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Bramall Lane... As it was

Terraced houses. Row upon row of terraced houses. Dotted at the end of the rows - corner shops or pubs much in evidence; fish and chips shops or sweet shops made an appearance in the middle of many of the rows. It's where I lived - Heeley in Sheffield, ten minutes' walk from the Sheffield United ground at Bramall Lane.

September 1965 as a nine-year old lad my first visit to the Lane with Dad, my first Sheffield derby. The walk uneventful, the anticipation and expectation heightening as we approached the ground.

And the ground - surrounded by terraced housing, along the length of Shoreham Street, on John Street, along Bramall Lane, only along Cherry Street was it noticeably different - opposite the ground was the Arnold Laver timber yard. To be more precise opposite the entrance to the cricket pavilion.

1970s Bramall Lane
Bramall Lane as it was in the 1970s

Bramall Lane was a three-sided football ground in those days, the fourth side left open for the cricket pitch, for the Sheffield United Cricket and Football Club, and for Yorkshire to play county games during the summer. The wide expanse on that fourth side necessitated the use of athletic and energetic ball-boys to retrieve the football when it was kicked out on that side. Many a time if United were losing the game the energy levels seemed to be pumped up to their highest, if they were winning energy conservation appeared to come to the fore!

On that Saturday we arrived at the turnstile on Shoreham Street - on the outside of the ground huge advertising hoardings stretched up to what looked like 30 feet into the air. I queued at the boys' entrance - a long queue - whilst Dad went in though the adult turnstile. Cash on the gate - 1s 0d for me (5p); 2s. 0d (10p) for Dad. Once reunited we made our way up the steps and the slope to the covered Shoreham Street Kop - down to our right we could see the cricket nets behind the advertising hoardings. The summer game much in evidence at Bramall Lane.

We found our position just over half way down the terraced steps and to the right of goal. Most of the spectators were clearly Unitedites, their red and white favours much in evidence. Wednesdayites were on the Kop as well - we were two of them. No segregation, I don't recollect seeing any police presence, and there was no trouble.

To our left the cricket pavilion side and spectators stretched out that way - their view of proceedings on the pitch must have been distant; at the opposite end the Bramall Lane end covered terrace where most of the Wednesdayites were congregated, and the covered John Street Stand and its terrace below to the right.

Spectators were free to walk round the ground in front of the cricket pavilion and change ends if they wished. Some did. Dad did not want to - it was a packed crowd and he didn't fancy finding a place on the packed terrace at the other end.

The game? Settled by the one goal from the United striker, Alan Birchenall, at our end. I saw Birchenall strike the ball in the penalty area and it headed goalwards... and then - the only thing I saw were arms waving, red and white scarves in the air, Unitedites celebrating around us, I couldn't see the ball. Clearly it had hit the back of the net....the reactions told us that.

Not a good first visit to Bramall Lane for me. Many more visits since. A lot has changed. The ground said goodbye to cricket in 1973 and a new South Stand built in place of the old cricket pavilion and open side, opened for the 1975/76 season. In his definitive work, Simon Inglis states, "..the frontage is undoubtedly the most impressive of any post-war stand in the country..." ("The Football Grounds of England and Wales", Collins Willow, 1984).

The Arnold Laver timber yards are long gone, there are hotels on two corners of the ground and new retail shopping close by. The ground is now all seated. You would not know it was once the home of Yorkshire County Cricket club. Games with Wednesday are all ticket, segregation strictly enforced, the police presence high profile.

Victorian terraced houses that I knew in Heeley are long gone.

But one thing remains - the expectation, the anticipation, the nervous energy, the adrenalin, the hope, the trepidation, the passion and the fervour that is the Sheffield derby.

Richard Crooks
October 9th 2018
Author, "Wednesday v United The Sheffield Derby". Pitch Publishing, 2018.

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