The magnitude of the game, not the landmark moment, explains why Chris Wilder is so excited about tomorrow’s visit of Millwall.
It might be his 100th match in charge of Sheffield United, the club he has supported since childhood and represented as a player. But with the outcome set to decide whether its hopes of a top six finish are effectively over or continue for at least another week, Wilder has spent the past three days focusing purely on football rather than personal milestones.
“I’ve not given it any thought whatsoever,” he said last night. “None at all if I’m being honest. It was the same with my 50th birthday, I didn’t think about it until it happened. Fingers crossed it’s the same outcome though, which was an enjoyable weekend.”
With only three points separating both teams in the table - Neil Harris’ side travel north today occupying the fourth and final play-off berth - preparing for this pivotal fixture has dominated Wilder’s thinking since Tuesday’s victory over Middlesbrough. Nevertheless he did permit his poker face to slip when asked about his relationship with United during Thursday’s media briefing. Particularly, after some gentle prompting, the 23 months following his appointment and subsequent promotion from League One.
“I’ve loved it, absolutely loved it,” Wilder said. “I’m in an unbelievably privileged position, managing and working for my hometown club. Sometimes, at the coal face, you forget what the club means to you. There was a time during the Cardiff game recently when the fans sung a song to me with real passion and that took me back a bit.”
“Sometimes, when you do take a step back,” he continued. “When you walk around the ground at the final whistle after Middlesbrough or even some Sunday mornings when I walk around with my wife and it’s empty, it’s a special place.”
So special, in fact, that being tasked with trying to steer United back into the Premier League actually makes Wilder prouder than his two spells there as a player.
“This is an unbelievable life experience for me,” he said. “I thought playing for Sheffield United was fantastic but representing them and trying to drive the club forward is at a totally different level. At Barnsley, even at £36 a pop, we had 4,500 there.”
“It’s hilarious at times,” Wilder added. “I’m not trying to be clever but last weekend I got the bus down to the shops and people wish you well. When I dropped my daughter off at the train station this week, people were wishing me all the best. The amount of people who want this club to do well brings a tingle down your spine; knowing what it means to them and to us all.”
Tapping into that passion, using it as a force for good, not something to shy away from, has been one of Wilder’s hallmarks at all of his former clubs. Harris has done something similar with Millwall which is why Wilder, who makes no apology for celebrating goals or suffering defeat particularly badly, recognises them as a threat.
Obviously there’s been a lot of talk recently about the reaction of managers to different games. You see how much it means to everybody and I’m no different. This isn’t just a job is it? You don’t go home and turn everything off. I turn around before a game and see my wife, my family and my pals. When you get it going, Bramall Lane is some place.”