Whenever a Wednesday or United fan is encountered on licensed premises this conversation opener is tossed in;
“The only way a team from your city is going win the Premier League or play in the Champions League is for all three clubs to merge.”
Few are as conservative or reactionary as followers of Association Football, even those from the republic of south Yorkshire, but after the threat of spilt beer and/or blood has passed the response is usually,
“What do you mean all three?”
Sheffield, as every football tragic knows, is the birthplace of the greatest game and hallowed turf. For a tyro reporter to be sent there to study shorthand and ways around the law was a gift but to arrive on April 16 1989 was to find a city in shock.
The day before 94 Liverpool fans (two more died later) had been crushed to death while attending an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday.
The melancholy lasted for weeks and the inquiry until the following January.
Lord Justice Taylor blamed the police and poor facilities. Sheffield was, again, the midwife of a new era; this time delivering our stadia into the 20th century.
Two years later Wednesday won the League Cup – their only major trophy in 75 years. In 1992 they were founder members of the Premier League but were relegated after eight seasons. They are now in the third tier of English football and still play in the dilapidated and tainted stadium.
Last month, after years of boardroom incompetence, Wednesday were on the brink of bankruptcy until Serbian businessman and serial football club owner Milan Mandaric paid the tax bill.
Three miles to the south of Hillsborough is the first club to be called United. It is 85 years since they won a pot. They, too, were founder members of the Premier League but went down in 1994 before making a brief re-appearance in the mid noughts.
Their ground, Bramall Lane, is the oldest stadium in the world. It is in better condition than Hillsborough but United, who play in the Championship, are £19 million in the hole and open to offers.
There are other cities in England that have a pair of football clubs unable to pay the bills, stranded in rundown stadiums and with uncertain futures.
But Sheffield is different. It has a very special third club.
Sheffield FC (motto: It’s not about which team you support it’s about football) is the oldest football club in the world. They play in the Northern Counties Division One South (the 8th tier) and are no longer based in Sheffield but five miles out of town in Dronfield, Derbyshire.
The best days of all three clubs are long gone. The balance sheets reveal a city incapable of sustaining two big clubs.
The new club could be called Sheffield FC and could play in blue and white stripes one season and red and white the next.
A merger would raise the profile of the city and restore the civic pride that has yet to recover from that awful April afternoon.
The sale of Bramall Lane and Hillsborough could help fund a new stadium.
It would need support from the clubs, the council, former players and, most importantly, the fans – a hundred and eleven years of hostility and occasional violence would have to be put aside.
Over the years the verbal hand grenade in the pub has led to some lively exchanges. Some are intrigued but everybody says the merger has no chance.
And they all use the same word between no and chance.