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Billy Sharp feature 11:38 - Jan 12 with 393 viewsHantsR

I think I've seen him score against us at least 3 times, both for Blades and Doncaster. THought this feature i today's Times might be of interest to folk?

"The Sheffield United striker has scored more League goals since 2000 than anyone but a top-flight effort for his boyhood club is the aim, he tells Gregor Robertson

Gregor Robertson
January 12 2019, 12:01am,
The Times

In the 54th minute of Sheffield United’s 3-0 win against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium on New Year’s Day, David McGoldrick rolled the ball across the penalty box and Billy Sharp was where he always is — waiting “between the sticks”.

His 220th goal in the Football League lifted him above Rickie Lambert, and farther beyond other vaunted contemporaries such as Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe, to become the highest scorer in English League football since the turn of the century. In 496 League games for eight clubs the goals have flowed and this season’s tally of 16 in 24 games is a personal record in the Sky Bet Championship, with his club third in the table.

As the 32-year-old pulls up a seat in a quiet corner of Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground to reflect upon his record, the first thing he wants to make clear is that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.

“I feel that I have loads more goals left in my career,” he says. “It’s nice to be recognised for scoring goals, it’s what I want to be a professional footballer for.

“Last season I first saw the list. Alan Shearer scored 260 Premier League goals but it [the record this century] is a nice achievement. And at the minute they mean a lot more to me because they’re for Sheffield United and that is one milestone that I am chasing: I need five more for 100 Sheffield United goals.”

Sharp’s endeavour and professionalism — coupled with the stoicism that he displayed when playing and scoring a memorable goal for Doncaster Rovers less than 72 hours after the death of his two-day-old son in 2011, and the charity work upon which he and his wife, Jade, have since embarked — have earned him the admiration and respect of peers, pundits and supporters across football.

Twice jettisoned by Sheffield United, Sharp returned to his boyhood team for a third time in 2015 and under the guidance of Chris Wilder, the manager, is spearheading the club’s bid for promotion to the Premier League. The club captain’s talismanic status can be emphasised by the fact that Sheffield United have not lost a game in which Sharp has scored since the penultimate game of the club’s League One campaign in 2015-16 — a remarkable run which has brought 37 wins and seven draws.

He can still remember his first goal in vivid detail: a typical poacher’s finish in a 3-1 defeat by Chester City at the Deva Stadium in February 2005 during a loan spell with Rushden & Diamonds. “It was my birthday,” Sharp says. “It wasn’t the best of goals but got me off the mark and my name on the vidiprinter, which we all like to see. One of my friends sent me a picture of it afterwards.

The one thing that still eludes Sharp is a Premier League goal

“I still remember those days as much as [ever]. People ask me about favourite goals. For me, I scored a goal in training today. I enjoyed it as much as I do whenever I put the ball into the back of the net.

“People like to see long-range goals — I’ve only got four or five, I think. Every goal is different but they all mean the same to me. You score goals at different times of the game and at different scorelines. You celebrate some more than others but they all mean the same.”

His first hat-trick in front of the Kop at Bramall Lane against Queens Park Rangers in August 2008 stands out in his memory. Before the visit of the same opponents this afternoon, Sharp’s biggest advocate, his dad, will almost certainly be reminding him of that day.

“He has got a stat for everything,” Sharp says. “We had a couple of days off recently and I was in Euro Disney [now Disneyland Paris] with the family, and my dad called and said, ‘You need to get in touch with Sky, they’ve got you down at 80 Sheffield United goals; you’ve got 95.’

“I was like, ‘They probably mean this spell, Dad.’ He said, ‘It’s still wrong, you’ve got 82.’ And he reeled them off . . . So I texted someone from Sky and they apologised. He knows everything. Every stat. If I have said anything wrong in this interview he’ll be telling me off.”

Steve, the proud father, has kept a scrapbook, which Sharp’s two sons Leo and Milo enjoy perusing, and he also has a habit of feeding his son a timely stat or sliver of information. “Little things, like if I’ve gone three or four games without a goal, he’ll give me a lift with something about whatever game is coming up,” he says.

“I think the latest one was that I had never scored against Blackburn at their place and I ended up getting a brace, and then in the return the other day I got another brace. Another one was Derby being one of the teams who I’ve scored against the most. Just stuff like that; he’ll always come up with something.”

Sharp grew up idolising Shearer, Michael Owen and Brian Deane, the former Sheffield United striker. All the little eight-year-old, who first turned out for Middlewood Rovers, has ever wanted to do is find the back of the net. “It comes naturally,” Sharp says, when asked where the instinct comes from.

“You can coach other parts of a striker’s game, which can help you get into the right position at the right time, but it’s just something I’ve had. I’m not blessed with pace. People say I am not really quick but I’d sooner have the instinct than the pace. People might argue but pace doesn’t score you goals, whereas getting in the right place at the right time does.”

