On August 15, 1992, Brian Dean made history. The Sheffield United striker’s opening goal in their opening game of the season against Manchester United was the first ever goal scored in the Premier League. Their 2–1 victory at Bramall Lane that afternoon marked the start of a remarkable, roller-coaster season for the Blades as they fought to retain their place in the domestic game’s elite new competition.
Five minutes into the curtain-raiser against Manchester United, Dean made history when he headed past Peter Schmeichel after gambling to reach Carl Bradshaw’s long throw at Bramall Lane.
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The striker spent four years at Elland Road. Yet only 1998 saw a return to the Premier League after a spell with Middlesbrough following a spell with Benfica.
“It was after France had won the World Cup and the league was attracting all kinds of players,” Dean said.
“I came back to Boro for £3 million but other players were leaving for £15-20 million and you think, ‘Wow, that’s different’.”
Dean was different, he was an Englishman who had gone abroad during his prime, a familiar trend prior to the inception of the Premier League which ceased once players gained top-flight money.
Dave ‘Houdini’ Bassett
Manager Dave Bassett had earned something of a ‘Harry Houdini’ reputation by keeping United in the old First Division over the past two seasons. In 1990/91 they survived despite failing to win a game just before Christmas.
Bassett said, “Most of the players didn’t see themselves playing for the top teams, but they were all pulling together.” “My job was to make sure we stay focused and not let the setbacks get us down too much.”
“They’re loving it, you can see it,” Bassett said. “It was like the Wimbledon team that came into the top division. Players develop in it and suddenly you start to realize – and they do realize – that if they’re good enough they’ll survive.
Sheffield United rely on team bonding
Lacking funds to invest in the team, Bassett found different ways to get the most out of his players. Bonding exercises such as paintball games and Army assault courses were among their less conservative methods.
“We focused on togetherness. We were always looking for any advantage, whether it was nutrition, strength conditioning, speed and agility stuff or even psychology. We were well ahead of the other teams and we had to be; We had to get creative to compete. We could not buy players from Premier League clubs; We have now bought players from the Championship and below. Dean said.