Updated: May 21, 2020
In 2007, experienced Premier League and England forward James Beattie joined Championship Sheffield United for a (then) club record fee of £4 million with a reputation of being a proven goalscorer.
I got in touch with James a couple of weeks ago to see if he would be up for answering some questions on his time at the Lane - he was more than obliging... once a Blade and all that!
Thank you very much to James for answering the questions both openly and honestly and hopefully this interview goes a little way to plugging that football shaped hole in all of our lives right now...
You joined the Blades for a then club record fee of around £4m, a huge amount of money for the club at that time, did that price tag affect you and how did you deal with the huge expectation on your shoulders?
The numbers never really bothered me and I had played in the Premier League for 10 years so, I didn’t feel any pressure per say.
You dropped out of the Premier League to join United from Everton, did you have any issue moving down the leagues?
The only pressure was on the decision to drop out of the Premier League. I did have an issue with it yes - because I believed immensely in my ability and I was a confident person. The main reason for signing was Bryan Robson and the way he spoke about me and about the club.
As I said, I had my reservations about dropping to the Championship but within 2 minutes of speaking to Bryan he told me of where the club was going and how he would build a team around me and sign players to drive the club back to the Premier League.
That was the plan to be back up within 12 months. I knew about the rich tradition that SUFC had and to be honest the club exceeded my expectations in terms of the fans, people at the club and the dressing room. It was great and I loved it, justifying my decision to join dem Blades.
You hit the ground running scoring on your debut against Colchester - how did that feel? Do you remember the goal?
It’s personally (and for the team) always good to get off to a good start and especially with strikers it makes it easier when you get your first goal to go on and get more and more. I seem to remember Keith Gillespie putting in a far post cross and I put my swede on it.
You had a fantastic season finishing as our top scorer with 22 goals, but 9th in the League, what was the feeling at the end of that season?
We were obviously very disappointed with that, especially with the squad we had built. However we were looking forward to some additional players in the summer and making it right in the next season. 22 goals was ok. As I said before we wanted and worked to go back up, so this overshadowed everything.
How does the Sheffield derby compare to other derbies you’ve played in, and how did it feel to score in one?
The Steel City Derby was a class event and I always looked forward to the derby games. The goal against Wednesday was good because it gave the team a point and helped the fans with the bragging rights, sharing them and not losing them.
What was the dressing room like that season, what it a good environment?
The dressing room was excellent and we had good people all the way through the team. Leaders everywhere. We had a great respect for each other and a collective drive to get the club where it and we wanted to be. The culture was good in a sense that we pushed each other a lot and didn’t let any individual compromise the objectives of the team. The banter was class as well with so many characters around.
The squad you played in featured some legends such as Gary Speed, Chris Morgan and our current club captain Billy Sharp - how was it to be part of that squad?
As I said we had a great squad and each player had their own star quality. Morgs was a leader on and off the pitch. Speedo was a legend and really took time to try and improve the younger players. Killa ( Matt Kilgallon) was a very good defender. Ugo (Ugo Ehiogu) was also a leader and a very good player!
Sharpy was great and always wanted to learn, he was always very self critical, sometimes to his detriment. I tried to help him with this and he’s grown mentally and done great things in the game. Gary Naysmith was a very good player, capped many times for Scotland. The ones with the most hype were probably the 2 Kyle’s, Walker & Naughton. Both have gone in to have good careers and I actually coached Naughts at Swansea.
The following season you were sold in the Jan transfer window to Premier League side Stoke City, did you want to leave the club at that stage or was it out of your hands?
I remember Kevin Blackwell pulling me, sitting me down and telling me the Chairman wanted to cut cloth and sell me. Kevin was upset and so was I, because as I said earlier, we were on a mission to get back to the Premier League. I think we were 3rd at the time and going great.
The lads were devastated and a little annoyed. Such is life in football. The club saw it fit to do this and that was it done. The opportunity to move to Stoke arose and although it wasn’t how I wanted to get there, it was back in the Premier League. Stoke were bottom at the time so it could have been perceived as a risk. It was - but as I said I was always confident and we got the performances to maintain our league status.
You re-joined the Blades in 2011 when we were in League One, how did you find that spell at the club?
It was a little later in my career and I wasn’t happy with my performances. I had been injured for quite a long time with a ruptured rectus femoris and probably needed more time to get up to speed. I probably wouldn’t of got in instead of Ched (Ched Evans) anyway - he was on fire until his legal situation.
You’ve since moved into coaching/management and worked predominantly with Garry Monk, how are things going?
I had intended playing for as long as I could and the Accrington Manager’s job came somewhat out of the blue. It was a great opportunity for me and I took it. I thought about player/manager but having consulted many, more experienced, managers than I, I decided to retire and go full tilt into it.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, gained vital experience and will someday do it again. I wanted to become more proficient at coaching, hence the decision to coach for the last few years and working with Garry has been a great experience as well - he is a very good young manager.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Sheffield United?
Fondest memory would of been the people I met whilst I was there and how the fans and I had such a great relationship.
If you had to pick, which would be your favourite goal for United?
Probably the free kick against Burnley or the equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday for meaning to the club.
And lastly, do you still keep an eye on the Blades?
Very much so - I still have friends at the club and always want them to do well and be healthy and happy.