The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 17 of 25
These are turbulent times at Doncaster Rovers as the whole club continues to become accustomed to a new approach that could be described as innovative at best and hazardous at worst. Through the shift from Sean O’Driscoll to Dean Saunders and regardless of a sudden influx of high-profile players on short-term contracts, one man just keeps on scoring goals. Paul Binning pays tribute to one of the most clinical finishers in the division.
Billy Sharp (Doncaster Rovers)
When Billy Sharp missed Doncaster’s home match with Coventry due to family reasons, few could have imagined what he was going through. As Rovers were sharing the points at the Keepmoat, news later came through that Sharp was coming to terms with losing his two-day old son Luey.
No-one would have complained if he had needed a few weeks to want to play football again. Incredibly, he found the strength and resolve to play just three days later against Middlesbrough. Handed the captain’s armband and in tears throughout a minute’s applause in his son’s memory, Sharp opened the scoring and memorably revealed a T-shirt with the words “That’s for you Son”. It was a moment that made news across the globe, with ‘Billy Sharp’ trending worldwide on Twitter after Sharp himself tweeted post-match.
It must be said that this series of events is not what has elevated Sharp into this list, but it would have been remiss not to dwell on this most heart-wrenching of stories in reviewing his career.
Indeed, it leads appropriately onto his wider achievements. For Glen Wilson, editor of Viva Rovers, the Middlesbrough goal was inevitable. “I doubt the prospect of not scoring and not being able to display that message never even crossed his mind. He had decided to score a goal. He would score a goal.”
And that, in a nutshell, is Billy Sharp. Goalscorer supreme; providing such a threat that, although not blessed with electric pace or overpowering strength, he can still make defenders back away in fear. Glen added that, unlike other forwards whose primary attributes involve working hard or holding the ball up, Sharp simply revels in getting the ball into the net. It is his raison d’être on a football pitch.
Sharp began his career at Sheffield United – the club he supports – but a handful of goals whilst on loan at Rushden and Diamonds alerted League One Scunthorpe and a bid of £100,000 was enough to tempt the Blades into selling. Ian Rands, editor of A United View on Football, suggests many who watched Sharp play in youth and reserve games regularly felt that he could only thrive if the team was built around him.
Maybe Scunthorpe did just that. 23 goals in 37 league games were enough to keep his new side safe from relegation but the following season looked like being a similar battle, with bookies pricing The Iron as favourites for the drop.
No chance. A remarkable 33 goals from Sharp helped The Iron to 91 points and the League One title. Max Bell of Any Old Iron offered this view on club hero Sharp: “His determination was tenacious, his movement off the ball was sublime and he’d fight for a cause like a dog with a gold bone between his teeth.” Max added that a 4-0 “annihilation” of twice-European Champions Nottingham Forest was a particular highlight, with Sharp revelling in the relative limelight a League One clash of that type can generate.
These feats naturally alerted bigger clubs and when the chance came to return to Bramall Lane, for twenty times his initial transfer fee, the boyhood fan jumped at the chance. However, Sharp struggled to adapt to the pressure and playing at a higher level. Ian Rands suggests it was the pressure of being the focal point of his hometown team’s attacks, allied to the side’s general tactical naïvety, that led to relative failure with only eight league goals in two frustrating seasons.
When Doncaster came calling, it seemed a blessing for both club and player and Sharp has finally found his feet in the Championship. 37 goals in 70 games and two successful mid-table finishes indicate Doncaster’s style suits Sharp and he is repaying the faith.
Perhaps it suits Sharp to be at a smaller club, helping the underdog to thrive rather than feeling the pressure of expectation. Whatever happens next, there seems little doubt that he will be a success. Sharp’s natural goalscoring instinct is something any team would be keen on benefiting from.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.