NEAR POST – SHEFFIELD UNITED: THE ARNOLD LAVER YEARS

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Mr Alan Laver, with the Sheffield United squad

Arnold Laver and the timber company that bears his name have had a long and proud association with Sheffield United FC.

Mr Arnold Laver was a Director of the club for 30 years, followed by his son, Mr Alan Laver, and Lavers were the main team sponsor between 1985 and 1995.

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ITV4 The Big Match Revisited, Series 2 Episode 9, Sheffield United v Millwall, 32.44 in.

Arnold Laver advertising hoardings can be seen in pictures of Bramall Lane from the 1950s, and were a regular feature on ITV’s Big Match when a United game was shown.

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The South, or Arnold Laver, Stand

The South Stand at Bramall Lane was known as the Arnold Laver Stand for many years and, as well as advertising at Bramall Lane, Arnold Laver advertising hoardings could also be seen pitchside at Hull’s Boothferry Park.

‘Arnold Laver’ and ‘Laver’ was emblazoned across the front of Blades shirts, in a variety of fonts and configurations, for 10 years.

John Devlin, of True Colours, was kind enough to send me and let me use his terrific kit illustrations:

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See more Arnold Laver Sheffield United shirt sponsorship images on the Arnold Laver Pinterest Board “{Sport) Arnold Laver – Sheffield United Shirt Sponsors, Arnold Laver, Sheffield United Football Club Shirt Sponsors 1985–1995

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Signed shirt

The Blades under Porterfield & McEwan, 1981 to 1988

fdf8852de4c143e1a64885925a4c1f50With a new ambitious board in place in the early 80s, United recruited Ian Porterfield as manager in June 1981.

He had an immediate impact, winning the Division Four championship in his first season with The Blades and gaining a successive promotion into the Second Division on a meagre budget the following year.

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Tony Agana with Richard Cadette

Despite this, many fans were unhappy with the Blades’ style of football and supporter protests led to Porterfield being given the sack.

Coach Billy McEwan was promoted to the position of manager in the interim but failed to improve the standard of play.

With attendances falling and the team flirting with relegation again, McEwan was sacked in January 1988.

Dave Bassett, 1988 to 1995

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You can love your players, just don’t LOVE your players

United turned to colourful character Dave Bassett, who had just had a short, unsuccessful spell as Watford manager.

This proved to be an astute appointment.

Although he couldn’t prevent relegation in his first season, after losing the double-legged play-off with Bristol City 2–1, he built up a solid, hard working squad on a small budget, including the legendary Tony Agana, Bob Booker, Ian Bryson, and Brian Deane. With Bassett’s own backroom staff in place and more new players brought in, he took the Blades back up at the first attempt in 1988/89.

A second successive promotion following in 1989/90, and First Division football returned to Bramall Lane in the 1990/91 season for the first time since the 1970s. The most influential player in this team was striker Brian Deane, who was capped three times by England.

United failed to win any of their first 16 league games in 1990–91, breaking a First Division record in the process, and went into the New Year at the bottom of the First Division. These days, on that form, Basset would have been sacked before Christmas and a new manager appointed before the January transfer window opened, but Harry kept his job and a footballing resurgence in the second half of the season saw the Blades climb up to a secure mid-table finish in 13th place. Not settling for mid-table mediocrity, they did even better in 1991/92, finishing ninth in the First Division and securing a place in the new Premier League.

United’s Premier League debut was reasonable. Brian Deane  scored the first ever Premier League goal, against Manchester United, and the Blades ultimately finished 14th in the table, reaching the Semi Final of the FA Cup, and condemning Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest to relegation by winning the penultimate game of the season.

Deane was sold to Leeds United in the summer of 1993, and the Blades struggled without him.

Bassett’s luck finally ran out on the last day of the 1993/94 season.

Needing a single point to avoid relegation, United were 2–1 at Chelsea with 5 minutes remaining, but they messed it up and lost 3-2. The Blades were down.

