Having anticipated the question, Ian Bryson preempted it by admitting no, it is impossible for him to decide where his loyalties lie whenever Sheffield United and Preston North End meet.
But the former midfielder is certain that tomorrow’s FA Cup fourth round tie between his two former clubs will be a compelling encounter thanks to their mutual belief in attacking football and proud histories.
“Chelsea and Newcastle were also left in the hat and I’m sure both Chris and Alex would probably have preferred the bigger game,” Bryson said. “But I think this is a brilliant tie between two clubs with great names and stature and in a great competition. Two clubs who were there right from the very start.”
Bryson, now aged 55, is fondly remembered by supporters of United and North End having represented both during his playing career. A member of the squad which reached the First Division following back to back promotions, he moved to Bramall Lane from Kilmarnock in 1988 before, five years, 198 appearances and a brief spell at Barnsley later, crossing the Pennines after completing a transfer to Deepdale. Although Bryson has remained in the North-West, he still follows events at United closely and cites Chris Wilder’s appointment 20 months ago as the catalyst for their improved fortunes.
Chris Wilder is a footballer’s dream,” Bryson continues. “I played with him at United and he was a great lad in the dressing room. “He’s brought that, quite clearly, to the present squad. When you hear him talk on the television and the radio, when you read what he says in the newspapers, it all makes perfect sense and it’s the way I think the game should be.”
“I wouldn’t say I looked at Chris and thought he’d be one of the greatest managers Sheffield United have probably ever had,” Bryson adds. “It’s difficult even though David Moyes, who I also played with, was clearly going to go into it. He did his badges at a very early age.
“But starting at the bottom, experiencing the things he did in non-league, and knowing how driven he is, you can see why he’s doing what he’s doing.”
United and their Championship rivals North End have lifted the trophy a combined total of six times and reached 13 finals. Bryson believes that proud record is not the only thing the two sides have in common, with Wilder’s counterpart Alex Neil also making a positive impression in Lancashire.
“When you’ve got a group of players who want to play for each other, the club and the badge, it can be a very powerful thing,” he says. “That’s what Chris has assembled at Bramall Lane. Alex is the same at Deepdale.
“What I like is that they both give players a chance. They’ve not got the same amount of money to spend as others in the division but they can identify good footballers, good characters, and make them better.
“Then, when you look at the way they like to play, they always have a ‘go.’ There’s plenty of ways to win a football match and, okay, I know it’s not always as clear as this. But I’d much rather come off the pitch knowing I’d done everything to try and win than not. People buy into that.”
Despite out-performing North End in the Championship table, sixth-placed United enter the match hoping to avenge their league defeat by Neil’s team earlier this term.
“I always get asked where my loyalties like and it’s a very difficult question to answer,” Bryson, who will be present at Bramall Lane, says. “I’ve settled over here and my family have grown-up in the area. Preston have made me a club ambassador. The first result I always look for, though, is Sheffield United. I really do think there’s similarities between the two clubs, in the way they are real family operations and how they look after their own.”