Sheffield United: Key team news ahead of Millwall clash
The former freelance journalist, a lifelong Sheffield United fan and now the club’s program editor, a role he combines with commentary duties on the in-house TV channel, was appalled to discover that English Football League members would no longer be required to attend matchdays produce magazines. For someone who considers them an integral part of the grand gaming experience, it was a deeply disturbing and unsettling announcement.
“Football remains a traditional sport for a lot of people and buying a program is something that fans have been doing for over 100 years,” Young told The Star ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Millwall, after signing UTB’s latest edition. “For many fans, sticking to a program is a tangible, treasured reminder of a particular game or moment. It’s still important to have something physical that reminds them of something.”
Luckily for Young and the millions of others like him, United have not chosen to exploit the EFL policy; purportedly issued to allow teams to opt out of its advertising agreements, but most people suspect it’s a nod to the modern world’s obsession with cyberspace and the internet. Unlike many of their competitors, Young’s employers have allowed him to improve both content and pagination since he poached him from neighbor Rotherham a few years ago. The results of that dedication recently earned them a prestigious silver medal in the Premier Progs season-ending awards.
“When I first got into football in the early ’90s, having a program was just as important as watching the game,” Young continued, explaining his obsession. “The trip was always such a highlight for me that a reminder of the day became indispensable.
“I still have many of the United issues from my early years and they bring back cherished memories of going to United games with my father, a tradition we have maintained ever since.
“Countless others will probably say the same thing. Or there’s another reason they’re such a treasured keepsake. That’s just one of the reasons I think they’re so important. They will mean different things to different people.”
Young began putting together the program for United fans to read ahead of the first home game of the new season earlier this summer. It can be an arduous process researching articles about times gone by, commissioning copies from contributors, and interviewing members of Paul Heckingbottom’s team. But for Young, it’s also a rewarding one.
“We’ve got a 100-page edition, it’s quite a task, especially when there are sometimes back-to-back home games, so work basically starts in the summer, months before the new campaign, when I can tackle a lot of our historical content.
“For more recent content, I generally start work a week before the game. For a Saturday to Tuesday home return this will require some very quick updates, usually over the weekend and into the first hour of Monday morning to ensure we meet the deadline.
Yesterday afternoon, after journalists grilled Heckingbottom over United’s upcoming game and James McAtee’s loan move from Manchester City, Young retreated to a room next to Randox Health Academy’s media theater to start punching out his final articles before calling UTB to the print sent.
“We want to make it relevant so people get up-to-date information. If there’s news, we’re always happy to bring it in.”
It’s a job Young will repeat three more times this month, with the first few weeks of a campaign always proving particularly challenging. Although not, it turns out, as was the case at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when games were often postponed at short notice.
“August is always tough with the sheer volume of games,” Young continued. “Pre-Christmas deadlines and the proximity of fixtures are also difficult, but last year it was difficult to produce programs at the height of Covid infections. Knowing there’s a good chance the games will be canceled but still having to work extremely hard to finish an edition if they go ahead has been a pain. There’s no point in denying it. But it had to be because we want excellent quality.”
Occasionally, despite Young’s expertise, things don’t go to plan. Once, while at New York Stadium, a computer glitch forced him to rewrite an entire edition of Rotherham’s program in less than five hours.
“I signed an issue quite late – around 10pm – only to find out 30 minutes later that the changes had been lost and I had to redo it.
“I think I made it around 3:30 in the morning. How I laughed about it back then.”
However, another mistake brought an unexpected benefit.
“I remember one game where the printers had a problem and printed the back part in the front and the front part in the back,” he explained. “The covers were ok, but instead of starting with the content, it was a random news site. To be fair, the printers did a reprint and mailed it to subscribers. The original then became a collector’s item.”
As United away fans noted last season, a growing number of clubs are now shutting down their programs and focusing on their websites instead. At Bramall Lane, Young revealed, they remain determined to do both. Much to the delight of those who respect one of football’s most cherished traditions.
“New information can be accessed at the touch of a button these days, but features with ex-players and historical content are popular,” he said. “We have a lot of pictures from the last few years but it’s still important to have something for kids and the current team. It’s a delicate balancing act to make sure all the bases are covered.”