Dad said.

And so there was. This time I went with a group of lads from our Junior School (Anns Road). The same short walk, each of us wearing our respective colours as we walked to the ground. We thought nothing of it.

If the ground had not been so tightly-packed with spectators, I am sure that many United and Wednesday supporters would have swapped ends to be behind the goal their team was attacking in each half.

The game? Lost 1-0. This time it was the unheralded Bill Punton who scored the winner for the Blades at the Shoreham Street end. Same outcome, same disappointment.

In the following years, I did see Wednesday win. Many times. And United win, many times.

The grounds have changed. No cricket at Bramall Lane, it has been a four-sided ground since 1975. Games are now all-ticket, strict segregation is enforced. But the one thing that does not change is the derby itself.

It is the one game above all others that you want your team to win. To beat THEM. It is the same for supporters of United and Wednesday. The anticipation, the expectation, the adrenalin, the hope, the fear, the tribal belonging, the history, the present all played out in front of fanatical supporters. There is nothing – but nothing – like the Sheffield derby.

Wednesday v United, The Sheffield Derby, by Richard Crooks (Pitch Publishing, 2018)