There have been occasional questions raised about his fitness and the odd jibe from opponents’ supporters too, but by now they would be wise to realise that Sharp’s riposte is usually to hit the back of the net and wheel off to celebrate gesturing an oversized midriff.

“I’m just that fat lad from Sheffield,” his Twitter profile reads. The self-effacing line, which stems from a run-in with Sean O’Driscoll, his former manager at Doncaster, once adorned a T-shirt that he wore under his strip.

Sharp believes that he is in the best shape of his career but the one thing that still eludes him is a Premier League goal. After helping to fire Southampton to promotion from the second tier in 2012, he tasted life among the elite with two fleeting appearances against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and at home to Wigan. He was, however, sent out on loan to Nottingham Forest by Nigel Adkins, Southampton’s manager.

Sharp paid tribute to his son, who died two days after birth, after scoring for Doncaster against Middlesbrough in 2011
Sharp paid tribute to his son, who died two days after birth, after scoring for Doncaster against Middlesbrough in 2011
ANNA GOWTHORPE/PA WIRE
The striker drew inspiration during his time on the south coast from the late blossoming of Lambert, whose tally of 219 League goals since 2000 he has just surpassed.

“I went to watch Rickie when he scored for England against Scotland [in August 2013],” Sharp says. “I spoke to him ten minutes after the game. He did inspire me when I was at Southampton beside him. He was another one who people said didn’t look fit. He was. He might not have looked like an athlete but he has inspired me in my career and, when I went to Southampton, he was great to be around and helped me a lot.”

James Beattie was another telling influence. “When I came back here [to Sheffield United in 2007], he made a beeline for me,” he says. “He’s a really nice guy — a strange guy when you get to know him — but he put his arm around me and told me I needed to hit my shots a little bit harder. I asked, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘You’ve got a hard shot on you.’ And I thought, ‘How does he know?’ We did finishing and little challenges where you couldn’t sidefoot the ball, you had to hit everything hard. He was a hell of a striker of the ball and was good to have as a team-mate as well.”

The striker with whom Sharp struck up the most fruitful and symbiotic relationship, however, was Andy Keogh, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Ireland striker who now plays for Perth Glory in Australia.

The duo terrorised League One defences for Scunthorpe United, whom Sharp joined from Sheffield United as a 19-year-old in 2005 for £100,000 and where he “kick-started” his career, scoring 53 league goals in two seasons, 30 of which brought Scunthorpe the title in 2007.

“It sounds silly but we were just two kids who thought we were playing in the park,” Sharp says. “Similar age, a lot in common, and it just seemed to click. We used to take the mickey out of a few team-mates in an indoor [pitch] at Scunthorpe we called the Shed. They couldn’t stop us at times in there and it built confidence for us as a pairing to go out on the pitch and perform.” The goal, and moment, that holds most significance for Sharp was for Doncaster in November 2011. His first child, Luey, with Jade had been born with gastroschisis, a defect that affects the abdominal wall. Luey died two days later. When Sharp scored a left-footed volley 14 minutes into the 3-1 defeat by Middlesbrough three days later, he revealed a T-shirt under his strip that read: “That’s for you son.”

“I’ve said before that I was a bit selfish with what I did [playing] but I needed to get out of the room I was in at the time,” Sharp says. “I remember jogging in Boston Spa around the Leeds area where we were in the hospice. Some guy wound his window down and said, although I’ll leave some of it out, ‘So are you leaving?’ He obviously didn’t know what had happened. I was out jogging because I had rung Dean Saunders and told him I wanted to play. I remember on the jog thinking, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Should I be leaving my wife at this time?’ But I just wanted to do something for my son; I wanted one goal for him.”

Luey’s memory continues to inspire Sharp to this day and his greatest wish now is to add Premier League goals to his record with his boyhood club. “I do believe I can score goals in the Premier League,” he says. “Hopefully I get that chance with Sheffield United.”

Billy Sharp’s scoring feats
Sharp’s milestone goals in Football League
1st Rushden & Diamonds v Chester (Feb 2005)
50th Scunthorpe v Cheltenham (Jan 2007)
100th Doncaster v Leeds (Mar 2011)
150th Sheff Utd v Bradford (Dec 2015)
200th Sheff Utd v Leeds (Feb 2018)

Senior English League goals since Jan 2000
1 Billy Sharp 220 (in 496 appearances)
2 Rickie Lambert 219 (605)
3 Wayne Rooney 208 (491)
4 Jamie Cureton 199 (571)
5 Jermain Defoe 191 (544)
6 Jordan Rhodes 185 (407)
7 Glenn Murray 183 (460
[Post edited 12 Jan 11:40]

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