BIG IN­TER­VIEW

Chris Basham ex­plains how Sh­effield United have turned things around

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

CON­SID­ER­ING Chris Wilder once or­dered his skip­per off the bus to buy beer, the Sh­effield United boss was hardly go­ing to stop his he­roes en­joy­ing a post-pro­mo­tion party.

“The chair­man says he’s com­ing to see us af­ter the Chester­field game on the fi­nal day and ap­par­ently he’s got a sur­prise planned,” laughs Chris Basham, part of the Blades side that last week ended a six-year ex­ile from the Cham­pi­onship.

“We’re hop­ing Las Ve­gas but that might be a big stretch for a League One club! What­ever the case, we’re plan­ning four days on the drink af­ter that fi­nal whis­tle goes.

“The gaffer says the white flags will be out be­fore we even get to Ve­gas if that hap­pens, but be­ing a Ge­ordie I’m duty bound to keep the party go­ing as long as pos­si­ble!”

Suc­cess

White flags were all too com­mon at Bra­mall Lane be­fore the ar­rival of Wilder, a life­long fan and for­mer player with Blades in his blood.

With the ex­cep­tion of one ter­rific sea­son un­der Danny Wil­son, United’s mis­er­able stint in League One has been pocked with frus­tra­tion, fail­ure and dis­ap­point­ment.

Play­ers ar­rived with big rep­u­ta­tions and even big­ger pay­pack­ets, only to crum­ble un­der the fer­vent ex­pec­ta­tion of 27,000 fans. Op­po­nents glee­fully preyed on their ap­pre­hen­sion.

Such a mill­stone had Bra­mall Lane be­come that United ac­tu­ally col­lected more points from away games in all but one of the last four cam­paigns.

Basham, signed from Black­pool in the sum­mer of 2014, was one of those un­der­achiev­ers and says he was of­ten con­sumed with anger and re­gret. “Those feel­ings were mas­sive,” says the 28year-old, who can op­er­ate in de­fence or mid­field. “My first year, we had a run to the FA Cup semi-fi­nals and that kind of ob­scured the prob­lems.

“But they were al­ways there. Ev­ery time a team came to Bra­mall Lane, it was a Cup fi­nal for them. Play­ing in front of 27,000 fans, great big pitch. Some of the boys – my­self in­cluded – didn’t recog­nise that. We didn’t rise to the chal­lenge.

“It was hard. It was hurt­ful. You went home frus­trated and you ended up tak­ing things out on your fam­ily.

“Last year was the hard­est of all. We just didn’t do any­thing. We got a lot of stick and, to be fair, we de­served it. It was hard to pull your­self round from that.”

En­ter Wilder, fresh from pro­mo­tion to League One with Northamp­ton and armed with the weekly com­plaints of friends and fam­ily. His first – and only – pri­or­ity was to give them a side to be proud of.

“The con­nec­tion to sup­port­ers had been lost over the years,” said Wilder af­ter a sum­mer that saw 20 play­ers head for the ex­its. “And that’s what al­ways made this place such a fortress. The fear of com­ing to Bra­mall Lane was a lot less than it should have been.”

The re­sults have been spec­tac­u­lar. In­spired by the goals of skip­per Billy Sharp and an­chored by the hon­est toil of men like Basham and Jake Wright, the Blades have dropped just 15 points at home all sea­son.

Last week­end’s 2-1 vic­tory at Northamp­ton se­cured pro­mo­tion with four games to spare. The League One ti­tle is as­sured.

“It’s just been out­stand­ing from start to fin­ish,” says Basham. “Every­thing I ex­pected of Bra­mall Lane when I joined has come true. The noise. The fear-fac­tor. It’s all back.

“The gaffer de­serves mas­sive credit. He brought in lads who’ve been pro­moted, who knew the league. The train­ing is so in­tense. His favourite say­ing is ‘Keep the ham­mer down’ and ev­ery­one has bought into it.

Suc­cess

“From the outset, all he wanted was play­ers will­ing to fight for Sh­effield United. He’s got a sign up in the dress­ing room. It’s a tweet from a fan that says ‘All we care about is the team giv­ing 100 per cent’. “He’s with the fans through and through – he is one. Be­cause of that he’s very ag­gres­sive on the train­ing ground, not afraid to drop any­body. If some­body needs a kick up the arse, he’ll pro­vide it.” Wilder’s old school val­ues were vividly il­lus­trated by Sharp this week, who re­counted how he was or­dered off the team bus fol­low­ing a de­feat by Mill­wall in Au­gust to stock up on beer from an off li­cence. “It’s true,” says Basham. “He ba­si­cally said to us ‘Right, that’s three de­feats on the spin, let’s have a drink and get it out of our sys­tem’. “The whole at­mos­phere just lifted and we ended up go­ing on an 18game un­beaten run af­ter that. Since then, af­ter ev­ery game we’ve had a beer on the bus and the morale around the place has been fan­tas­tic.

“We go on dos to­gether, we have meals to­gether, we go out. The gaffer has brought that feel­ing of togetherness back, got ev­ery­one work­ing for each other. It’s al­most like he’s given the fans their club back. It’s bril­liant to be part of.”

As were the scenes at Six­fields – the very lo­ca­tion where Wilder had cel­e­brated pro­mo­tion 12 months ear­lier.

“We’d never been ner­vous,” in­sists Basham. “We were too con­fi­dent in what we were do­ing. But the nearer it gets, the more edgy and ex­cited you get.

“So when that late goal went in for 2-1, it all came out. We’d have loved to do it at our place but I’ve got to say thank you to Northamp­ton.

“It was the gaffer’s old club and they were bril­liant. They let us stay on the pitch, they let the fans on, even tol­er­ated us cov­er­ing the dress­ing rooms in beer and cham­pagne. It was a great feel­ing.”

Now Basham is look­ing for­ward to Ve­gas (pos­si­bly), two ties against boy­hood he­roes Sun­der­land (al­most cer­tainly) and a sea­son de­void of pres­sure (sadly for him, un­likely).

“I know there’ll be pres­sure, but it won’t be to win a league,” says the for­mer Bolton man. “It’ll be steady away, make sure you don’t go down. If the fans see progress, I think they’ll be happy.

“As for Sun­der­land, it’s sad to see them go down but I think they need it. It’s such a hor­ri­ble at­mos­phere up there now. What they need is to start win­ning games again, then the love will come back to the club.”

Af­ter this sea­son, no­body knows that bet­ter than Basham.

JIG OF DE­LIGHT: Chris Wilder en­joys pro­mo­tion GLORY DAY: Fans i the pitch af­ter Leo Clarke’s lev­eller at Northamp­ton last w

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