SOLDIERS were given a heroes’ welcome by fans when they were guests of honour at Sheffield United’s match against Hartlepool.
Troops from the Yorkshire Regiment’s Third Battalion who have just completed a tour of Afghanistan, their wives and children, plus families of 10 colleagues killed in the war zone were VIP guests at the Bramall Lane.
A group of 10 soldiers brought a wreath out on to the pitch and there was a minute’s silence in memory of those who died before the game, which also marked the Blades’ 150th anniversary.
United supporter Colour Sergeant Stewart Kitridge, from Parson Cross, and Lieutenant Tom Burnham also received a presentation from the Senior Blades supporters’ group.
Lt Andy Ledger, from Dronfield, made the initial request to Sheffield United to host a visit from the soldiers as part of his battalion’s homecoming celebrations.
He said: “We are really grateful to United and to their fans. It has been a tough tour and we made some important gains, and it is good to have this kind of support.”
Lt Ledger was a casualty of the tour after suffering severe leg injuries when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb just two weeks into his deployment.
The 27-year-old, who is still undergoing treatment, said: “The day at Sheffield United went really well. We had approximately 230 people down from the regiment and their families.
“The relatives of the soldiers we had lost in Afghanistan were hosted by United in one of the private boxes.
“Before the game, a five-minute video was shown to supporters on the big screen with scenes from our tour.
“After that, 10 soldiers went on to the pitch with a wreath and there was a minute’s silence for the lads lost.
“It was fantastic that United were able to put on such an event for us at the same time as they were marking what was quite a big anniversary for them.”
Sheffield United, whose managing director Dave McCarthy had helped organise the soldiers’ visit, said: “The Third Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, formerly known as The Duke Of Wellington’s Regiment, has recruited from the West Riding of Yorkshire for over 300 years.
“There is a huge support for The Blades within the battalion, so it’s fitting that our club pays its own short but poignant tribute.”
During the match, which the Blades lost 3-2, supporters were asked to make donations towards an appeal run by the battalion called Op Reset.
The aim is to fund a memorial to commemorate those soldiers killed, support a celebration event and provide help for soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress from their duties.