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Billy Sharp Living Up to his Blades-worthy name

Tuesday 16th April 2019
Billy Sharp Sheffield United Ios Warren Smith

Background image: Lewisskinner / CC BY-SA 2.5

Growing up in Sheffield alone with a name like, Sharp, will ensure edgy jokes come your way. Given that Billy played for Sheffield United, the Blades, the wordplay continued. His on-again, off-again history with the club allowed critics to say he simply wasn’t sharp enough. Or just couldn’t cut it in the Red and White strip, all were acute to this season where he’s the final product.

On a clear day you can sit on one of the many hilly parks in Sheffield, then if you squint, make out both football grounds. Bramall Lane is much closer to the station, which allows it in the Steel City skyline famed in city museum gift shops. This is the club that produced the England full internationals: Phil Jagielka as well as Harry Maguire.

Sharp was a young lad forged from steel himself. Born in the metal metropolis in 1986, it didn’t take long for the boy to get involved with football. Origins state he started with Middlewood Rovers, which is technically closer to Hillsborough; yet the boy found himself at Sheffield United before too long.

One doesn’t want to make this a historical piece or a biopic, but for context, I’ll elaborate on his chequered past with the Blades. He didn’t initially fit in at the club as a youngster. The 2004/05 Sheffield United side couldn’t really accommodate an inexperienced 18-year-old, nor could the following year’s incarnation. He moved on to Scunthorpe United, where he made huge waves in League One. 23 goals in his first year, then 30 which saw him lift the 06/07 third-division title with the club as well as promotion to the Championship. Seeing what they had missed out on, Sheffield United wanted him back and got him for the 07/08 season. Yet, he failed to perform at this level for the club. Eight goals in two years weren’t enough, Billy was out the Bramall Lane door again. 

This led to him playing for several different clubs within the next six years. Doncaster Rovers, Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Reading and the Sheffield’s bitter Yorkshire rivals, Leeds United. His time away from the club as well city, as well as his physique, earned him the jovial label as “a fat lad from Sheffield”, he, however, initiated the moniker by having it printed on his undershirt. The lone one to wield any success was his tenure with Doncaster. During this phase, he suffered personal trauma as his son died two days after his birth in 2011. 

Sharp has only ever wanted to play as well as succeed with Sheffield United. The opportunity to return again arose in 2015, wanting to be closer to his family as well he took the move down a division from Leeds in the Championship, to again represent the Blades in League One.

It was this stint which saw the sharpening process, back from the threshing mill, Sharp was a new player. 21 league goals showed he could cut the mustard in his first season back. Following that with a further 30 next year which gave him the accolade as the league top scorer as well as the League One title for the club. The striker, transformed, indeed galvanised, by merit and metal, once a rusty old spare component was now slick and vital apparatus in the Bramall Lane goal machine.

League transitions can be hard. Sheffield United hadn’t been in the second tier for six years. Yet with ambition coupled with maturity came success for Billy the forward. He mustered 13 goals for the club, which was a triumph as the side easily secured safety, as well as the striker proving he could score goals for his boyhood club at this level.

Sharp enough? Not quite. Billy sharpened his blade to an unforeseen level, cutting through Championship defences like a hot knife through butter. 23 goals from 37 matches participated in is stimulating form, realistically the form of his career, even if he is 33 years old. At one point he had scored 11 goals from 9 games, which says it all.

As a result, amid other successes, Sheffield United sit in a third place which assures playoff contention. Yet the difference is just three points between them and Leeds United. The two Yorkshire clubs will go down to the last ball, to see who is granted automatic promotion and who faces the gauntlet. Sharp would get to wear the Red and White stripes in the Premier League, again… having already done so with Southampton. Being a Sheffield lad, this may be more to him. Having seen off his demons with the club in the Championship, there’s every reason to think he couldn’t convert some of his success to the top flight for the remainder of his career.

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Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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