Sheffield United – 3
Torquay United – 2
FA Cup 2nd Round – 3rd December 2011
Like any football fan, I was devastated with the sudden and tragic death of Gary Speed. Although until recently with his transformation ofhe never managed or played for a team I supported, he always seemed like one of the nicer men in football. On news of his death, I did discover a different side to him – that him and his father were not a unseen presence at Llanelian Road, sometimes seen and sharing words and friendly chats with the faithful, joking with fans that if he had remembered his boots, he “may have been lucky to make the subs bench for the Seagulls”. Speed made everybody seem welcome and almost important in his presence, which is precisely why his was so well revered. Thoughts that made his untimely passing so much more shocking.
Upon news of his death, I scoured my fixture list for a game that I could attend to pay my respects. One game that stood out was the second round FA Cup clash involving Sheffield United. So rearranging christmas shopping trips and other less important events, I headed to Sheffield for an FA Cup clash and to pay my respect.
Truth be told I’d have been wanting to go to Bramall Lane for a while, more specifically Sheffield. It’s a city I’ve never been to so I’ve been meaning to go. With my planned trip to Newcastle using my complimentary travel voucher (due to the problems in me getting to Bradford for the Bay/Park Avenue clash last year) rapidly expiring, Sheffield seemed like a viable alternative.
I headed to Sheffield mid afternoon to take in the delights of the city, and was greeted with a city of contrasts. The steelworks dominated one side of the station, whereas the other side was dominated with a modern urban development – we’re talking water features, people. With time being an issue, plus the fact it was absolutely freezing, I headed straight for the ground.
The ground itself is tricky to find, hidden within a terraced estate, but it’s well signposted. After walking around the ground, I found the way in, with the shrine to Gary Speed.
Inbetween two statues of Blades heroes, were flags, shirts, scarves and messages for Gary Speed. As well as Sheffield United and Wales shirts, there were ones from various other teams, including a Sheffield Wednesday shirt and one brought by the visitors today, Torquay United. Sheffield United have been accomodating for people paying their respects, changing the flags outside the ground to Gary Speed (which will remain for the rest of the season), and you can write a condolence message in the club house).
After paying my respects, I headed into the ground. Inside the ground I looked to try something new – a “Steak and Stones Pie”. Thinking that “Stones” was a local delicacy, or stones were a local term for kidney beans or something, I tried it – only to be told that Stones is the ale used in the pie. Gutted. Nevertheless, the pie was lovely and the pint went down well.
I took my seat for the game – which was a bit of a mistake, as the seat was low down meaning I had a fair amount of the rain hitting me, I’ll know next time – when there was pre match entertainment, and introduced to another tragedy to befall Sheffield United – the tragic death of Bethany Adcock, a 14 year old footballer who played for Sheffield United Community Ladies FC’s under-15s team. Team mates of Bethany were at the game waving flags, something that I thought was incredibly brave.
15 minutes before the game, we were introduced to the tribute video that Sheffield United produced. It gave me a lump in the throat and I fought back tears – the song “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd now has a whole new meaning, it was a wonderful package. People arround me were less able, with the girl sat next to me was in floods of tears. A minute’s applause observed impeccably by both sets of fans – Torquay unfolding a banner for Gary Speed during the moment’s of respects. With chants ringing out, the game kicked off.
Almost immediately, Torquay pressed for an early goal, and got one on the second minute when a flick on wasn’t dealt with the Sheffield United defense (which was poor all game) and Rene Howe finished from close range to put the underdogs in front. This resulted in audible disquiet from the home faithful, who began to get on the players backs. Sheffield United slowly began to assert their dominance, with two great chances (Ched Evans hitting the woodwork, and a free kick saved by the Torquay keeper), but you just felt that Torquay could get another, hitting on the counter attack multiple times. Despite chances at both end, the first half ended up one nil to the visitors. A “cupset” was on the cards.
The second half began in almost the same way that the first began, Torquay having the first chance of the half which was shot just wide. However two minutes changed the game on it’s head.
Firstly, a Matthew Lowton cross was diverted into the Torquay net by Mark Ellis and then almost immediately from the restart Ched Evans pounced on a loose ball and shot passed the keeper. Evans, a Welshman, ran towards the dugout to unveil a t-shirt saying “Rest in Peace Speedo”. The referee however, along with advice from Torquay’s manager Martin Ling, kept his cards in his pocket.
Ched was to get a second later in the game to put it beyond Torquay, when he capitalised on an error from an otherwise superb Robert Olejnik. Torquay were to get a late goal through Danny Stevens to send the Gulls faithful home fairly happy, but Sheffield United were through to the third round of the FA Cup once again.
After the game, I left to find a delayed train, so went to find a pub. Along the way, I got speaking to a Liverpool fan who attended a Justice Tonight gig, and a couple of Steampunks (Google it) in a local boozer, where I reflected on the day. The day was absolutely brilliant, everybody I spoke to was warm and friendly, and Sheffield seems like a nice city.
Just wish I didn’t attend in such tragic circumstances. Rest in Peace Gary Speed.