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City Views: Sam Ward – “I arrived in Sheffield for university… but fundamentally, I wanted to watch my team”

Much like Nick Hornby’s critically-acclaimed novel, Fever Pitch, my time in Sheffield can be pinned to, and paralleled by, the trajectory of my football club.


Unlike Hornby, however, who had the luxury of supporting an Arsenal side competing for league titles, FA Cups and European wins against the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Ajax, I’ve had to make do with Fleetwood Town, Bury and Yeovil.

Like many others, I arrived in Sheffield for university. I’m a Devonian, and quite proud of it, too. But fundamentally, I wanted to watch my team, The Blades. My first year at university passed quickly, and immensely enjoyably. But I wasn’t comfortable quite yet – I had become better acquainted with a city I had previously visited twice a year, I had found the Gardener’s Rest, the Fat Cat and West Street Live. I had rambled to the Peaks and taken a bus down Abbeydale Road. But I didn’t know Sheffield. I didn’t know who I was yet, either. I was making strange friends, eating badly and sleeping rarely. Sheffield United commenced arguably their worst season since I was born – the leadership of Nigel Adkins and captaincy of Jay McEveley compounded by overpaid and overweight central midfielders and strikers created a toxic mix – and we slumped to League 1 mediocrity. I was feeling unhealthy and completing little-to-no university work; I had a shockingly serious meeting about attendance, and my team were playing like shit.

My second year can only be represented by one thing: promotion. Chris Wilder came back to his boyhood club to give the captaincy to former ballboy Billy Sharp and the pair of them drove us back into the second tier. In my real life, I started cooking well, I amassed some decent grades and I found a part-time job, so I was no longer skint. Life was good.

I had found the Gardener’s Rest, the Fat Cat and West Street Live. I had rambled to the Peaks and taken a bus down Abbeydale Road. But I didn’t know Sheffield. I didn’t know who I was yet, either. I was making strange friends, eating badly and sleeping rarely

Another thing I should add at this point – I started living in very close proximity to the Botanical Gardens. In most cities you would pay an outrageous entrance fee, feel too crowded, or it would be one bouquet of petunias cordoned off by an electric fence (delete as appropriate for your hometown). Not the Sheffield Botanical Gardens, though. They’re bloody lovely! Many long and hazy summer evenings during that second year were spent lounging on the verdant grass with the warm feeling of cider pulsating through my veins. I’m sure there are areas of the gardens I have not ventured to this very day.

Third year arrived with much anticipation; I had been at home all summer and was eager to get back to Sheffield. We had moved to Broomhill, a lovely area, and I was excited to make The York my local (I have since diverted to the Broomhill Tavern). However, it was a year of deadlines and exam pressure for which I was only mildly prepared. Once again, the lads on the footy pitch played in harmony with this feeling of mine. We started off strong in our first year back in one of the hardest leagues in European football. An opening day win and a prolonged stint in the play-offs wilted and we ended in high mid-table. A good return, but not an amazing one. Much like that pint I had at The York post-exam. Underwhelming, but alright.*

It was this past year, however, that really made me feel like the trajectory of my football club was in sync with my own. I succeeded at university and graduated with a good grade (a shock for all parties, especially my parents!), I found a paying job, started to feel a valued member of the Broomhill community and found a lovely girlfriend (that one was also a shock to my parents). What more could you want?! Oh, yeah, I forgot: promotion to the Premier League. This year we pipped Leeds to second place and automatic promotion, a success for the city as well as the football club; Sheffield has been in the shadow of its more northerly counterpart for many years.

Obviously, I know all of what I have said above is bullshit. There’s definitely no spooky interweaving trajectory of my football club and my own life. But, for my own sanity and happiness, it’s nice to think so. The city has allowed that to happen, and I’m so thankful I picked Sheffield to study. Without football, that wouldn’t have happened. I recently visited a friend in Stockholm whom I met whilst he was studying here. When called upon to announce was from in the UK, I would proudly and clearly state Sheffield. This also happened on holiday in Krakow, at a gig in London and on a train to Cardiff. And I couldn’t be more proud of it.

*That’s a lie, sorry. I don’t want to get in trouble with The York, I’m there a lot.




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