Oxford United duo prepare for Sheffield United return

By Emlyn Begley and Jerome SaleBBC Sport
Oxford manager Chris Wilder
Wilder has been in charge of Oxford United since December 2008

When Oxford United visit Bramall Lane in the FA Cup on Saturday, it will be a familiar but emotional trip for two of their backroom staff.

U's manager Chris Wilder is a boyhood Sheffield United fan, who played for the club 127 times over two spells.

But his goalkeeping coach Alan Hodgkinson has an even stronger bond to the Blades, having also supported the club and spent his entire professional career there, making 675 appearances.

The 76-year-old former England goalkeeper told BBC Oxford: "Obviously it'll be an emotional weekend. It's where my roots started. They're the club that put me on my way to becoming an international player and a journey which has lasted 58 years.

"It's always a result I look for. And when you play there and coach there for 23 years, it's a big part of your life."

For Wilder, it is his first return to the Blades in a managerial career spanning 10 years in charge of Alfreton, Halifax and Oxford, and he admitted he "jumped around the room for about 10 minutes" after the FA Cup draw.

He remembers where his love affair with the club began: "I lived a couple of miles away from the ground. I supported them as a boy. I was a ball boy, played for their youth team and reserve team. I've seen everything at the club on and off the pitch.

"My grandad played for their reserve team way back. When I looked out of his bedroom window, at the bottom of the hill - there it [Bramall Lane] is. From then on, I watched them get relegated into the old Fourth Division as a kid."

And the proud Yorkshireman still supports the club now, going to Wembley as a fan to see Sheffield United lose in their Championship play-off final defeat by Burnley in 2009.

He said: "It's not like supporting Manchester United. It's been a topsy-turvy few years. But it's with you, it's part of my life and my friends' lives. The majority of my pals are all season-ticket holders and have supported the club through thick and thin like I have over the years."

And his veteran goalkeeping coach, who was given a lifetime achivement awardexternal-link at Sheffield United's awards dinner in May, recalls his boyhood memories of the Blades.

"I played hooky from school one Wednesday afternoon for a cup replay against Wolves and it was snowing very hard," he said. "The ground was picturesque. That's when the replays were because there were no floodlights."

But when Oxford come out of the tunnel on Saturday, there is no doubt which side Wilder and Hodgkinson will be fully backing.

"It's a very proud moment for myself," Wilder said. "But when I walk out on Saturday, there'll be one focus in my mind - to get a result for my club at the moment because they've been fantastic to me. I like to think I've repayed them in a small way by turning their fortunes around a little bit.

"When we look to the left and there's 2,500 supporters there, I'll be proud as punch to lead the players that I have out."

And Hodgkinson sees no reason why his current employers cannot win in their first meeting in 12 and a half years: "In the FA Cup there can be shocks but it wouldn't be a shock to me. We've got a very good side this year so we'll go up there and give them a real good game.

"I'm looking forward to it because of the atmosphere and the emotional day."