Footballers, some people would have you believe, are more interested in money than medals.
But, reflecting upon Sheffield United’s League One title triumph, Jake Wright reveals nothing could be further from the truth.
“You get to the end of your career and there’s nothing to look back on if you’ve not achieved anything, won anything or made any history. Whatever happens now, we’ve got everything to look back on. In 10 years time, no one can take it away from us, what’s happened this season. It will always be there with us.”
Wright’s pride is almost palpable as he looks back on what has been a remarkable season at Bramall Lane. Chris Wilder’s side enters Sunday’s final match, against neighbours Chesterfield, 14 points clear of second-placed Bolton Wanderers and knowing that a win will see them reach the magical 100 landmark. Wright, the former Halifax Town and Oxford centre-half, cites a combination of pride, passion and character as they key to their success.
“We keep getting told by fans, the gaffer, the staff and Sharpy (Billy Sharp) too, that this is an old club with a lot of history. But they also let us know that it’s not won as much as it should. So that’s why we’re so proud to have done something. And for me personally, to do it at a great club like this, it means so much.”
Wright, aged 31, is an important figure at United. Not least because his presence illustrates the values Wilder, like Sharp a dyed-in-the-wool Blade, holds dear. Released by Bradford City as a youngster, Wright rebuilt his career during the 49-year-old’s reign at The Shay. Forced to play without pay and with liquidation looming, moves to Crawley and Brighton followed before he resurrected his partnership with Wilder in Oxfordshire.
“When I first came here, I knew I didn’t have to prove anything to the gaffer or Knilly (assistant manager Alan Knill) because they already knew me,” Wright, who joined United nine months ago, admits. “But I did feel as if, with the rest of the lads, I had to come in and show them what I was about. A lot of them have played at Championship level and I wanted to prove I could play too. I didn’t want people thinking I’d only signed because I knew the gaffer. I wanted them to see that I could help and improve the team.”
“If the gaffer wasn’t here, I would have still come to this club,” he continues. “No doubt about it. But I know he’s a winner, at every club he’s been at. Team spirit is massive for him. I didn’t play for him at Northampton but I’m close to a few lads there and they told me it was the same. It helped us when we didn’t get off to a great start. We all stuck together and that dragged us through.”
Wilder, who also won promotion at Sixfields before taking charge of United in May, has made no secret of the fact his squad have played hard and partied even harder since securing guaranteeing their place in the Championship next term. But, acknowledging his team mates know where to draw the line, Wright insists there is method in the supposed Malbec.
“This is my third promotion, I got two at Oxford, but it’s the biggest and the most important. It’s the biggest club I’ve played for. As simple as. That’s why it’s my greatest achievement.
“He (Wilder) is big on togetherness. Sometimes, he’ll say ‘right lads, go out’ and everybody turns up. There are other times when he’ll say ‘I don’t want any going out this week’ and everybody respects that. He’s gone mad at times in training if he doesn’t think it’s been up to scratch. It keeps everybody on their toes.
“Apart from the top two or three teams in the Premier League and abroad, teams don’t win every year and teams don’t achieve every year. Bash (Chris Basham) has had a great career but this is his first promotion which just goes to show because he’s a really good player. Being like we are brings us closer on the pitch.”
As February’s draw at Bristol Rovers, described by Wilder at the time as a “much better point” than folk “might realise, proved.
“It’s massive that we can battle,” Wright says. “Some of the pitches, away from home, are not the best. Every single player can do that. If you remember Bristol Rovers away, there was Sharpy, our captain and talisman, coming on and throwing himself in front of the ball and getting a cut head at the end.”
Wright has made 30 appearances for since signing a two year contract with United and, although he prefers talking about systems rather than scorelines, is still yet to taste defeat.
“This formation is perfect for me. With Jack (O’Connell), Ethan (Ebanks-Landell), Bash or Willo (James Wilson), whoever is playing alongside me, I can sit back and organise. They do the dashing around. It suits everybody. I’m never going to be a nine out of 10 player but I also try and never be a six out of 10 one either. I just try for consistency. There are better technical players than me. There’s no point in me trying to do great things on the ball when I’ve got great technical players like Flecky or Couttsy in front of me.”
Wright missed last weekend’s victory over MK Dons due to illness but hopes to feature this weekend.
“We celebrated going up and we celebrated the title. But then we were right back on it, the same as we always have been.
“Nothing has changed during training. If anything, it’s probably stepped-up a little bit because everybody wants to play, especially in front of the big crowds we are getting at home and away. These are the occasions you want to play in, these are the matches you want to be a part of. And I’m so proud to be involved in it.”