We’ve all had relationships that didn’t quite work out. We feel heartbroken but then move on with our lives… Sometimes we’re tempted to return for a second try. Friends and family will disapprove, they’re waiting for the inevitable fallout. After the second break up, that’s it. Signed, sealed and delivered. Never to return again….But in very rare cases, when the spark is still there, they’ll try again. Billy Sharp and Sheffield United are proof that there is a ‘third time lucky’.
A BABY BLADE
Born and bred in Sheffield, Sharp bleeds red and white. He grew up in the Steel City and spent Saturday afternoons watching the Blades playing at Bramall Lane. Like many young Sheffield lads, Sharp dreamed of pulling on the red and white stripes when we was older. His love for the city and club is clear:
“It is special because I’ve supported Sheffield United since being a boy. I used to come here with my dad and the rest of my family, supporting the team and it’s a dream come true to play for them once, let alone three times. It has been a dream come true for me.”
The 16 year-old Blades supporter achieved his boyhood dream of joining his hometown club. Unfortunately for Sharp (and the Blades), his first time wouldn’t be a resounding success. Playing only 2 games for the club, Sharp found his opportunities limited. United were in the Championship at the time and the Blades would soon be promoted to the Premier League. Sharp was deemed surplus to requirements and shipped off to Scunthorpe for a paltry sum of £100,000.
Sharp and Andy Keogh (remember him?) formed a lethal strike partnership in League One. When Keogh moved on to Wolves, he was very keen on Sharp joining him once again. After all, the lad from Sheffield had scored 53 goals in 82 games. Keogh said at the time:
“Billy is a top lad. He’s a good friend of mine and a very good centre forward. If a deal happens he’d be a great addition to our squad. He’s just the type of young player the club are looking for with the right sort of desire and attitude which rubs off on everyone else. And that’s not to mention his talent, he’s just the sort of player we need to bring in to try and help us get to the Premiership.”
After two successful years, guess who came calling again? Wolves and Norwich were interested but it was the Blades who convinced Sharp to rejoin in a £2 million deal. Similar to Chelsea resigning Matic for a huge fee after letting him go for next to nothing, it shows love knows no bounds.
LET’S TRY AGAIN
Signed in July 2007, the championship club were adapting to life in the second tier after relegation from the Premiership in 2007. Sharp would play a part in their brave, but ultimately unsuccessful promotion run. They finished 9th but Sharp wasn’t scoring his usual number of goals.
2008/2009 would see an improvement for the Blades as they finished 3rd but they missed out on promotion. Sharp was placed on the transfer list in the summer, as the club looked at their options. His second spell would end with only 8 goals in 51 appearances.
Sharp then went on a season long loan to Doncaster Rovers. Showing scintillating early form, Sharp started to score goals again. By the January transfer window, other clubs were coming in for him. Sharp finally signed for Doncaster Rovers on 7 July 2010 for £1.15 million, once again showing loyalty.
40 goals in 82 games over 2 seasons showed that Sharp was back to his best. His time with Donny will also be remembered for the moving tribute by Sharp for his son. On 2 November 2011, three days following the untimely death of his two-day-old son Luey Jacob, Sharp was praised for his bravery for performing in honour of his son. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Sharp scored a beautiful volley before lifting his jersey to reveal the message “THAT’S FOR YOU SON“.
On 30 January 2012, Sharp signed for Southampton on a three and a half year deal for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be around £1.8m. He was unfortunately never really given a proper run of games. The record books show an impressive 9 goals in 17 games, but his time at the Southampton included 3 loan moves. Forest, Reading and a return to Doncaster never saw Sharp return to his top level. He was then sold to the basket case, Leeds United, at the start of the 2014 season.
Sharp also wasn’t given a fair crack at Leeds, saying of his time there:
“Leeds was really enjoyable and the fans were brilliant. I got off to a good start, scored on my debut. I think they wanted me to play every week because they knew I’d give my all. But, like Forest, they went through three managers in a year. That’s another owner who hits problems because he wants to pick the side. I only made 13 starts and by the end I just didn’t feel wanted”
Sharp still had a year left on his lucrative contract with Leeds. Most players would have been happy to sit games out and take home the money. When the Blades called again to see if he was interested in a third affair, Sharp couldn’t resist the chance:
“I had a year left at Leeds. I could have stayed there and been on double the money I am now. “I could have tried to fight for my place, but it was Sheffield United. I dropped my wages massively from Southampton to Leeds and I dropped from Leeds to Sheffield United a lot. I think it’s the first time in my career where I don’t think anybody knows what I’m on – I’m quite happy with that!”
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
10 years after departing Bramall Lane for the first time, Billy Sharp came back for a third spell. He was now one of the older heads in the dressing room, someone the younger players looked to for inspiration. His decision to take a wage-cut and return to Sheffield United was justified when he was handed the captain’s armband. An honour for anyone, but a dream come true for a Blades supporter. Sharp now acknowledges that his senior role in the club has given him additional responsibilities on and off the pitch. Something he relishes:
“On the pitch I have to keep my head more and you can’t switch off. As a captain you have to be on it 100% of the time, so this is something that I’ve had to manage. I have always volunteered to try and give something back, but I think it’s a more important with it being my hometown club and the city I brought up in. I try and be a role model as much as I can, and enjoy all the stuff I get involved in”
While his first two stints at the club were indifferent, Sharp is making up for lost time during this third affair. In his first season back at the club, Sharp finished the 2015-2016 season with an impressive tally of 21 goals. The club struggled at times during the season and ended up finishing 11th. This season, the Blades have improved considerably and their captain is a big part of their renaissance. Sharp has already bagged 10 goals and 3 assists this season, currently netting every 128 minutes. His return has been an unqualified success.
While Sharp is undoubtedly a massive Blades fan, his time at Leeds and Doncaster has given his young son, Leo, reason to perhaps support someone else. Sharp still has hopes that his son will become a baby blade like he was:
“Hopefully they’ll (his sons) want to be Sheffield United fans. Leo obviously remembers Leeds and Doncaster – he always winds me up about the fact he still likes Leeds. Like I said, if he supports Leeds it’s better than (Sheffield) Wednesday!”
Now that Billy Sharp is back at the Blades, do you think he’ll lead them to promotion this season? Vote below:
Images: David Haber, Reuters, Sky Sports, Trevor Smith, BBC
Photo by bevkevtrev