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5 reasons why the Steel City derby is one of England's fiercest fixtures

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To say this fixture means everything to Sheffield's half a million residents would be selling this fixture short. When someone thinks of a traditional English football derby, the clashes in Merseyside, North London and Tyne-Wear are normally what spring to most people’s minds first. Sheffield, though, has the Steel City Derby, and those who live in the South Yorkshire city know exactly how important it is and here's why:

#1 They’re tight and tense affairs

It’s a cliché to say tackles are flying in from all angles and all players during a derby match, but that’s exactly the case. It's rare when more than a goal separates the two sides at the final whistle, so it’s really not over until it’s over. Blowouts seldom happen, a 4-0 win for Wednesday in 1980 and a 7-3 victory for United in 1952 being some of the biggest differences between the sides during 90 minutes over the years.

If the champagne football of some of the Premier League’s derbies isn’t to your liking, look no further than Friday’s game. Both are footballing sides these days, which should shine through at times, but it’ll be a throwback to a bygone era of the game for the majority of the match.

#2 Flashes of brilliance

Something you wouldn’t expect in a match like this is great goals, but there have been some world-class strikes in this meeting. The fixture at Bramall Lane last season was a 0-0 draw, but United's thrashing of Wednesday at Hillsborough produced a stunner each from John Fleck and Mark Duffy as the Blades ran out 4-2 victors.

Ade Akinbiyi, Lee Williamson, Michael Tonge and Chris Waddle have all scored screamers but, without a doubt, Michael Brown's takes the cake.

His unbelievable volley to complete a United comeback against a stubborn Wednesday in 2003 has gone down in folklore as one of the best goals ever scored at Bramall Lane.

Michael Brown of Sheffield United scored a peach of a volley in the Steel City Derby 15 years ago.
Michael Brown of Sheffield United scored a peach of a volley in the Steel City Derby 15 years ago.

With talented players on both side of the divide on show on Friday, don't be surprised to see another stunner added to the highlight reels.

#3 The fans hate each other

The fans make the derby truly special
The fans make the derby truly special

The contest has taken on many guises over the years as the circumstances surrounding both clubs have changed. One thing remains constant, though, we despise everything about them, and they can’t stand anything about us. The players, the manager, the chairman, the ground, the area, it doesn't matter, if it's to do with the other team, it's wrong and your equivalent is infinitely superior. The hatred is on another level to anything I've experienced in life.

There are examples of derbies where there is a strong rivalry, but also an underlying respect between the two sets of supporters, such as in Milan. But that simply doesn’t exist in Sheffield.

Even those that aren’t interested in football are forced to support one side, whether it be with friends, colleges or family. You’re either red or blue, there is no fence to sit on.

This passionate and mutual loathing of the other side comes across in the bellowing atmosphere that characterises the game. The noise created by both Bramall Lane’s and Hillsborough’s Kop (where the most hardcore sections of support are found) is always loud, but for this fixture, it’s deafening.

Every free-kick, every tackle, every throw-in, every decision that doesn’t go your side’s way, you scream at the referee and lambast the offending player.

#4 Different philosophies

The divide is evident even on the managerial front. Image: Chris Wilder (left) and Alan Knill of United
The divide is evident even on the managerial front. Image: Chris Wilder (left) and Alan Knill of United

How the two Sheffield clubs have gone about their business has meandered through the decades, but they've rarely agreed on how to do so.

I could walk you through the history, but that would take far too long, so let's focus on the here and now. Wednesday's new owner has invested heavily in the squad, bringing in ex-Premier League players through several multi-million-pound deals. This, though, has backfired hugely in the past two years, slumping to the lower half of the table and recently being under a transfer embargo due to breaking Financial Fair Play regulations.

United, meanwhile, have always been shrewd in the transfer market, preferring to rely on their academy than splashing the cash. Phil Jagielka, Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton, Harry Maguire and most recently, David Brooks, have all graduated and made their way to the top of the English pyramid.

The contrast is even evident on the managerial front; the Owls opting for Jos Luhukay of the Netherlands, who has managed several top-flight clubs around Europe.

The Blades, meanwhile, have Chris Wilder guiding them, who hails from Sheffield and is a through-and-through Blade, having been a ball-boy, player and manager of United.

I won't pretend the dissimilarity is on the scale of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but it makes for a fascinating contest.

#5 Form goes out the window

Chris Waddle's free-kick took the match to extra time, which Wednesday went on to win 2-1.
Chris Waddle's free-kick took the match to extra time, which Wednesday went on to win 2-1.

It's not uncommon for the out-of-form or side that lacks the quality to triumph in these ties. You might as well not look at the table before the kick-off to get an idea who has the better chance, it doesn't seem to matter.

What matters, though, is which side turns up and is most motivated on the day. It's Luhukay's second Steel City Derby as a manager, and Wilder's third, but the United boss has plenty of experience of this game as a fan and player.

The most prevalent example of the unpredictability was back in the 1993 FA Cup Semi-Final. Over 75,000 Sheffielders packed out the terraces at the old Wembley and produced an atmosphere of biblical proportions.

Wednesday were one of the best sides in England and boasted several of the country's internationals, while United were a mid-table top division side.

The gulf in quality was evident through the game, but, as is typical in these matches, just a solitary goal decided the fixture and it took until extra-time for the winner to be scored.

United were leading the Championship before this weekend's matches, and currently sit in second. Wednesday, meanwhile, were demolished 4-0 at home against Norwich City in another humiliating defeat this campaign. With The Blades having the home advantage, you'd normally expect Friday's game to be a slam-dunk home win, but as explained before, this fixture is predictably unpredictable and nothing can be taken for granted.

Who do you think will come out on top in Friday's derby? Let us know in the comments below!

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Edited by Arvind Sriram
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