Steel City derby: Jake Wright now knows just how big a game this is

Jake Wright: Relishing his first Steel City derby.
Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Jake Wright: Relishing his first Steel City derby. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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LISTEN to Jake Wright and you will quickly acknowledge that the pressure of playing in a Steel City derby is all relative.

The Sheffield United defender is the first to admit that in terms of stature and occasion, tomorrow’s Hillsborough meeting will comfortably surpass anything he has sampled before in a league game.

But equally, Wright, 31, whose career was defined by character-building times in non-league circles with FC Halifax and Oxford United, is keen to provide a clear sense of perspective, too.

Mention big games and the Yorkshireman’s mind instantly scrolls back to the Conference play-off final between Oxford and York City at Wembley in May, 2010, which saw the U’s win 3-1.

That had a whole load more than three points riding on it, with the pressure of this weekend’s all-Sheffield affair being of a wholly different sort.

Wright said: “As a one-off game, this is one of my biggest. Obviously, I have played in finals at Wembley and they were big games. But, in what it means to people, this is one of my biggest games. It is the first year I have played in the Championship and every game is big for me every week – playing at new grounds. I am enjoying it and want to stay in the team and keep playing.

“But I think Oxford versus York (play-off final) was a bigger game with more riding on it – getting promoted from the Conference.

“That was life-changing, if you like. So, I think that put a lot more pressure on individuals.

“It can make a difference to your family life and things.

“So that was more pressure than playing in this game on Sunday.”

A humble, solid defensive grafter who has no airs and graces and who puts team before self, Wright very much fits into the Chris Wilder ‘ethos’ and the Blades’ DNA.

After swapping his Bradford home for Dronfield, Wright has quickly learned to understand just what tomorrow means to Unitedites, with him and his team-mates desperate to make it a special afternoon for the red-and-white half of Sheffield.

Wright added: “I would rather not go back to Bradford again, to be honest. I don’t mind being (around) here. It is good and I get it from both sides,

“My eldest plays for Dronfield and their manager is a Sheffield Wednesday fan and a few of the parents are Wednesday fans, so I have been getting a bit of stick off them. But I have got a lot of Sheffield United friends now as well and they have really told me what it means.

“I think what is brilliant about the city is that kids from this area support one or the other.

“It is a massive rivalry and I don’t think I appreciated it until I came to the club.

“The closer it gets to the game, I can appreciate it more and I know how much it means to people.

“I was at Oxford before and a lot of kids supported Chelsea and West Ham. But here, they support their home city and it is really good. It is one or the other.”

Just as his neighbours have been quick to convey the importance of securing the bragging rights tomorrow, so Wright’s captain and manager have been stressing just what this particular rivalry means over many months, too.

Billy Sharp and Wilder are as red and white as the chorus from John Denver’s Annie’s Song – whose lyrics have been wonderfully adapted by Unitedites.

Wright, a lucky derby omen in his time at Oxford, which saw them beat bitter rivals Swindon in all his five appearances against them, said: “Billy was desperate for us to get promoted and (for) them not to be, so that this game could come about.

“He has got what he wanted and, hopefully, he will be fit for the weekend.

“I think it helps that a lot of the boys live here as well. They hear off other people and fans and read the papers and stuff. Everyone knows how much it means.

“They (Sharp and Wilder) ram it down your throat all the time. Even last year when we were not in the same league, it was a fixture they both looked for.

“When we came in, their’s was a result they both looked for last year. As soon as the fixtures came out, it was the one we looked for. We have been excited for it and so we are glad it has come around.”