By beating Northampton, Sheffield United have been officially promoted to the Championship after a hiatus of six years. As a Blade, I couldn’t be happier, after constant heartbreak and failure in the third tier we’ve finally had some joy. When the final whistle blew at Sixfields, the release of emotion was incredible, both at Northampton and Bramall Lane. When a side goes up a division the improvement in quality can prove to be too much but I’m looking forward to next season, and here are the main reasons why.
Bigger Matches and Bigger Derbies
One thing I definitely won’t miss about the third tier is the amount of small clubs in it. Most will bring a couple hundred fans to Bramall Lane on a Saturday, which is disappointing to say the least. In the Championship, there aren’t many small clubs, which means away fans should be more numerous at our home games. The same is also true for away matches, as we regularly sell out our allocation, due to the small stadia that we’re crammed in to. Bigger grounds should mean bigger crowds and even better atmospheres both home and away.
This year has also lacked Yorkshire derbies for us. I’m not knocking Bradford City, I always enjoy going away to Valley Parade but that’s the only derby we’ve had this season (Chesterfield don’t qualify). I hope that Bradford also get promoted alongside us to join us in the second tier, alongside Huddersfield, Leeds, Barnsley and Nottingham Forest to make it a season full of rivalries.
Speaking of Derbies…
The Local Bragging Rights
Every football fan looks forward to playing their local rivals with the hope of getting one up on them. What position your club is in at the time is irrelevant, all what matters is coming out on top and Sheffield United are no exception. To beat that other club from across the city means so much, it’s far from just about the 90 minutes on the pitch. The Steel City Derby is one of England’s fieriest and to not have it on the football calendar is scandalous. But we’re in the same division for 2017-18 and I’m sure I speak for all Blades when I say that beating them would be so sweet given the mocking we’ve had to endure. It’s time to knock them off their perch.
No Longer a Big Fish in a Small Pond
As I alluded to earlier, we’re a club that should at least be in the second tier of English football. While we’ve been in League 1, we’ve been one of, if not the biggest club every season. For most of the division’s teams, the game at Bramall Lane is their equivalent of the FA Cup final and their players step up. That’s not an excuse, I believe it to be a fact and it’s arguably been our main issue for most of our stay in the league. However, that’s all changed under our new manager, Chris Wilder, who has installed an excellent work ethic and attitude no matter who the opposition is.
In the championship, we won’t be the biggest club, so we won’t be there to be shot at and I think that will work to our advantage. I honestly predict that we’ll be a mid-table side next season. As long as we make the required improvements in the squad and keep Wilder as manager I think we should be fine.
Closer to the Premier League
I’ve heard some fans already fantasising about a back-to-back promotion and while I think the chances of that are very slim, the ultimate aim is to back in the top flight at some stage. Southampton and Norwich City have both achieved this in recent times but the gap between the top teams and the rest grows every year with the relentless increases in television money. Still though, it’s nice to dream and it’s been ten years since Blades have experienced top flight football which feels like an age.
Seeing who will step up
It’s impossible to predict which players will swim and who will sink when a side gets promoted, but some always tend to kick-on. Billy Sharp, John Fleck, Jake Wright and Kieron Freeman (to name a few) have all had outstanding seasons but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if all four can replicate their exploits in 2016-17. Chris Wilder will no doubt know where to improve the squad and I have complete faith in him doing so, he knows the club inside and out. From ball boy, to player to manager, even if none of our players step up I know he will. When I met him last year he struck me as a thoroughly down-to-earth person and not the sort to let this all get to his head. He’ll get the job done, after all, he is one of our own.