When Steve Brooker unleashed two and a half years of medical room dwelling frustration to send the matchball flying beyond Chris Weale on Saturday, he effectively confirmed a significant footballing shift within South Yorkshire. The point Brooker’s strike enabled Rovers to gain at home secured their Championship status for a fourth year, whilst up the road Barnsley’s draw at Bramall Lane confined their opponents to the third tier, the current home of their city rivals. The South Riding’s Big Two will next year reside in places three and four in the county’s pecking order.
Whilst the downturn in fortunes of the Steel City sides may come as a surprise to many the indications that all was not well have been evident to and observed by those locally for a while. The ambition of The Owls and The Blades is no less fervent than it ever was, but their respective attempts to return to the big time have been frantic rather than calculated. Win or bust approaches are all very well when you’re winning, but United and Wednesday have begun to tread dangerously close to option number two. For both sides a stubborn entrenchment in past status and glories have seen the increasingly real threat afforded by Barnsley and Rovers brushed aside as a trivial inconsequence to the very real business of defining themselves in relation to their cross city rivals.
The blinkered fascination with the other half of the city meant that those in control of both United and Wednesday failed to register on the steady progress their county neighbours were making. The signs were there for others to pick up on though, and much has been made amongst Rovers fans lately of John Ryan’s soothsaying on this topic. Speaking to the Doncaster Star in March last year Ryan said; “No disrespect to the Sheffield clubs but there is a definite power shift on the way. The key is the quality of management at Barnsley and Doncaster. It’s why we have the advantage over the Sheffield clubs.” The whole article titled; Will Barnsley and Doncaster take over from Sheffield Wednesday and United? can be found on The Star‘s website here.
Ryan was not the first to suggest a reversal in fortunes for the county’s football clubs, and though I’m not for a minute suggesting I was, the points conveyed and subsequently born into reality this past week are similar to ones raised by myself in an article for When Saturday Comes two years ago. The magazine asked me to write a piece on football in South Yorkshire on the back of Rovers’ first ever victory at Bramall Lane, and first league victory over Wednesday, and that article, printed in WSC 266, has recently become available online following a website update. That piece, entitled Yorkshire Bitter, can be found here, and begs the question if two-bit website writers like myself could see what was coming, why couldn’t those in charge of the county’s biggest clubs, or as they’re more likely to be known next year League One’s Big Two.