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Nationwide Division One, 28/8/00
Sheffield United
By Matt Rowson

A challenging point in anyone's life is the time when you first realise that there are certain things that you will never achieve.

The fact that I will never play centre-forward for the Golden Boys is, for example, still hard to take. Nor will I ever be able to fly (a more realistic ambition, some might suggest). I will never win the freestyle race at the swimming gala in Leighton Buzzard that I finished last in in 1978, and I will never own a real light-sabre. All realities that life has forced upon me, which I have learned to live with. Just about.

But perhaps harsher and crueller still than being forced to give up on admirable ambitions such as these is the comprehension that there are certain depths to which one can only aspire. Because surely the fear or failure is second only to the fear of being average? I may not be Luther Blissett, now you're telling me that I can't be Trevor Senior either?

Stupidity, for example.

Being stupid is something that most people do from time to time and many of us develop some degree of expertise at. It's an intangible thing, untainted and unconstrained by professional certification or structure and therefore somehow pure. And the hope remains that we may one day excel...that the verybadidea relationship, the time you forgot to put on suncream in hundred degree sunshine, the time you overtook a ponderous car leaving Bedford without looking for the policeman with a speed-gun, the birthdays or anniversaries you forgot, that all of these things are somehow in preparation for the Big One. For the time when you, yes you, might reach the zenith and do something more stupid than anything anyone has done before. Including Mark McGhee.

It ain't gonna happen.

Such was my realisation on Tuesday night before the grim Cheltenham game (I'm going to the second leg, incidentally, which is fairly stupid but mere childsplay compared to what I'm about to relate). I can never, ever reach that beautiful point of ultimate underachievement. Because nothing can ever match the stupidity of some joker with a mike proclaiming "Come on Watford fans, the players want to hear you make some noise!!!" before PUMPING THE MUSIC UP!


The basic human process of learning is, of course, supposed to avert stupidity. You try something, it doesn't work. You try again, but this time you maybe change a few things. Maybe it works this time, maybe it doesn't, either way you are learning.

What doesn't constitute learning is doing the same thing over and over again, ignoring the fact that it's really not working that well. No matter how many times you ride a bicycle into a brick wall, it's gonna hurt. But don't tell Neil Warnock that...for the three hundred and seventy sixth time in the last ten years, Warnock brings his usual troupe of trolls and mutants to Vicarage Road, this time in the red and white livery of Sheffield United.

Volume of reliable Blades info on the Web is either limited or well-hidden, so some of this is guesswork....

Simon Tracey. Goalkeeper. Bassett stooge, largely responsible for United coming away with three points against Pompey on the opening day of the season. His deputy, Matt Duke, has a broken nose so recently re-registered assistant manager, the 41-year old Kevin Blackwell, provides cover.

Centre-backs include the rock-like Lee Sandford, recently recovered from injury, and Australian Shaun Murphy, ex-of Notts County. Summer signing Keith Curle has yet to figure for the Blades through injury. Another possibility is another summer signing, Frenchman Georges Santos. Encore un aggro bastard. Spotting a trend yet?

Dutchman Gus Uhlenbeek, who scored for Ipswich at the Vic during GT's first game back, presumably lines up on the right. By process of elimination, Nicolas Weber is a left-back but don't quote me on that. Nor do I know where he comes from. Wayne Quinn, whose career went belly-up a year or two back when someone told him he was good (stupid) is another option here.

The most popular midfielders at Bramall Lane are the combative (no, really?) Curtis Woodhouse and the talented but indolent Portuguese Bruno Ribiero. Warnock has, until Tuesday's cup-tie, largely confined these two to the bench however, preferring the occasional talents of Bobby Ford and "waste of space" Michael Brown in the centre.

Teenager Phil Jagielka, who made his debut in a holding role against Lincoln, is another option in the centre, but ex-Bramall Lane hate figure Ian Hamilton is on his way out, possibly to Notts.County.

United's most dangerous figure is arguably player-of-the-year winger Paul Devlin, red-carded at Preston but involved in many of the goals in the Lincoln cup-tie. Forward options include Marcus Bent, a hard worker and sharp goalscorer whose lack of proficiency in the air seems to limit his effectiveness in a Warnock side. Mouthy git David Kelly hasn't been put out to pasture yet, and another option is the splendidly named teenager Tyrone Thompson, who made his debut as a sub against Lincoln. Patrick Suffo, a summer signing from Nantes, is suspended until November following an "incident with a referee" during a game in France. Sounds like he'll fit in, at any rate. Laurent D'Jaffo, however, appears to be too blunt and cumbersome even for Warnock.

The first two games of the season and the first forty minutes against Lincoln were anything but encouraging for Blades fans; as has oft been pointed out, long-ball crudity is fine as long as you're winning but tends to lose its appeal when performances slump. The neglect of terrace favourites is also something that Ruud Gullit could probably teach Warnock about if he took his head out of his arse long enough to have a conversation.

Unlike Newcastle however, United have an extra bond with their manager in that he is Sheffield-born and a Blades fan, which will probably buy him time if league performances fail to improve. Hopefully for the Blades such sentimental considerations won't leave Warnock in control until the situation is unsalvageable, however.

That would be really stupid.