WHATEVER happens at Griffin Park tomorrow, Sam Saunders will leave the pitch a happy man.
Seven years ago, the former London Underground engineer was burning the midnight oil trying to keep the metropolis moving. Now, having embarked upon a Roy of the Rovers style journey of his own, Saunders is focused solely on ensuring Brentford stay on track.
“I worked on the lines,” he told The Star. “My job was laying cables but I did pretty much everything from painting to lugging stuff around.
“I’d be there, at 4 o’clock in the morning, carrying pipes up an escalator in a deserted station. It was hard work and the hours were awful. I felt knackered pretty much all of the time because after finishing my shift I’d head off to the gym.
“I was playing non-league but I never for one minute thought I’d become a professional or earn a proper living out of the game. So to be doing what I’m doing now is like a dream come true.
“Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything because coming from that background makes me appreciate what I’ve got now.
“Of course you get disappointed. But there’s no such thing as a knock-back because I’m doing something I love.”
Saunders’ blue-collar background means he is also adamant that football should be fun.
Like Sheffield United, who travel to the capital second in the League One table despite being beaten at Walsall in midweek, Brentford’s season has entered a critical phase where just one wrong move could ultimately wreck their hopes of reaching the Championship next term.
But the 28-year-old’s refusal to be consumed by the pressures of a promotion battle and down-to-earth approach, which helped persuade Dagenham and Redbridge chief to offer him a full-time contract in 2005, makes him a dangerous opponent.
“This isn’t pressure,” Saunders said. “Being in this situation is something to enjoy.
“These are the games, where there’s so much riding on things, that you want to be involved.
“Personally I can’t wait because Sheffield United are a huge club with some really big names and to be hopefully lining up against people like that is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
“I always like to have a little bit of a laugh with the away fans,” Saunders added. “They pay a lot of money to come and watch the games and we work hard to try and stay in it so if you can’t enjoy yourself along the way then that seems a bit of a shame.
“I normally end up becoming a bit of a pantomime villain in their opposition’s eyes. I got some terrible stick when we played Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough but that’s fine because there’s anything wrong with having a bit of banter.”
Saunders may have taken an unusual route into the professional game – he was playing for Carshalton Athletic when he caught Dagenham’s eye during a fixture against nearby Hornchurch – but their investment was rewarded when he helped claw John Still’s team out of the Conference in 2007.
Andy Scott, now in charge of Rotherham, spirited Saunders across the capital where he has helped Uwe Rosler’s side reach ninth place.
Saunders, who United manager Danny Wilson yesterday described as “a threat,” said: “I can see there being a lot of goals in this one because a draw doesn’t really suit either of us. We’re going well at home and United have got Ched Evans who is absolutely banging them in at the moment so it should be an exciting game.”
Teams and ref
BRENTFORD (possible): Moore, Woodman, Thompson, Dean, Legge, Saunders, Douglas, Forshaw, McGinn, Donaldson, Alexander (4-4-2).
SHEFFIELD UNITED (possible): Simonsen, Lowton, Maguire, Egan, Hill, Hoskins, Williamson, Doyle, Quinn, Cresswell, Evans (4-4-2).
Christopher Sarginson. Took charge of Sheffield United’s FA Cup victory over Torquay United in December but it has been over a year since he officiated a match involving Brentford. Sent off six players last season and has dismissed five so far this term. Averages 2.6 cautions per game.