Why Are Sheffield United Called The Blades? (Discussed)

Cartoon of Steve on pink background

Sheffield is a city that holds a special place in my heart, and I have seen both clubs play numerous times.

They have two contrasting nicknames.

But do you know why Sheffield United are called the Blades?


Well let’s find out…

Why Are Sheffield United Called The Blades?

Sheffield United’s nickname of the Blades is a reference to Sheffield’s position at the centre of the world’s steel industry when the club was formed in 1889. For a couple of decades both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday were known as the Blades. However after Wednesday moved to Hillsborough in the Owlerton area of the city they became known as the Owls, and in 1912 Sheffield United officially became the Blades.

Two men wearing retro football inspired t shirts with text in between them

A Life Changing Moment

In 1997 overhearing a conversation in my school library led to a decision that would have a big effect on my life.

I was filling out my UCAS form and needed one more university to complete my required list of choices.

On the table behind me were two boys in my year, one was telling the other how his brother was at university in Sheffield and loved it.

On a whim I put down Sheffield Hallam as my final university choice.

Fast forward a few months after my A Levels and I was on my way up to the city for the first-ever time to start university.

I was at university there for three years and lived and worked up there for a further year. 

I absolutely loved it and love Sheffield and still go back each year.

The Full Monty

What does this have to do with Sheffield United being called the Blades?

Absolutely nothing, haha!

But as this is my blog I believe I have the right to be self-indulgent every once in a while!

When I started university in 1997 I didn’t know much about Sheffield apart from the fact it had two professional football teams, and that it was famous for ‘Sheffield Steel’.

The (failing) steel industry was the subject of the hit film The Full Monty, released just before I started university.

Unsurprisingly it is also behind Sheffield United’s nickname.

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The Battle of the Blades

The nickname is a simple reference to Sheffield’s position at the centre of the world’s steel production industry at the time Sheffield United was founded in 1889.

However in the early part of its history, Sheffield United shared the nickname with their city rivals Sheffield Wednesday.

Such was the area’s repute for steel making at the time that in the early years newspapers would report on the ‘the battle of the blades’ when the two teams played each other.

In fact, if anything it was Sheffield Wednesday who was more associated with the nickname originally. From 1889 to 1912 Sheffield United’s nickname was ‘The Cutlers’, again a reference to the steel industry.

In 1899 Sheffield Wednesday moved to the Owlerton area of Sheffield and to the site that would eventually become Hillsborough.

The story goes that a few years later in 1907, a cartoon appeared in a Sheffield newspaper depicting Sheffield Wednesday as an owl and United as a blade.

This essentially started the shift away from Sheffield Wednesday being known as the Blades, and they became known instead as the Owls.

That left the title of the Blades open for United to claim, and in 1912 they adopted it as their official nickname.

Now it seems strange to think that Sheffield Wednesday were ever known as the Blades!

The Steel City

Sheffield United has had a nod towards the city’s industrial heritage on all of its badges, although the early club crests were based largely on the Sheffield coat of arms.

It wasn’t until 1977 that it introduced the classic club badge that we are all familiar with of two crossed blades below the white rose of Yorkshire.

When both Sheffield clubs were formed (Wednesday in 1867 and United in 1889) Sheffield’s steel-making industry was at the height of its powers.

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The city had always had favourable conditions for steel making. The hills supplied coal and iron, the city’s seven rivers harnessed the water power and the forests provided the wood and charcoal.

But it wasn’t until 1742 that Sheffield moved from a steelmaking district noted only in the local area to one of Europe’s leading industrial cities.

This was when Sheffield local Benjamin Huntsman discovered a new way of making steel called crucible steel.

In the next century, Sheffield’s annual steel production rose from 200 tonnes to 80,000 tonnes. This was almost half of all the steel produced in Europe.

By 1871, America was importing three times as much rail track from Sheffield as it made domestically.

In 1912 Sheffield-based chemist Harry Brearley invented stainless steel, whilst 12 years later the same laboratory was responsible for Dr W.H. Hatfield creating 18/8, which is probably the most commonly used stainless steel today.

During the same period, both Sheffield teams were in their formative years so it is only natural that they would have nicknames linked with the vital industry.

And as we have learned they both did, until Sheffield United claimed the nickname of the Blades as their own in 1912.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the steel industry began a decline.

Between 1980 and 1983 it was estimated Sheffield lost 50,000 steel and engineering jobs.

As of 2016, the steel industry was responsible for employing 2,600 in Sheffield, a far cry from the 150,000 people that once worked in the succession of steelworks in the Don Valley between Sheffield and Rotherham during the industry’s heyday.

Final Thoughts

Click infographic to enlarge.

Unsurprisingly, Sheffield United’s nickname of the Blades comes from Sheffield’s position at the centre of the world’s steel-making industry at the time of the club’s formation in 1889.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday were known as the Blades in their early years.

Sheffield Wednesday’s move to the Owlerton area of the city, led to them becoming known as the Owls.

This meant Sheffield United, who were officially nicknamed the Cutlers until 1912, could claim the nickname of the Blades for themselves.

And that is what they remain known as today.

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