Leo Watson reflects on what could have been, if his beloved Sheffield United had stayed up instead of West Ham.
What might have been for the Blades
I remember it as if it was yesterday. Sat in Bramall Lane, the rain beating down on stand and players alike as everyone associated with Sheffield United Football Club could feel their Premiership status slowly slipping away. It was May 2007 and United were losing at home to ten-man Wigan in a game they had to draw to avoid relegation. History will tell you the Blades lost that game and were relegated to the Championship, only to find themselves preparing for a second term in League One a mere five years later.
This got me thinking. What if things had been different? What would have happened had West Ham been deducted points resulting from the Tevez affair and the Blades survived that season? Where would the club be now? With that in mind, I set about plotting the future that could have been if West Ham had been relegated in Sheffield United's place.
Now for the critics out there, this is only meant to be a bit of fun and not an entirely realistic portrayal, so do try and remain calm throughout.
On 27 April 2007, The FA announce that West Ham will face a huge financial fine and be deducted ten points for playing two unregistered players, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, in their 2006/07 league campaign. The points penalty ultimately condemns the Hammers to relegation from the Premier League.
Following the end of the campaign and the Blades' 17th place finish, largely owing to West Ham's point deduction, Neil Warnock parts ways with the club. Chairman Kevin McCabe pays tribute to the Warnock, thanking him for his services but ultimately arguing that the fan-turned-manager had taken the club as far as he could.
Managing to pull off what is considered a major managerial coup, McCabe then steels Roy Hodgson away from his job as Finland manager and the clutches of Fulham, after promising more funds than Al Fayed is willing to offer. The Cottagers turn to Lawrie Sanchez as their back-up option.
With Hodgson at the helm, Phil Jagielka is convinced to stay, and with the likes of James Beattie signed from Everton and Billy Sharp re-signed from Scunthorpe, the Blades are clearly aiming for goals this term. Sharp, thanks to the passing style implemented by Hodgson, flourishes back at his hometown club chipping in with 12 goals. Beattie is also a massive hit, reigniting his career by putting away an additional 20 goals - meaning the Blades stabilise in 2007/08, managing to finish a comfortable 15th place.
The 2008/09 season sees huge advances at the club. The lure of the tactical magician, Roy Hodgson, allows the Blades to strengthen the squad with the likes of Mark Schwarzer, Andy Johnson, Brede Hangeland, Paul Konchesky and Danny Murphy, who alongside 20-goal a season Beattie, fire United to a Premier League high of 7th place. The Europa League and the promise of European football awaits for the first time in the club's 120 year history.
With the wind fully in the sails of the 'red and white wizards', the club pushes on once again during the 2009/10 season, thanks largely to the added injection of promising youth players Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton. Although it would appear their European excursions are having a detrimental effect on the league campaign, the mid-table finish is forgiven in no small part owing to the club's appearance in the Europa League final.
Bravely, United lose out to an extra time winner courtesy of former Manchester United frontman Diego Forlan. Fans favourite Roy Hodgson is awarded the Manager of the Year trophy for delivering the impossible at Bramall Lane, with plans of a statue of the great man being planned for outside the ground.
But it would seem that the manager's success had attracted the attention of some of the biggest names in football and before too long, Roy is tempted away by the lure of Liverpool as Rafael Beneitez departs.
The big question turns to who can replace the irreplaceable Roy? The answer... Alan Pardew. Not a name on anybody's list when the position became available, but it is rumoured that he and McCabe struck up a friendship over a number of casino visits. Southampton are easily persuaded into letting their manager go after months of murmurings about backroom discontent at the club. Cue mass protests outside Bramall Lane and a 'love United, hate Pardew' campaign led by disgruntled fans - stemming from Pardew's West Ham days.
But despite the mass protests Alan defies the odds, owing much to him taking a gamble on Newcastle youngster Andy Carroll, who he captures for £5million following a successful Championship season. Footballing bad-boy Joey Barton is another shrewd addition to the squad at a cut-price following yet another fall out with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.
Again the 2010/11 season doesn't bring anything remarkable in the terms of league finish, with the Blades once again finishing 12th. But more cup glory is to be had, this time in the form of the Carling Cup. The Blades run out as shock winners against Arsenal in a tense final where now-England international Phil Jagielka bags the first, before huge confusion at the back between Arsenal's Koscielny and Szczesny leaves Andy Carroll with a tap in to secure the Blades their first bit of silverware since 1925.
Summer 2011 sees James Beattie and Andy Johnson leave the club after a succession of injuries, with Pardew taking a punt on released West Ham striker Demba Ba - an injury risk himself. Alongside signing virtual unknowns Cheick Tioté, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, the Blades are somewhat of an unknown quantity ahead of the 2011/12 campaign.
But once again the sceptics are emphatically proven wrong. An encouraging start sees Ba consistently finding the net, before the Blades receive a mid-season boost thanks to the arrival of Papa Cisse who cannot stop scoring and hammers the Blades to their highest ever Premiership finish of 5th - with a little help from some memorable pearlers.
So there you have it. A top five Premier League finish, an appearance in a major European final, and a trophy for the first time in over 80 years. How life as a Blade could have been had West Ham not escaped a points deduction in 2007. I'm off to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to submit my findings. With evidence as compelling and comprehensive as this, I reckon the Blades might be in for a cash windfall slightly in excess of the 'more than £10 million' they initially received as compensation for Carlos Tevez's part in West Ham's survival. Not that I'm bitter or anything...