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Sheffield United 2006

How I lived the dream and had a nightmare at Bramall Lane

TELEGRAPH SPORT

Sheffield Telegraph, Friday, May 26, 2006

United fan David Todd admits it may be stretching a point to claim he ‘played’ at Bramall Lane, but he’s doing it anyway...

They say that with age comes some degree of wisdom. But I am limping proof this is not always the case. When the nice lady from the Football Aid charity asked if I’d like to play in a match at Bramall Lane, there was not even a moment of hesitation. After all, the only time I’d been on that pitch before was at the Watford game in 1971 when my beloved Blades had celebrated promotion to the old First Division.

So there was only ever going to be one answer, even though I am considerably closer to my 50th birthday that my 40th, gave up a Sunday football career which never quite reached mediocre about 15 years ago and had not kicked a ball for any reason since some friendly five-a-side matches three of four years back.

No matter, I was confident my strict fitness regime of 20 Silk Cut a day and a gentle stroll in the Peak District every week or so would be the perfect preparation.

And arriving at the Home of Football, as the late, great Tony Pritchett always called it, I knew I had made the right decision. After meeting my team mates for the evening, it was into the away dressing room to find our personalised strip laid out and ready. Former Blade Paul Beesley was our manager for the evening and in the team at left back, and he took us out onto the pitch for a short warm-up routine. Then it was the handshakes, team photos and kick-off.

Someone with a perverse sense of humour had allocated me the left midfield position. Apart from the fact that I can’t kick at all with my left foot and can’t run, I couldn’t see any real problem until I realised I would be the natural outlet for the boss.

Sure enough, Beez (now working at the Nottingham Forest Academy) was soon sliding passes up the left flank for me and at first all went well. I lost a couple, controlled and passed a few more and was just beginning to think ‘I can do this’ when the first twinges started in the back of my ankles. With just 20 minutes on the clock, my tendons had given up the ghost. Even attempting to break into a trot was agony and I reluctantly signalled for the far superior Ryan Heap to take my place from his place in the dug-out.

I’d only been scheduled for 45 minutes anyway and was desperate to get back on but the legs were not having it. Half-time in the dressing room and Beez asked: “Where the hell did you go? I’d just passed to you and looked for you again and you’d disappeared.”

At least my early departure gave me chance to watch the rest of the match. Unrivalled star of the ‘away’ team was keeper Jamie Horner, who made a string of outstanding saves including a late tip around the post from the home side’s player-manager Carl Bradshaw, formerly of United, now working as a bricklayer. Those saves helped the whites to edge the match 4-3 and gave Jamie one over on brother Glyn, who had a strong game in the ‘home’ midfield.

Pushing Jamie close was Simon Barlow from Chesterfield, who scored twice – the first an absolute screamer into the top left corner from 25 yards. He’d played in another Football Aid match at Birmingham earlier in the week and scored and, he revealed, had also hit the target at both Manchester United and Manchester City last season.

Barnsley fans Darren Penty and Leslie Sykes are also something of Football Aid regulars, playing at Sunderland, Bolton, Middlesbrough, Derby and Oakwell, among others.

Then there were the exiled Blades. Chris Knox runs a pub in Surrey and had to be back down south for a beer delivery the next morning while brother Matt has a pub in London’s Oxford Street. And Jonathan Walker rarely misses a home match despite now living in Birmingham.

Our other scorers were skipper Peter Nelson, whose son James was mascot for the evening, and Adrian Landers, who deserves a mention for a remarkable celebration which consisted of a forward roll in each half of the pitch. Lomana Lua Lua it wasn’t.

None of them would have missed this experience for the world and to be honest, neither would I. Not even the next morning when using the clutch on the morning Parkway crawl was sheer agony and the walk down from level 7 of the multi-storey car park took a good 10 minutes…

A big thank you from the Football Aid team to David Todd for the use of this article and his enthusiastic support. We'll see you next year...!