An eighth place finish in the 1994/95 Division One campaign was not enough to secure a play-off place, and Bassett resigned the following December with relegation looking likely and protests against the board mounting.

Arnold Laver’s tenure as main club sponsor also came to an end.

Highs & lows

Highs of the Laver sponsorship years include a 6-0 of Spurs in 1993, the legendary Brian Deane scoring the very first goal in the EPL, promotion back into the top flight, featuring in a BBC documentary, called ‘United’, which was shown over a 6-week period towards the end of the 1989–90 season; and an FA Cup Semi Final against their fierce rivals from across Sheffield, The Owls.

Lows include losing that Semi Final to Sheffield Wednesday, several relegations, and constantly having to sell their best players, culminating in the sacking of Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett.

Sheffield United 6 Tottenham Hotspur 0, 1993

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Brian Deane celebrates Sheffield United’s fifth goal with Ian Bryson. Photograph: Rui Vieira/EMPICS Sport

The Guardian describes the spectacular demolition of Spurs like so:

“Teddy Sheringham started alone up front, with Darren Anderton, Paul Allen and Vinny Samways supporting him in midfield. A settled back four featuring captain Gary Mabbutt, Dean Austin, Jason Cundy and Pat van den Hauwe looked solid enough on paper. Spurs’ Moroccan midfielder Nayim was one of only two players on the field from outside the British Isles. The other, the Norwegian goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt, endured a torrid evening as the Blades unexpectedly sliced Spurs apart. Franz Carr opened the scoring for United on 13 minutes, turning a short corner into the roof of the net, but much like on Sunday it was an own-goal from a midfielder that began Spurs’ collapse.

“After 20 minutes Andy Gray inadvertently headed a Brian Deane cross past Thorstvedt and 10 minutes later Sheffield United were out of sight. Two goals from the Scottish midfielder Ian Bryson meant a bewildered Spurs were four goals down after half an hour. In the second half Deane and Paul Rogers completed a shocking night for Livermore and Clemence.”

Both Spurs and United progressed to the semi-finals of the FA Cup later that same season but both teams lost in local derbies, with Arsenal playing Wednesday in the final.

The first Premier League goal

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Brian Deane scores “that” goal

The Premier League website asked Brian Deane to reminisce about the first Premier League goal:

“On Saturday 15 August, 1992, at about 3.05pm, the striker put Sheffield United 1-0 up against Manchester United with an instinctive header at Bramall Lane. The goal, Deane admits, would not be found in the top-five stylish finishes of his career, but its gravitas transcends any form of beauty.

“Whatever happens, wherever I am, that will be the one moment fans all over the world will remember me for,” Deane told premierleague.com ahead of Albrighton becoming the 20,000th goalscorer.

“It was a fantastic feeling and even to this day people remind me of it – and it’s now a classic quiz question too.”

“It all started when Blades goalkeeper Simon Tracey cleared a back-pass – then only recently outlawed by FIFA – deep into Manchester United territory, with United defender Gary Pallister heading the ball out for a throw-in.

“We had a throw-in at the Kop End (at Bramall Lane), Carl Bradshaw took a long throw aiming for Alan Cork at the near post,” remembered Deane, who also played for Leeds, Middlesbrough and Leicester City during his 12 seasons in the League.

“He flicked a header on and I managed to get myself between Steve Bruce and Pallister to nod the ball past Peter Schmeichel.

“They were no mugs those three, all great players. That made it extra special because that goal was against one of the top teams in the country and in Europe.”

