When Chris Wilder attended the Senior Blades Christmas lunch on Wednesday, he expected to spend the afternoon enjoying a few drinks, eating good food and exchanging pleasantries with supporters.
But, as Sheffield United’s manager revealed last night, the event proved rewarding in both a social and a sporting sense.
“It’s always great to see people like Len Badger and Ted Hemsley,” Wilder said. “Two absolute legends here. What was equally as great was listening to them drawing comparisons between the approach our side has got and the great ones they were a part of. That tells me, when you look at the spirit of their group, that we’re on the right track.”
A lifelong United supporter, Wilder still idolises the likes of Badger, Hemsley and Tony Currie despite becoming a celebrated figure at Bramall Lane himself. So hearing the trio endorse his expansive, attacking-minded approach meant a lot; particularly as the 50-year-old’s squad travels to Preston North End tomorrow sixth in the Championship table but without a win since November 17. However, rather than simply massaging his ego, Wilder believes their presence also reinforces the message that United is a way of life. Not just a football club.
“I want a positive mentality,” he continued. “I think it’s great to see people like them, Mick Jones, Bradders (Carl Bradshaw), Brian Deane, Peter Duffield, Derek French and Keith Edwards coming back and still around the place. They, and people like Morgs (Chris Morgan), Ted, Len and TC, are special people who should be looked after here.”
Wilder is equally protective of United’s present players too, as journalists discovered when Wilder mounted another impassioned defence of John Fleck’s character following his red card against Bristol City seven days ago. With fellow midfielder Paul Coutts sustaining a season-ending leg injury during last month’s win over Burton Albion, Fleck’s three match ban means Chris Basham could partner John Lundstram at Deepdale. Samir Carruthers and academy graduate Regan Slater are other potential options.
“I’ve watched it again and I still don’t think it was a sending-off,” Wilder, referring to Fleck’s challenge on Korey Smith, said. “I don’t think anyone would have raised an eyebrow if Flecky had got a yellow or whatever, including some people on their bench. He’s gone for the ball, he’s not gone for the man, in fact he’s got the ball. It was a shame to see their lad injured but an injury doesn’t always mean it’s a bad tackle or a red card. We found that out ourselves at Burton Albion no so long ago, didn’t we.”
“We’ve got no new injuries or issues,” he added. “Which is obviously good news. We haven’t got a big squad so we just get on with things here. There’s no complaints from us. We always make the best of it.”