John Brayford’s tattoos aren’t purely cosmetic, writes James Shield.
They serve as permanent reminders about how to live his life.
“One reads ‘To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.’ I like it because it means something to me.
“Some people might just live for the weekend and that’s fair enough. But we’re lucky to do what we love every single day.”
Brayford, the former Derby County and Burton Albion full-back, has probably glanced at the words etched into his left forearm numerous times of late. Sheffield United, the club he joined from Cardiff City two months ago, enter tomorrow’s fixture against Port Vale without a win since February 24th’s victory over Rochdale and, despite still well-placed to reach the play-offs, under intense scrutiny from a disgruntled home support.
Brayford acknowledged he “gets” the fans’ frustrations but, speaking at the Redtooth Academy earlier this week, emphasised the importance of context, cool heads and calm.
“You always get set-backs, no matter what field or profession you are in,” he told The Star. “You might do something wrong, you might get a b********g from the boss but it’s how you respond, how you face up to it, that really counts.
“I don’t know anyone at the top of their game who hasn’t had a set-back. Be it Bill Gates failing at university or Michael Jordan getting rejected as a youngster. They’ve all come back.
“Yes, we’ve had some failures ourselves this season but we’re still fifth in the league. It’s still in our own hands.”
Nigel Clough, the United manager, mounted a passionate defence of his squad’s prowess and potential following Tuesday’s match at Walsall where, after Jose Baxter had opened the scoring, a second-half strike from Ashley Grimes forced them to settle for a draw.
The result, following last weekend’s stalemate at Scunthorpe, provoked fresh criticism from a section of the travelling support but Brayford, who excelled in his role as an emergency centre-half, said: “You come closer together in situations like this.
“It all boils down to character. The character of the people involved and that’s what makes me confident about what is ahead.
“When I came back, I mentioned the fact there are like-minded people here. There’s a good attitude about the whole place and that’s going to be key.
“These lads aren’t just my work mates. They’re also my friends.”
The spirit Brayford admits prompted him swap a comfortable existence in the Championship for the rigours of a League One promotion battle was forged in what he jokingly describes as “The Sheffield United Social Club”; a refurbished recreation room inside their Shirecliffe training complex.
“We’ve got the pool tables, table tennis and darts inside there. I nearly got a 180 before coming out here to do this.
“It’s not a social club really but you do want a bit of that. I’ve been in teams where you get 30 or 40 people of all different outlooks and nationalities and there’s not camaraderie there is here.
“When you cross that white line, you take that onto the pitch. You want to dig your mates out if they make a mistake instead of thinking I don’t really fancy it.”
Chris Basham’s return from suspension, which has forced Jay McEveley to play through a serious shoulder injury, should help United address the defensive issues which have proved so costly in recent weeks. Ryan Flynn is also expected to feature while goalkeeper Mark Howard is thought to have received a clean bill of health following the visit to the Banks’s Stadium.
Stefan Scougall, Terry Kennedy and Michael Higdon have all taken important strides forward in their respective battles for full fitness.
“Yes, there’s pressure from the fans, we get that,” Brayford said. “We get that but sticking together is the main and most important thing.”