“We want to do the city proud. We don't want to just make the numbers up. We want everyone to feel proud of us.”
Billy Sharp has gone through a lot in his rollercoaster football career – eight different clubs, three separate divisions, personal tragedy, 240 goals – and a whole lot more.
But ever since he signed for Sheffield United for the third time in 2015, when the Blades were languishing in League One, the good times have rolled on. In the past four seasons, Sharp has found the back of the net 87 times and his goals have been a crucial reason why his boyhood club has been promoted twice in the past three years and is now finally back in the Premier League.
Now that Sheffield United have returned to the top flight for the first time since 2007, many are expecting them to go straight back down. Most pundits have tipped them as relegation favourites, expected to make an immediate return to the Championship like Cardiff City or Fulham in 2018-2019.
But Sharp is used to being written off. He is familiar with his team being underrated and underappreciated.
“When we got promoted from League One to the Championship, people had us down to struggle,” he said. “They didn't expect us to do what we did last year either. But we did. We had that belief. There were times in the season where it wasn't easy but it was comfortable.”
As club captain, the 33-year-old not only has a key role to provide goals as a striker, but to lead and inspire his teammates. It’s a role he has thrived in since being handed the armband by manager Chris Wilder.
“My responsibility is to make sure the lads don't take their foot off the gas,” Sharp said. “We need to improve individually and as a team. It's a big step up. But we're a group that plays with no fear. And that's something we want to take in, we will do. We're looking forward to it. If we take a few beatings, we usually react well.”
For Sharp, his own chance in the Premier League comes seven years after his first and only taste of the top flight with Southampton. Back then the forward made only two appearances for Saints in the 2012-2013 campaign, for a total of just 18 minutes, when he came off the bench late in matches against Manchester City and Wigan.
Fast forward and the 33-year-old finally has another shot. He admits it is a strange feeling considering how far himself and the club has come.
“When I left Southampton to go to Forest, I thought I had a chance,” he says. “My aim coming here from Leeds (in 2015) was to get us as high as possible. It's surreal, four years on, really.”
“I remember signing here when we'd just been relegated. I thought that might be the chance then but we're back here now.”
Under Wilder, the Blades have employed a fearless and bold approach in the way they play their football. With a 3-5-2 formation and a creative spirit, they promise to take on the Premier League with the same gusto that they attacked the Championship and League One with.
Sharp is confident his side can make a successful transition.
“We know it's going to be tough and hopefully we'll sign a few to make us stronger,” he says. “But we're not a group that fears anything and we've not lost a game for a while. We know there's work to be put in fitness wise to meet the demands of the Premier League. There will be players who get left behind and players who kick on.”
Sheffield United’s Premier League begins on August 10 away against Bournemouth. Sharp feels it’s an ideal way for the Blades to begin amongst the big boys and get the ball rolling.
“I think Bournemouth is a good game for us, they play a lot of nice football,” he said.
“Maybe they're not the most physical. It'll be tough, it's a good atmosphere. That will be a good game to see where we're at and then go from there. When we lose, we normally bounce back with a positive result.”