July 2000

The Goldeneye star has filmed all over the world, but his favourite place will always be Bramall Lane.

The one thing everybody knows about Sean Bean is that he has "100 percent Blade" tattooed on his upperarm. So it comes as something of a surprise in his new gangster film, Essex Boys, when after a hard morning's work throwing acid in people's faces he pulls off the T-shirt he is wearing to reveal a huge tatoo bearing the word "Hammers Forever".

Watching Bean play a ruthless, violent criminal in the morning means sitting down to a nice cup of tea with him in the afternoon is a somewhat disorientating experience. He is relaxed, slow of speech, and, above all, thoroughly reasonable. He isn't bothered about appearing on a film displaying an allegiance to the East End club, even though he acknowledges he is bound to come in for some stick about it from his friends and family in Sheffield.

"The atattoo is sort of my trademark now," he says. "but the character in the film is a West Ham fan, so I had the tattoo drawn over mine every day with a felt tip pen. I didn't mind actually, I quite like West Ham, I've always had a soft spot for them. Anyway, it came off with soap."

So appearances, even those marked on the skin with ain and permanent ink, can be deceptive. But his relaxed attitude to the hidden tattoo of the team he has supported since forever is not indication on Bean's mind is the memory of the emotions he experienced for the first time he saw Sheffield United, although the details, nore than 30 years on, are a big hazy.

"I was about seven," he remembers. "I can't remember the score or who we were playing, but I remembering arriving at Bramall Lane for the first time. My dad and my granddad were both Blades fans and my dad took me. It was a frosty winter's night, the big floodlights were on. Night matches were so atmospheric. We were a bit late and as we arrived Alan Woodward had just scored. We heard this massive roar and we started running down to the Kop and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. That did it for me, hearing the roar, trying to get into the stadium, all those people. I was just fascinated by it."

The young Bean was hooked from that moment and never considered trying out Hillsborough for size. He lived in Hansworh, the United end of town, his entire family were committed to the Blades. He went to pretty much every home and away game until he went to Rada as a peer of Kenneth Branagh and Janet McTeer in 1983, where he helped form a team that achieved critical success, if not the love of masses. "We always beat Central [another frama school]," he remembers. "They had more fans but we were the better side. It was a bizarre thing, all these Shakespearean actors tackling each other. "Oh, darling! Not my foot!"

After Rada, Bean served a stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, but found the comany sorely lacking in the like-minded football thesps. "I used to try and get a five-a-side team up every week, but it was so hard. I used to put up a sign asking for players, I'd come down and there'd be three names down. It was such a struggle to get people to play. I suppose they just didn't want to get up on a Saturday morning."

Bean's passion for the game was such that he enver found the early mornings after the late nights a struggle, and it was a few years after this that the now-familiar tattoo became a part of the Bean physiology.

"I had done it when we got promotion to the old First Division. I think it was 1990 or 1991, we beat Leicester 5-2 at Filbert Street," he remembers (and it was 1990, for the record). "it was a brilliant, brialliant day. We went up and Sheffield Wednesfay lost against Luton and went down on the same day. There were about 5,000 Blades and we were all on the pitch at Leicester. Then we went and had a great night out on the piss at Sheffield.

"The day after, I had done it i na place in Attercliff [in Sheffiel. We weren't pissed up, it were a lovely sunny day and we just went in and had it done, me and my mate together. He had one saying Sheffield United FC and I had mine which says 100 per cent Blade. It only took a couple of minutes." Had the tattooist known how widely his handiwork would eventually be seen, perhaps he might have taken a little longer over it.

Bean has had a career filled with memorable moments. He spent three months naked in a field with Joely Richardson filming Lady Chatterly's Lover, played secret agent 006 in the Bond film Goldeneye and ponced about in period costume in the fields of France for ITV's Sharpe dramas.

So it comes as something of a surprise when he claims the memory he will always treasure came while filming When Saturday Comes, a local-lad-turns-footballer tale, the awfulness of which was almost universally acknowledged.

In te ilm, Bean's character Jimmy Muir wins a crucial FA Cup tie for Sheffield United in front of a crowd of adoring Blades. Bean will never forget it.

"The days leading up to it, we were in a hotel next to the ground. I could see the ground and ever time I looked out of th ewindow I were shitting meself about getting on the pitch, praying I would be able to put just one penalty in.

"On the day were filming United were playing an FA Cup tie at Braall Lane. I was on the touchline straip during the first half, waiting to come on. Just putting the strip was amazing. I was absolutely terrified. I tell you what, it gave me respect for anyone who has to take a penalty in front of a crowd. And they only get one chance at it! My dad, my grandad, all my mates were watching in the Kop. My mates took the piss afterwards, saying I'd missed this and that, hit the crossbar ten times.

"When I came on, I put one foot after another and I was loving it. All the fans were chanting, "Beano, Beano, Beano!" and when I put it in they all went, "Yeeeesssss!" They were magnificent, it was an honour to play in front of them.

"When I came off I couldn't come down, I was that high up there. we went to the pub after and I had to have so many pints of lager, I couldn't calm down. The members of the cast who weren't into football probably thought, "What's the matter with him? He's like a cat on a hot tin roof, he can't calm down!" It was one of the most exciting things I'll ever do in my life. And the dans enjoyed it too. I don't think they sold any pies that half-time."

Despite this dent in the club's catering profits, Bean is welcome with open arms at Bramall Lane, visiting the pitch to make Man of the Match presentations and occasionally joining club favourites such as Derek Dooley in the directors' box. But he's realistic about the decline of the once-dominant club.

"There's been so many shenanigans over the past few seasons, and all the managers. We had Dave Bassett, Howard Kendall, Steve Bruce. He was doing alright and we walked out because the board weren't supporting him. It was a total mess. People weren't interested in the interests of the bluc, factions at war with each other. Now real United fans are in there steadying the ship, people like Derek Dooley, who's chairman at the moment, Kevin McCabe, Bernard Proctor, it's much more stoable. Neil Wanock [the current blades manager] is a mad Blades fan, he's an ebullient character with passion for the club. If he's got money to spend and the fans coming back he can really achieve something."

Something like a promotion out of the First Division perhaps? "I don't know about that. It won't happen unless the squad gets bolstered. But the fans are coming back. One chairman, Mike McDonald, slagged off the fans, which was totally out of order."

Attending matches week in week out is a luxury Bean can no longer afford. He has lived in London for more than 20 years now and laughs in a charateristically reasonable fashion when asked it if bothers him. He films abroad often and arragens for the football results to be faxed to him wherever he is every Saturday so he can follow the Blades' fortunes. He will miss Euro 2000 as he is playing the warrior Boromir in the first film of Lord of the Rings trilogy, although as it's filming in New Zealand he doesn't expect too much sympathy.

So his football following suffers for his art, but has his art ever sufered for the sake of his football? Has he ever missed out on a part because he's got "100 per cent Blade" inked across his arm?

"No, never," he says. "They usually put a scar over it. I've never not got a role because of it, although I think if I had it one my forehead it might be a different story."

And what if that one unmissable part came along, the one that could propel hin into superstadom, a role where the tattoo couldn't be covered up? He considers this. "I don't even notice it any more, I've had it for so long. But no, no matter what happened, I'd never get rid of it."

He's not that reasonable.
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