As the 2018-19 English football season enters its home stretch, many eyes will turn to the promotion and relegation battles throughout the pyramid of leagues.
One thing is already pretty settled with regards to next season’s Premier League: There is a really big Yorkshire club you’re probably not familiar with coming back up for the first time in a while.
(Update in 2020: They’re both up!)
Not that there aren’t currently Yorkshire folk in the Premier League, as the nice people in Huddersfield will tell you. Sadly, they will also tell you that the Terriers are on their way out and will certainly be down in the Championship next season. They’ve been an inspiration, but they just don’t have the size and resources to stay up.
But speaking of the Championship, from which three teams will come up to the Premier League next season: at least one of the new boys is going to be a Yorkshire giant.
That’s because if you look at the Championship table right now, you will see Norwich City (of Norfolk on the East Coast) running off with the title, virtually guaranteed to go up — and bring with them a fine city for visiting as well as the best fish and chips I’ve had in England. So there’s that.
But the Canaries were just in the Premier League in 2016. You probably remember them, even if your attention is just on the top tier.
The next two spots in that table, both fairly safe from the teams below, are occupied by two clubs who epitomize everything I am trying to teach non-Brits about English football. Neither Leeds United nor Sheffield United have been in the Premier League since 2004 or 2007, respectively, which is to say most foreigners will not have heard much about them. And Yorkshire, which is roughly in the north-central and a little east part of England, north of London and east of Manchester — isn’t a place many tourists will wind up, unless they’re into peaceful countryside and friendly people.
And in a sense, that is exactly why I want you to know about, and visit, them: because you, and everybody else like you, haven’t been there! In fact, I hope they both come up, with apologies to the nice people of West Brom, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough — the other teams currently in the running for the playoffs. And that’s because I want people to experience the kind of homegrown, traditional support that these clubs are all about.
The very fact that neither Sheffield United nor Leeds has been in the top tier for more than 10 years — or played in a cup final at Wembley for longer than that — means that they have not emerged from their own little worlds into the worlds of tourists, corporate hacks and television over-exposure. They are still proper English football clubs, loaded with local fans and history and tradition, and also happen to play in two fantastic old grounds.
Here’s a quick introduction to both of these fine clubs. We’ll let the Blades go first, since they are second in the table and I just saw them win at Leeds.
Meet Sheffield United
The Blades nickname comes from Sheffield’s place in history as the Steel City — Americans can think of it as England’s Pittsburgh. Stainless steel was invented there, and to some extent, so was football. In the early days, when the rules were being settled on, the Sheffield Rules played a major part in the formation of the Football Association and its rules for the game — rules known as Association Football and abbreviated as soccer, by the way.
In fact, another local club, Sheffield FC, started playing in 1857 and is recognized as the oldest club still playing football in the world. And Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United — known among their fans as Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane — is the oldest major stadium in the world still hosting football games, having opened in 1855. Obviously, it’s been rebuilt a couple times since then, but the fact is that on this spot were played the first tournament final in football history and the first football game under lights.
And if you catch them on the right night — like the Steel City Derby with local rivals Sheffield Wednesday — they can make your ears ring with a pregame rendition of their classic and goofy song, “Greasy Chip Butty”:
(For the lyrics, click to watch the video on YouTube.)
I happen to have several friends and readers among the Blades faithful, owing mostly to a video I took of perhaps their greatest moment in the last number of years, during the “Bouncing Day Massacre.” You can read all about that here.
Meet Leeds United
Meanwhile, a bit farther north in the city of Leeds, a sleeping giant seems to be awakening.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Leeds United were what Manchester City are now, and what Manchester United were under Sir Alex Ferguson: the undisputed best team in the country. They won the league, won the FA Cup, made a European final, and along the way earned a reputation for tough play and tough fans.
They had another great run later, and in fact were the last champions (in 1992) of the old Football League First Division, which the next year became the Premier League. In seven of the first 10 Premier League seasons, Leeds finished in the top 5, and in 2001 they made the Champions League semifinals.
They were relegated in 2004, actually spent three seasons in League One — the third tier — and are now storming back, with an exciting team that plays pressing football, cheered on by an army of fans.
They’ve got their own song, which is one of these old-fashioned “players singing” cup songs that stuck, called “Marching on Together.” Here they are giving it a proper go at Elland Road, their wonderful old stadium, before a recent game against, yep, Sheffield United:
Making Plans for Next Year? Plan on Yorkshire!
If you are planning to head to England for some groundhopping, I cannot encourage you enough to hit up one of these clubs — whichever league they are in. For reference, Leeds is 2.5 hours from London Kings Cross; Sheffield is 2 hours. Both are about an hour by train from Manchester. And they are only 40 minutes away from each other, so when they play — look out: Yorkshire derby!
And I wasn’t kidding about the natural stuff near there: just check out North York Moors National Park, the coastal town of Whitby, the Yorkshire Dales, and the Peak District for starters.
I can, of course, help you plan all your English soccer adventures. For these two clubs, like many others, I also sell tickets. For some clubs that means hospitality packages — seats plus a benefit like food or access to a lounge — but for these two it’s just tickets. At Sheffield United I typically quote these at about $100 for seats behind the goal. At Leeds, with all their excitement this season, prices have crept up a little, but seats are on the side. The video above is shot from one of these seats.
Get in touch today, and let’s talk about some Premier League groundhopping in mighty Yorkshire!