Sheffield United: Why pub games equal points

Sheffield United midfielder James Wallace � copyright : Blades Sports Photography
Sheffield United midfielder James Wallace � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

They have played 5798 competitive matches, scored 9180 goals and conceded, according to most experts’ calculations, 8361.

Tomorrow, when Sheffield United mark their 125th anniversary with a home game against Gillingham, James Wallace wants to bookend well over a century of footballing history by recording the League One club’s 2402nd win.

“I enjoy pressure,” he said. “I thrive on pressure because it’s part and parcel of our sport. If you want to achieve something, get promotion or get in the play-offs, then that comes with the territory so I’d rather it was there than not.”

The visit of Peter Taylor’s side nearly falls on the exact date of United’s fourth ever outing and first at Bramall Lane. Their opponents on 28 September 1889, Birmingham St George’s, are no longer in existence. But United, despite spending the past four seasons trying to escape the third tier of English football, are in rude health both on and off the pitch.

Beaten only twice in their last 10 games, another near 20,000 crowd is expected to watch them lock horns with a Gillingham team which triumphed 2-1 in the corresponding fixture last term. And, as Wallace told The Star at the senior squad’s newly refurbished base inside the Redtooth Academy training complex, spirit is equally strong behind the scenes.

“We’ve got pool and table tennis up here now. There’s a good competition between us all when we play and, to be honest, that really helps us pull together on a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday night.

“Jose (Baxter) is a bit of a pool shark. I think he must have spent too much time in the pub when he was younger and Jay (McEveley) got seven balled by him and myself recently so he’s been banned for a week. I want definitely want that to go in.

“Stephen McGinn, Neill Collins and Jose again are the best at table tennis. Jose is a bit of a Sports Billy to be fair and he’s pretty good at everything he does.

“Collo and Doyler (Michael Doyle) are great in the dressing room before games and sessions too. They’re always making sure we’re in the right frame of mind.”

“We want to beat each other all the time, even when it’s cards on the bus, but the balance is there,” Wallace added. “It’s a friendly rivalry and it helps to bring us together as a group.

“Plus, on top of that, you look forward to coming into work every day. It’s a good place to be around and the atmosphere is brilliant, it really is.”

Wallace, who arrived from Tranmere Rovers three months ago, is among a clutch of players manager Nigel Clough believes can end United’s exile from Championship football. Providing, of course, they approach their work with the necessary guile and grit. The former England international was scathing in his criticism of United’s performance at Swindon Town last weekend but paid tribute to their “determination and aggression” during Tuesday’s evening’s Capital One Cup success over Leyton Orient.

“Let’s be right, the gaffer can be brutally honest,” Wallace said. “But that’s because he’s got standards and, if you don’t stick to them, then you won’t play. It’s as simple as that.

“Personally, I think that’s a good thing. You know exactly where you stand and what’s expected. We have fun but we’re not here to mess around.

“There’s a lot of competition here so you’ve got to be on the money every single game.”

“It was a bit frustrating for me to begin with because of the fitness side of things,” Wallace continued. “But the physios and conditioners here, people like Matt Brown and Lee McMahon, have been brilliant with regards to telling me what I needed to do.

“I had to be ready, properly ready that is, because of the quality here. There was no point in being out there if I wasn’t 100 per cent but hopefully now I can really start to help.”

Wallace, aged 22, has been troubled by a series of niggling groin problems since leaving Prenton Park. Having started his career at Everton before crossing The Mersey in 2012, the midfielder acknowledged he has been fortunate to work for some inspirational names.

“David Moyes was the prime example of that at Everton,” Wallace said. “Like the gaffer here, he had high standards too. The same went for my coaches there, Alan Stubbs and Andy Holden, they were exactly the same.

“I could have stayed at Everton and been in a nice environment for at least another year because they were ready to give me a contract extension.

“But I got offered the captaincy at a good club like Tranmere and it was time to get out there and play. That’s what I wanted to do because that’s what you work hard for every day in training.

“Plus, on top of that, it’s the only way you are really going to learn and improve. By being out there in the thick of things, where it really matters.

“It’s paid off for me, I think, because of where I am now. At a great club like Sheffield United.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1