Field of broken dreams
Sheffield is the home of football, with Sheffield FC the oldest club in the world. But football in Sheffield has been bleak lately. Last season, Sheffield Wednesday returned to League 1, and based on Sheffield United’s season so far the signs up to now are that they could be joining them.
It has been a wretched few years for both clubs. United were relegated by virtue of a single goal on the last day of the season 3 years ago, going down with a points total that would have seen them safe most other years. That cruelty, combined with the Tevez controversy, has left a scar on the club that hasn’t really healed. Since then, fans have had to suffer Bryan Robson, something no club should have to experience, and disappointment under ex-Warnock assistant Kevin Blackwell, who fans quickly came to discover lacked Warnock’s tactical nous, likeable personality, and above all success.
For the Owls, they too suffered last-day heartache back in May, failing to beat Palace to stay up. Financially, this very nearly crippled the club, and only generosity from the courts last month gave them the time required to complete a takeover and enable them to pay off a substantial tax bill. Help came from Milan Mandaric. Owls fans will hope that under his stewardship they will now see a speedy rise back to the Championship. They have kept faith with boss Alan Irvine, though he will know that with Mandaric in charge he’ll have to keep looking over his shoulder. With little patience for under-performing managers at Portsmouth and Leicester, failure to gain promotion will almost certainly see Irvine out of a job – perhaps sooner if Wednesday suffer similar defeats to the 5-1 thrashing at Exeter recently.
Mandaric, infamously immortalised by the original statue of ex-Southampton player Ted Bates, has had some early disappointment financially as a result of the failure of the England World Cup bid, a week after his takeover. As one of the participating venues, Hillsborough would have received cash for much-needed ground redevelopment. A year ago then chairman Lee Strafford thought it was not the least bit embarrassing to get the fans to volunteer to repaint parts of the ground themselves, for free. While that is unlikely to be repeated, Wednesday will have to look to other sources to cover any improvements and enable Hillsborough to move with the times.
The Blades meanwhile are hoping it will be third time lucky this season with managers after yesterday appointing Micky Adams to replace new Wales boss Gary Speed – a departure that appeared to suit all parties. He has left a Port Vale team flying high in League 2, and plunged himself into a relegation battle at Bramall Lane. United fans have has been typically mixed by the news. Many appear to welcome Adams, hoping that his passion for the job and previous record in the Championship will be replicated. Adams successfully led Leicester to promotion in 2003 with a team that featured the debatable talents of Andy Impey, Jordan Stewart, and Trevor Benjamin alongside some of the players they retained from the Premiership. More recently with Coventry, he saved them from the drop, and led them to 8th the following season.
Fans at both Sheffield clubs have in recent years had high expectations, and this was the case for Blades fans with the latest appointment. Some ask whether Adams would have realistically been a target for the job were it not for him being a Unitedite. In many ways the financial and footballing state of the club are similar to when Neil Warnock took over in 1999. Reaction then was again mixed, but ultimately he brought the fans some exciting (without being pretty) football, several cup and playoff runs, and finally promotion..
United reportedly interviewed in addition to Adams the Donny Rovers boss Sean O’Driscoll, Brentford’s Andy Scott, and the unemployed Phil Brown and Paul Hart. Not a particularly inspiring bunch. Each on that shortlist would have represented a gamble of sorts. O’Driscoll was initially thought to be 1st choice, though it is debatable whether the success at a pressure-free environment at Donny could be replicated at a club with greater expectations, and replicated quick enough to avoid the immediate threat of relegation.
And so, Wednesday have the air of a new era, and for Irvine the expectation of an immediate promotion. As Charlton and Southampton have discovered, it can be tough to get back if you’re unsuccessful 1st time round, and further time in League 1 would be disastrous, but with them pushing for automatic promotion and now seemingly safe financially the future is looking much better. For United, a new era also dawns. Adams gets his dream job, with his assistant from his time at Leicester joining him – Alan Cork, the last Blade, and possibly the last fully bearded individual, to score at Wembley back in 1993. Both certainly won’t be lacking in passion, but it remains to be seen whether he can bring the style of football that will appease the fans. Robbie Savage today writes in the Mirror that they will be impressed, and that he gets his teams to work hard but also to play well, which if that happens will be warmly welcomed. Primarily though, Adams needs to bring in a winning style, as joining or replacing Wednesday in League 1 would be terrible for the club.