By Chris Dunlavy
At Sheffield United, the word ‘defender’ is a relative term. Just ask the Blades’ flying centre-back, Chris Basham.
“Nobody here is just a defender,” explains the 29-year-old, who is regularly seen bombing up the wing for Chris Wilder’s gung-ho side.
“You’re all part of the attack. Honestly, it’s almost like the onus is more on me to create and score goals than it is to prevent them. It’s brilliant!”
And also far from alien to the converted midfielder.
As a youngster, Basham played in the Premier League for Ian Holloway’s thrill-a-minute Blackpool side and, later, picked up some predatory tips from legendary striker Kevin Phillips.
The former Sunderland hitman, now a coach at Derby, scored 246 goals over the course of a 20-year career and in 2000 won the European golden boot.
“Kev was a massive influence,” says Basham, who hails from Hebburn in South Tyneside. “I was a big Sunderland fan growing up, so he and Niall Quinn were right up there as my football idols.
“Seeing him walk through the door at Blackpool in 2011 was amazing. He was 35 when he arrived and I thought ‘Maybe it’s gone’.
“But the first pass he got in training, the ball went straight in the top corner. It was the same in every session, every game. He was outstanding – someone who just knew where the goal was.
“He was the ultimate pro as well. Even then, he practised finishing more than anybody else. I remember that stat about his body fat being one of the lowest in the Premier League. And the way he looked after himself, it’s no surprise. He retired at 41, but he could have played even longer.
“It was a privilege to be around him and, every time I get the chance to speak to him, I always take it. It must be great for Derby to have him around the squad. I think it’s no coincidence that Matej Vydra is on course for the golden boot.”
By the time their paths crossed at Bloomfield Road, Phillips had already made his name in the Premier League.
Basham, despite 21 top-flight appearances for Bolton and Blackpool, is still waiting.
But, with the Blades battling for a place in the top six following last year’s promotion from League One, an unexpected return to the big time beckons.
“It’s a great chance – maybe a last chance,” says Basham, who scored his solitary Premier League goal against Chelsea in 2009.
“But the difference now is that I’d be confident I could claim a place in the team. At Bolton I was always on the fringes. In and out, injured a lot. I was a very young player, just learning the game and I played on instinct. My only goal was to get on the pitch.
“Now my motivation is to prove myself against the best. And, with my age and experience, I’m convinced I’d be a better player.”
So does Basham feel the pressure mounting as seven teams slug it out for the final two play-off berths?
“I honestly don’t,” says the defender, who joined the Blades in 2014, just months after the club had recorded their lowest league finish in 30 years.
“It’s horrible when you’re in League One and taking stick. It’s horrible when you’re going to places like Bury or Rochdale and losing those games. That’s pressure.
“This is just exciting. The fans are on board. The club is on the up. When the atmosphere is like that you enjoy everything more, from going home with your family to meeting fans.
“And where before the feeling was ‘we have to go up’, now it’s just that we could all be heroes at the end of the season.”
Promotion or not, one person will always worship Basham – his three-year-old son Luke, who is already a diehard Blade.
“I thought about taking him to Sunderland, but he loves United,” says Basham. “He comes to all the games. He understands when we win and when we lose. He loves to see me go off celebrating when I sneak a goal, like I did against Brentford.
“And, when I get home, he always wants to put his boots on and go for a game on the back field. It’s a great way to wind down.”