In an exclusive interview, Sheffield United’s Chris Basham has spoken about his footballing journey from heartbreak of being released from Newcastle United to life at his current club – Sheffield United.
Born in Hebburn in May 1988, Basham began his career as part of Newcastle United Academy before going on to play for Bolton, Blackpool and his current club – Sheffield United.
In a candid interview, Basham now speaks about the heartbreak of being released from Newcastle, lessons learned during his time at Bolton and Blackpool plus his success at Sheffield United, which includes three promotions and life in the Premier League.
Who inspired you to become a footballer and especially in your position as a a versatile centre-back/defensive midfielder?
Basham: “When I was a kid, I normally played in midfield and then I got a bit taller and became a centre-half. When I made my breakthrough at Bolton it was basically wherever I could play.
“Looking back now, it’s come back in a loop because as I’ve got older, I can play in defence and in midfield.
“I wouldn’t really say there’s a particular player, but when I got to the Premier League it was more Kevin Nolan pulling me aside and saying wherever you can play just keep playing, because it would be the best opportunity for me.”
Having began your career at Newcastle United as part of their Academy despite being a Sunderland fan before his release aged 16, how disappointed were you to be released by the Magpies before joining Bolton Wanderers?
Basham: “I was really disappointed because it was a hometown club, even though everyone knows I’m a Sunderland fan.
“Being at Newcastle was a privilege, I enjoyed it and I wanted to prove that I could be a hometown player playing for one of the best clubs at the time in that area, so I was disappointed, and it hurt a lot.
“The best way to respond was to get back on the horse and try to get going again.”
At Bolton, you largely spent the early part of your stint within Reserves as well as enjoy loan stints at Stafford Rangers and Rochdale. Looking back now, how crucial did you find both loan moves and small first-team opportunities throughout your time at Bolton?
Basham: “I just started playing reserve team football at the time, so going on loan to Stafford Rangers and playing competitive football was great. They were still in the cup, but we got beat by Brighton. It was a great chance to play against top players.
“Playing at Rochdale was great, playing under Keith Hill and Dave Flitcroft, who I still keep in contact with now. So going there, playing with them and fighting for promotion was a privilege.”
2010 saw you join Blackpool where you established yourself as a first-team regular across four seasons. Having struggled for opportunities at Bolton, what was it like making the switch to Bloomfield Road and developing your game?
Basham: “I got injured the first season, so it was tough. Looking back now, to be with the lads was great, but it was a tough move, and the chance of playing wasn’t great at the start.
“It was hard, but I established myself in the team when Paul Ince took over and it was great, it’s nice to see them doing well now.”
Summer 2014 saw you move to Sheffield United where you have enjoyed three promotions and positive results despite enduring relegation last season. Focusing on the good times at Bramall Lane, what has it been like to play a part in the club’s progress across last eight seasons?
Basham: “I will always be part of a team that has had great success and it’s not finished yet, because I want more success at this club. I’m really enjoying my time at Sheffield United, I think it’s eight seasons now.
“It’s been great from the start, there have been different managers and I’ve learnt things from all of them. I really enjoy being with my teammates and the success we’ve had has been fantastic.”
When Sheffield Utd returned to the Premier League in 2019, you were amongst a few players with previous top-flight experience. How crucial did you find that experience as you adapted to being back in top-flight football?
Basham: “The experience was a lot different because I was a young boy back then, but I became part of this football club and part of this team that has done well in all the divisions. It was great having the fans there for six months until COVID, which was a shock.
“There was experience there, but I think it was more being part of a team that had experiences together. A lot of talented lads who wanted to prove themselves.”
Last season saw the Blades suffer relegation to Championship after enduring behind-closed-doors football for much of the season. As an experienced player, what was it like playing football without fans especially at a club which seemed to relish the crowd atmosphere pre-lockdown?
Basham: “Last season was one of the worst seasons I’ve had. My Dad and my family have always followed us, and they weren’t able to do that. Fans weren’t able to follow us who have followed us all the way too.
It was really disappointing and probably the hardest season I’ve had in my years as a professional footballer. It was tough, we didn’t do too well, and we broke a lot of records for the wrong reasons. We’re trying to put that right now and hopefully we can do that.
Throughout your career, you have played under various managers from Gary Megson to Chris Wilder and now Slavisa Jokanovic. Looking back now, which manager did you personally enjoy playing under and learning from most?
Basham: “All of them, I had a lot of respect for all of them. At the moment, I’m under a great manager, he’s fantastic the way he goes about his business.
“Under Chris Wilder we had the best experiences a professional footballer could ever want, and I played my best football under him.
“Under Gary Megson, I was learning to play in the Premier League among the talented players he had at Bolton Wanderers, I learnt a lot from him.”
Finally, what are your expectations for the future especially as your approach the end of your playing career?
Basham: “Hopefully my playing days won’t be over soon. I’ve got a big heart for Sheffield United, eight seasons in, hopefully can I make it to ten!
“I’ll try my very best to do that. I’m really enjoying being here and hopefully we can have more great experiences.”