The Blades & Owls meet in the FA Cup Semi Final

The Independent’s Norman Fox wrote the following on Sunday the 4th of April, 1993, “Football: FA Cup Semi-Final: Wednesday’s class secures the prize: Owls fly clear as Blades are blunted on a day when the national stadium belonged to Sheffield”:

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Sheffield United 1

(AET, score at 90 mins 1-1)

“THE match was equal to the day. Wembley will see Sheffield Wednesday three times this season and if yesterday’s FA Cup semi-final was merely the appetizer, it served us with everything we could want plus an extra course, the exhilarating topping of Chris Waddle’s skills and a late winning goal to bring about a hard-won victory for the more creative side. But it was the day itself that was memorable.

“Was there anyone left in Sheffield? The whole city had taken wheels and journeyed down the motorway to London where there were not many fans of either club likely to join the argument against Wembley being offered anything less than real finals. This was as real as steel with a touch of a Buck House garden party thrown in.

“If United, who had not played at Wembley since 1936, were feeling slightly self-conscious, Wednesday’s team had no FA Cup winners amongst them, not even Waddle, one of those high- fliers who are beyond United’s means. And Wembley is always a leveller: how Brian Gayle, the United captain, could vouch for that, his Wimbledon having beaten Liverpool in 1988, though without his help since he was dropped at the last minute. Yesterday, Wednesday’s Chris Bart- Williams suffered the same awful fate, fit but excluded at the last moment from a game played against a background of amazing colour and rivalry that was intense yet neighbourly.

“The key to the occasion had to be an ability to find composure amid the emotion of this unique day. Waddle might not have climbed the 39 Wembley steps to the Royal Box in his long career but his feel for the Wembley stage was priceless. A nervous opening minute for others was, for him, the start of just another match on the old stamping ground. John Pemberton made one of those typical early careless tackles on Mark Bright and from more than 20 yards Waddle nonchalantly dismissed the expectancy, concealed his intent and bent the free-kick spectacularly inside the near post.

“This was Waddle explaining to a wider audience than Sheffield that he still had something special to offer. He may have offended England’s present management but here he delighted anyone with appreciation for the good things in the game.

“For 20 minutes United doggedly and not altogether unimpressively attempted to overcome their body blow and counter the player who was to be the star. Waddle kept coming at them down the right side, hunched, haunting and haughty. But slowly United gained territory.

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Brian Deane began to find space between Carlton Palmer and Viv Anderson

“United’s own right-wing inspiration, Franz Carr, gradually raised a voice from his side of the pitch and Brian Deane began to find space between Carlton Palmer and Viv Anderson but not before Paul Warhurst had moved on to another beguiling pass from Waddle and clipped the crossbar with his shot. United’s failure to clamp down on Waddle seemed a gamble always likely to be their undoing yet all the time Alan Cork and Deane were working diligently to turn the tide of the game. Deane headed Dane Whitehouse’s cross a shade wide to give Wednesday their first serious scare, but soon Waddle was escaping again to drive a shot alarmingly close to their post.

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Alan Cork & Carlton Palmer

“Cork’s enormous contribution to United’s work was epitomised when he rose above everyone and forced Chris Woods to leap so high to his cross-goal header that he fell off balance on to his arm and for a while seemed in danger of succumbing to his injury. Patched up, he continued. Warhurst immediately swung the emphasis in favour of Wednesday when blasting a shot on to the join of bar and post. Yet United’s stubbornness was always likely to bring some reward, and so it was just a minute from half-time.

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Franz Carr

“Until then Carr’s influence had been subdued by his refusal to cut inside, but when faced by three defenders, he dropped back and played an enterprising through pass to Cork who would have been offside had not Waddle dropped back himself. Cork ran on unhindered and slid in a shot. Waddle pursued it guiltily but he had nothing to feel guilty about.

“So whatever first-half advantages Wednesday had achieved in most areas, the second brought a fresh beginning and United realised, belatedly, that they could not afford to give Waddle so much freedom. Not that they were thinking defensively.

“Woods, who had not been overworked in the first half, now began to earn his keep. Wednesday ought to have been better placed than they were but allowed themselves to get entangled in the game’s general deterioration. The intensity and concentration of the early stages gave way to carelessness and some pettiness, but thankfully it passed.

