James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Why attending Tuesday's under-21 fixture at Bramall Lane could be described as a civic duty
On Tuesday evening, when England's under-21 squad hosts Ukraine at Bramall Lane, Aidy Boothroyd's players will enjoy an opportunity to issue another statement of intent ahead of next summer's European Championships.
The match also represents a chance for the public to ensure our city, which all too often is ignored by decision-makers and self-styled opinion shapers, is at the forefront of the conversation about sport in this country.
Sheffield has a long history of being treated shabbily by Governments. Even groups purportedly established to champion the entire Yorkshire region seem to regard it as something of an irrelevance. The fact Leeds received public money to help build a brand new entertainment venue, which is surely sucking funds out of the self-funded FlyDSA Arena, is just one example of this bias. Being handed a spur line on the flagship HS2 rail project is another. (Although many of the area’s most vocal cheerleaders were complicit, during the ‘Meadowhall versus Mainline’ debate, in laying the groundwork for this snub).
The Football Association, to their credit, has been staging international matches in the locality for a number of years now. The visit of the Young Lions, including former Sheffield United centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, should be welcomed and, thanks to some sensible ticket pricing, well supported.
Yet long before the new Wembley was built, when there was a debate about whether the national stadium should be constructed elsewhere, Birmingham and Manchester were both touted as alternative options. Sheffield, which would also have been the ideal setting for the National Football Museum, was completely ignored. The very same Sheffield which, just in case anyone had forgotten, is home to the world’s oldest club, oldest tournament, oldest ground and oldest surviving professional stadium. Just for good measure, it also happens to be the birthplace of Sir Charles Clegg who became known as ‘The Napoleon of Football’ during his chairmanship of the FA. Oh, and the English Institute of Sport which is home to some of the country’s most innovative thinkers in other a variety of other disciplines.
Leeds might have gained entrance to the corridors of power when it attracted many of the country’s bluechip companies. But, when it comes to the beautiful game, Sheffield has a history no amount of lobbying, glad-handing or backscratching can possibly match.
Attracting a big crowd to next week’s fixture, which kicks-off at 6pm, should not be seen as a victory for United or a snub to Wednesday. Instead, it would be a vote of confidence, a much-needed reminder and two-fingered salute, to those intent on overlooking this city.