Of course, neither club troubles the upper echelons of English football today. Indeed Sheffield’s present day big two are also struggling. Wednesday are currently near the bottom of The Championship while United are toiling in League One. Given the city’s footballing history and size (larger than Edinburgh), Sheffield clubs are among England’s sleepiest giants. United only briefly graced the Premier League in 2007 and Wednesday have been in the wilderness since losing their top flight status in the year 2000.
United’s home, Bramall Lane (pictured above), lays claim to the world’s oldest operating stadium, having been used by Sheffield FC in their early years. As you can see the ground has seen more than a lick of paint since those ramshackle beginnings (capacity: 32, 702).
I attended the recent U-21 international between England and Scotland there. The less said about the game and the scoreline the better. I also saw the opening game of the English league season as United took on another historic club, Notts County. The Blades beat the oldest club in the Football League 3-1, with a healthy Scottish contingent involved. The opening goal of the English league season was scored by ex-Dundee player Kevin McDonald. One of United’s brightest players, he surprisingly departed for League One rivals Wolves before the closure of the transfer window.
The Blades are now managed by David Weir. The former Scotland defender needs to find his feet quickly as United should be challenging for a place in England’s second tier rather than threatening to tumble into the fourth. If not, his first job in management may not last too much longer.
Sheffield's football fans might even take mid-table mediocrity the way this season has started. But United in particular will be hoping for better with the club now co-owned by Saudi Prince Abdullah. If his promised investment materialises, then it will be unacceptable for United to be hanging about much longer in League One; never mind hovering above the relegation zone. Many would argue it's already beyond a joke, but fans of both these fine clubs have become all too familiar with underachievement.
Steven Porter is the author of Countries of the World.