“Warhurst had missed flying with England to Turkey but yesterday hoped Wembley would be his magic carpet. It was not to be and after an hour he had to give way to David Hirst, himself not entirely match fit. Things were beginning to swing in favour of the unfavoured United but the game began to slumber, the hype and adrenalin losing its effect.

“Hirst was clearly not as sharp as he should have been, twice spurning inviting chances. Indeed, Wednesday should comfortably have avoided extra time but in spite of some glorious long passes from Waddle they failed to sidestep the United defence. John Harkes continually pressed forward and John Sheridan forced Alan Kelly into an important deflection. Extra time became inevitable and in many ways not unwanted on this absorbing afternoon.

“If Woods had always been a commanding figure in the Wednesday goal, Kelly, for United, was more one of those Cup-tie heroes for a day. Extra time saw him thrust out arms and legs and make half a dozen super saves; the best of them when Hirst seemed to have the upper hand from Nigel Worthington’s cross. Kelly’s accurate positioning rather than his agility kept United in the hunt but it was all becoming a trial of endurance needing one final push. It came deep in extra time and with the simplest of goals. Harkes dropped a corner plumb in the centre of the goalmouth and Bright, almost unopposed, headed in. A lot of finals have had less dramatic endings. Sheffield’s own version was both dramatic and warmly entertaining.

“Sheffield United: A Kelly; K Gage, D Whitehouse, J Gannon, B Gayle, J Pemberton, F Carr, M Ward (A Littlejohn, 96 min), A Cork, B Deane, G Hodges (J Hoyland, 90 min). Manager: D Bassett.

“Sheffield Wednesday: C Woods; R Nilsson, N Worthington, C Palmer, J Harkes, V Anderson, D Wilson, C Waddle, P Warhurst (D Hirst, 61 min), M Bright, J Sheridan (G Hyde, 110 min). Manager: T Francis.

Referee: K Morton (Suffolk).

Goals: Waddle 0-1 (1 min); Cork 1-1 (44 min), Bright 1-2 (107 min).

Tony Currie’s Testimonial, 1986

Tony Currie joined Sheffield United on the 1st of February 1968 for £26,500. He scored on his debut against Tottenham Hotspur with a header on 26 February but missed the next game on 2 March as it was his wedding day. ‘TC’ as he was nicknamed by Sheffield United fans, was idolised in his time at Bramall Lane. During his time at Sheffield United, he broke into the England team, winning the first of his 17 caps in 1972. He went on to score 54 goals in 313 appearances and was made captain by manager Ken Furphy in March 1974. His career was badly affected by injuries, and he dropped out of league football and into semi-retirement from the game, before being appointed Football in the Community co-ordinator at Sheffield United in February 1988.

His Testimonial match in 1986 was a star-studded affair, with two teams made up showbiz names and football legends, and was the biggest gate of that season at Bramall Lane. More than 17,500 fans saw the promotion side of 1971 take on Dennis Waterman’s Showbiz XII in what proved to be a very entertaining game.

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Dennis Waterman’s Showbiz XI

Dennis Waterman’s Showbiz XII consisted of Mick Miller, Ian Botham, Dennis Waterman, George Best, Chris Quinten, Geoff Hurst, Frank Worthington, Roy McFarland, Archie Gemmill, Bill McMurdo, Billy Bremner, Allan Clarke, Alan Hudson, Paul Heaton, Keith Edwards, Glenn Cockerill, Jimmy Johnstone, and Bomber Graham.  Quite a handy side. Why did they play with twelve men? Because the other side had Tony Currie and it was only fair.

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Best & Heaton

The Housemartins played on a stage set up on John St terrace, led by passionate Blade Paul Heaton, and Chris Quentin mooned the Kop. George Best scored a belter and Tony Currie missed a penalty.

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Paul Heaton, Bladesman from the Lane

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