On Sunday, for the first time in five years, Sheffield Wednesday will once again take on Sheffield United in the Steel City Derby. Considering the last time they face each other would completely change the promotion race in Sky Bet League One, it’s fair to say this is one of the most anticipated matches in years in South Yorkshire.
What help makes this rivalry is the history it has. Both teams absolutely despise each other after facing off 140 times over the last 100+ years and the match at Hillsborough is set to be another fiery affair with both teams currently sitting in the top ten of the Sky Bet Championship. But how did we get to today?
Part of the tension that comes between the two teams was how Sheffield United came to exist. For their early years as a football side,The Wednesday were a nomadic side that eventually found a home at Bramall Lane in the late 1800s. Yes, they made their home for a short while in what would become United’s historic fortress. The move made sense, after all the Wednesday Cricket Club, which is where the football team came from, were one of the five sides that played there in the past.
However after seven years at BDTBL, circumstances had massively changed for The Wednesday. Players had started to leave the club as their chairman at the time refused to go professional. With many of their star players threatening to go rogue and set up another team, Sheffield Rovers, the ownership would buckle and The Wednesday would turn pro. With the extra costs this created, the club were not happy with sharing their gate receipts with the owners of Bramall Lane so would build their own stadium at Olive Grove.
When they did leave, this left Bramall Lane with a massive hole in their revenue. In stepped Charles Clegg, the chaiman of the Sheffield United cricket club. This man is often forgotten by the fans today but he is arguably the most influential man in Sheffield football history. He was a renowned footballer, playing in the first ever match between England and Scotland, was critical in the Sheffield and Hallamshire Football Associations merging and was also the chairman of The Wednesday after having a successful playing career there. He suggested that Sheffield United form a football team which would make up for the lost revenue now that The Wednesday had gone. And so, Sheffield United FC were made, the first ever united in English football. Just for note, Clegg would go on to become the chairman for FA and is widely believed to be the first person to be given the knighthood for services to football.
For Wednesday fans, they enjoy the fact they were directly responsible for the creation of their rivals. While some fans may blow up how much influence Wednesday had, this does add another juicy layers to the match. After all, it’s the arrogant big brother versus the chip on their shoulder little brother. There’s real tension because of that fact and leads to the dynamic the two sides had.
United’s creation also led to the insult that is thrown up around Sheffield, pig. If you have ever witnessed a row between two Sheffield football fans, you will see one another call each other a pig at some point. But why do both teams use this as an insult? Well for Wednesday it’s a reference to the steel industry, as most things are in Sheffield. They called United pigs as a reference to pig iron, a lower quality form of the metal that is often a product of the industry. The inference here being that Wednesday were pure strong iron, while United were the brittle rather crap by-product.
So why the other way around? Well this is actually quite a fun little myth. The Wednesday would eventually leave Olive Grove after the land was bought through a compulsory purchase order and would actually head out of the city centre to then green pastures of Owlerton. This would then become Hillsborough. It has since been alleged that Hillsborough stadium was built on the site of a former pig farm, hence leading to Wednesday being the pigs. This has been denied and refuted by some, but it is a myth that lingers on.
Of course you could ask a thousand different Wednesday and United fans about the pig insult and get a different answer each time as to why they call each other this particular word. Some say United are the pigs because their red and white stripes resemble streaky bacon, while others say Wednesday are the pigs because their blue and white stripes look like the aprons butchers sometimes happen. In terms of the history of the insult, some will tell you it goes right back to when the clubs started. Others will say they only heard it from the 1970s onwards. But however it came about, it is now an inescapable part of the steel city derby.
But what really matters are the matches and that’s what we’ll talk about on the next page.