Thursday, 31 May 2012

My Favourite Blade (Number 1) - Keith Edwards


In the first of a new close season series, a number of Unitedites share their memories of their favourite Blade. The player that filled up their senses at Bramall Lane and beyond.

To kick things off I am remembering my childhood hero, the goal-king Keith Edwards. This article first appeared in an edited form in the Blades matchday programme.
I didn’t see my childhood hero play live that often, yet he was the player I always aspired, unsuccessfully, to be.  He wasn’t the most talented footballer, he wasn’t the hardest worker, and you could even argue he wasn’t a team player.  He could spend a large proportion of the match not touching the ball. Yet, for many Sheffield United supporters, he was the talisman behind the resurrection of the Blades in the early 80’s, winning both the Fourth Division Championship in 1982 and promotion from the 3rd Division in 1984.
He played with a level of confidence that was bordering on arrogance and his forceful opinions and personality are probably contributory factors as to why he never played at the highest level, why a striker with such a prolific scoring record wasn’t always selected and why his career at each club he played for often came to an abrupt end.  It is also why he now divides opinion as a pundit on Radio Sheffield today.   
He first played for United from 1975, joining as a 17 year old, before leaving for Hull in late 1978.  I was too young to remember him then.  He returned during the early stages of the 1981-82 season. United had suffered the ignominy of relegation to the Fourth Division at the end of the previous season.  A last minute penalty miss at home to Walsall in the final league game had condemned United to the lowest level of professional football for the first time in their history. My Grandad, who took me to that fateful Walsall game passed away shortly after and, with my dad working Saturdays, I had no-one to take me to matches unless they were midweek ones.
The season started well for United and Keith rejoined from promotion rivals Hull early in the season, for what proved to be a bargain £100,000. He straight away benefited from a great supply line; Bob Hatton, a much travelled striker was reaching the end of his career, yet provided a perfect foil and link player for Edwards.  Colin Morris joined the Blades in February 1982 and was a fantastic right winger who seemed to have a telepathic relationship with Edwards on the pitch.
Keith wasn't a tall man, but he was quick and agile. The ability to turn his man and get a shot away was probably his greatest asset.  He contributed little to team play, by his own admittance, but he had the knack of always finding himself in the right place at the right time. He was a predator and played in a way that's a bit like every schoolboy does; obsessed with shooting and scoring.  That is why his play struck a chord I think.
He would always look to break the offside trap, although that would also lead to frustration as he would be caught offside plenty of times during a game. When he did time his run to perfection he would find himself at his strongest position, running at goal with just the keeper to beat. When he made it that far without a linesman’s flag being raised, you could almost guarantee a goal.
As a 7 year old reading Shoot every week, Keith Edwards was the visible face of my team, topping the goal-scoring tables in the results section and winning the Adidas Golden Boot in both promotion seasons.  The excitement of seeing him play was huge as a young fan.  The fact that the matches I saw were mostly at night, under lights, just added to the buzz and sense of occasion.  I remember a game against Wigan, a top of the table clash. Midweek, Division Four, yet over 20,000 there witnessing what was looking like a 0-0 draw, until the final seconds when he was in the right place at the right time.  Not a spectacular goal, just a simple tap-in, but such an important one. 
Attending end of season Open Days was a chance to fill your autograph book with unintelligible signatures, to have photos stood on the hallowed turf, in the changing rooms and with the players. There was only one player that I wanted a picture with.  Several pictures.  He must have been a patient man.
Within five years of returning to United Keith was gone, again. Ian Porterfield had been sacked as manager and in a clash between new disciplinarian manager (Billy McEwan) and outspoken star striker, there was only one winner.  Keith moved on to Yorkshire rivals Leeds, the only way it could have been worse would have been if he had joined Wednesday. For the next few years, until the resurgence under Dave Bassett, there were no real heroes, nothing to lift supporters who were watching a mediocre team under-achieve. 
His goalscoring record at Leeds though was poor and, after a spell at Aberdeen, he returned to Hull where he found his goal scoring mojo again.  Short spells with Stockport, Huddersfield and Plymouth  followed.  His final career stats show a league return of 256 goals in 553 appearances, a record most strikers would be proud of.  His two spells at Bramall Lane garnered 143 goals in 261 games; an average of a goal every 1.8 games.  Not many strikers achieve that sort of record in the Football League these days.
As you get older the clamour to be the striker, the goal scoring hero, fades as your own hopes of ever being a decent footballer also dissipate.  In later years the players I have admired most are defenders, more closely aligned with the position I settled into playing, to no great standard!  However, whenever the opportunity arises, be it a book launch at Bramall Lane or a Sportsman’s Dinner, I always take the opportunity to shake his hand and say thanks for what he did for the Blades and for a young boy’s interest in football. 
I am 37 now and the fact that I still do it seems quite sad, but then I see other, slightly older fans doing the same with Tony Currie. I see how happy my dad (then aged 69) was to meet some of his heroes like Alan Hodgkinson, Mick Jones and the players he remembers from his youth, like Colin Collindridge and Fred Furniss. That is when I think - why shouldn't we do it?

Football has changed massively in the lastdecade.  Players are much more detached from everyday life in terms of lifestyle and earnings and the separation from the fans is much wider. These past generations of players generally have very few of those trappings, given the relative success they once had. Recognition is important.  Besides, we would all like to be remembered - wouldn't we?


And that is why I have started this series, which allows fellow Blades to remember their favourite players and if you want to share your memories of each featured player, why not add them in the Comments section below.

5 comments:

  1. Think my favourite player has to be Paul Peschisolido although not an out and out goal scorer I just thought if we brought him on he would score us a goal out of nothing my favourite goal of his was the equaliser against wolves when we were losing 3-2 in the 02/03 season.

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  2. Who remembers the goal where Keith Edwards, with his back to goal, did a Pele like dummy, running round the goalkeeper and collecting the ball on the other side of him before coolly slotting home? Against Bristol Rovers if my memory serves me right.

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  3. I used to love watching Edwards, my best memory was when he got four in the first match of the season where Edwards scored all four goals 83/84 I believe against Gillingham. For his last goal as the ball was coming to him he celebrated to the kop and then slotted it in. That was amazing. But my favourite player is Tony Currie being 48 in a couple of weeks.

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  4. His main talent as I remember were his curling free kicks over the wall from the edge of the box. A free kick was as good as a penalty when we had Keith.

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