Charlie Webster column: Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has made having an English boss sexy

Charlie Webster banner

Charlie Webster is a broadcaster and writer, a campaigner on social issues, and is a keen Ironman and triathlon competitor. You can hear her chatting about the EFL with Adrian Chiles on BBC Radio 5 Live on Chiles on Friday from 10:00 GMT.

It's fascinating and mesmerising to be a Sheffield United fan right now - and it must be for many in football from the outside looking in too.

We are seventh in the Premier League and I'm not sure what to do with that.

I have never known success as a football fan - Sheffield United or England. I hate to say it but I'm almost waiting for something to go wrong.

I spoke to the communications officer at United the other day and we were laughing at how manager Chris Wilder had to do nine post-match interviews.

This is unheard of at Bramall Lane and the perception of the club has changed.

Chris is doing the impossible. He's making having an English manager look sexy and attractive.

Sheffield United were bopping away at the back of the nightclub before and nobody was really bothered about us - but now we are in the middle of the dance floor and everyone is watching.

The success and 'secrets' are not so secret any more. Clever recruitment, the system on the pitch and the fact Wilder still rides the bus around the city are among the well-documented ingredients that go into this team.

They are all valid points, but to me it is about the culture at Bramall Lane.

Chris Wilder led Sheffield United to second place in the Championship last season
Chris Wilder led Sheffield United to second place in the Championship last season

When Wilder first walked through the door as manager, people knew him and he knew people. He had stood watching United as a fan, but also people knew him from when he was a player at the club.

Wilder connects with the club and the fans. He gets it. He understands the DNA of Sheffield United - something far deeper than 11 players on the pitch.

From within the club, Wilder is described as a "mother duck" with his little ducklings following behind him. Ultimately, he is a talent manager as much as a football manager.

In very much the Sheffield way, you'll get the warmest, most affectionate hug - if you deserve it. If you don't deserve it, you'll very much get told as much - point blank to your face, with no messing around.

That's Chris Wilder.

He sits in the tea room with all the staff. He's just another member of the family. Last week, for instance, he was sitting in the middle of the room chatting to one of the club's staff and congratulating them on their engagement. And this has a knock-on effect on the players.

They get in early because they want to, not because they have to or are disciplined to. They want to have breakfast together and have a laugh before training.

Quite often you'll find five or six players sitting together having a coffee in a cafe on Ecclesall Road - a very long and famous road in Sheffield full of bars and coffee shops. The dressing room is self-governing; there are no big-time Charlies.

There's a familiarity in the offices, with the body of staff having been the same for a long time. Announcer Gary Sinclair, and John Garrett, heritage manager and also the player liaison officer, have been there since I was a kid.

Some have been there for the past 25 or 30 years. They've had their kids alongside each other.

It's a tight-knit family. You can pick up the phone and actually talk to someone there who you know, which is pretty rare in football and in a lot of industries in fact.

My first United game was as a four-year-old and, if I'm honest, my main memory of standing on the terraces was being excited about the fact I was allowed to have some fish and chip crisps and a cup of Bovril at half-time.

From then on, though, it became about so much more. I was from the red half of the city and in for, well, quite a lot of doom and gloom.

I cried my little heart out when we lost to Sheffield Wednesday in the 1993 FA Cup semi-finals. When I was growing up, Wednesday were always the more successful side.

But now, even the blue side of the city can't help but like Wilder and watch from across the way to see what is going to happen next.

Wilder is keeping the traditions, the work ethic and the old-school approach, but fusing it with modern, progressive and innovative football while maintaining what the fans expect.

He's doing it with a humility and genuineness that is the mark of Sheffield and its people.

Premier League table showing Sheffield United seventh
Sheffield United are up in seventh in their first season back in the Premier League

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC