The History Boy
Sheffield United are a club of firsts, as is our ground Bramall Lane. The first club to take on the name United and the first to be covered in a live radio commentary. Bramall Lane is the oldest professional football ground still in existence and hosted the first match under floodlights and the final of the first football cup competition. And you can add to that list the club who scored the first Premier League goal and the stadium it was scored in.
It was warm sunny day, the type of day you hope for on that opening day of a season. Bright sunshine, shirt sleeves, crisp, shiny new replica shirts filling the stands and terraces. Over 28,000 fans flooded in, full of hope for the new season. After a late surge away from the relegation places The Blades had finished 9th the season before and thoughts turned to what might be achievable, other than just avoiding relegation. With Manchester United as opening day opposition those hopes had to be tempered a little. Although United had performed well against the big name teams in previous seasons, they were facing a starting XI of full internationals. The most expensive player in the Blades team had cost £300,000, star striker Brian Deane had cost £25,000 from Doncaster and Glyn Hodges purchase had been funded by the club running a Grand National sweepstake. A world away from current Premier League riches.
It was one of those bargain, lower league signings who was to make the immediate impact and write his name in the history books. The goals of Brian Deane had fired United to two successive promotions and secured top tier status for the two previous seasons. Equally as good on the ground as in the air, the rangy striker was very much under-rated, as were many of the Blades' players as the media focused on Dave Bassett's perceived long-ball tactics, which in reality were much more sophisticated and effective than the simplistic tag they were given.
The home side opened brightly attacking the Kop Stand and within the first 5 minutes had won a throw in on the right wing. Carl Bradshaw launched a long throw from about level with the 18 yard box, but Red Devils defender Clayton Blackmor, under pressure from Alan Cork, only managed to inadvertently flick it on towards the edge of the six yard box, rather than head clear. Ever alert, Deane had gained a yard or two in front of Gary Pallister and rose to plant his header past the grasping hands of Peter Schmeichel, who was scrambling back across goal. Deane ran on to celebrate in front of ecstatic Blades fans in his own understated way, absorbing the acclaim.
There are certain goals that stick in the mind. Some because they were spectacular, some because of the unusual nature, some because of the clever skill or trickery involved, others because of the importance. This was different, it was about the imagery. I can still see Deane now, from my seat on the Kop, hanging in the air as he rose to meet that header. Jumping at an angle towards the flight of the ball, arms spread wide for balance, left leg extended from the spring into the air, right leg tucked behind, head at right angle to the body as he directed the ball goal-wards. In reality it all happened in a split second, but at the time it felt like it was happening in slow motion. It was one of those moments; as he rose, you just knew he would score.
Bramall Lane erupted in joy. No one knew the significance at the time, only much later would the media focus on the timing of the goal. The focus was very much on the here and now. Could United convert this early advantage into a momentous victory?
The Blades built momentum and although they had a lucky break when a Manchester penalty claim was turned down, they turned the screw with a goal at exactly the same point in the second half. A break behind the defence from ageing striker Alan Cork saw him brought to ground by Gary Pallister and Deane stepped up to slot home the penalty. Double joy for Deane and the Blades. A Mark Hughes goal 10 minutes later led to a nervy last 30 minutes but the Blades held on for a great victory against the team would be inaugural Premier League champions.
I was fortunate enough to interview Brian Deane a couple of years ago. I asked him what it meant to be the first scorer in the Premier League, he said;
"It is a massive thing for me. As far as I am concerned I am very proud of that record and I am glad that people can look at me when they say that rather than me having to look at anyone else. I guess that will define me and wherever I go I am remembered as being that person. The day was even more special because I got both goals in beating Manchester United. It was a great day for the club and for me."
The Blades were unable to repeat the feats of the previous season, only escaping relegation with three games to go and finishing 3 points clear of relegation, but it is matches like this that live long in the memory and players like Deane who are remembered so fondly.