VIDEO: Sheffield United goalkeeper George reflects on his Long route to the Bramall Lane first-team
The Star's headline read 'Blades '˜Swan' off in disgrace'; Sheffield United were accused of 'departing the Championship with a whimper' after signing off their relegation season with a 4-0 defeat at Swansea City.
It proved the final act in the Bramall Lane careers of many. Loanee Shane Lowry was sent off and never played for the club again; manager Micky Adams was dismissed as United faced up to life in League One.
With relegation already confirmed the previous weekend, Adams blooded several of United’s academy side but they were picked apart by Brendan Rodgers’ Swans, who were eventually promoted via the play-offs.
Only one visiting player emerged with any real credit; 17-year-old debut goalkeeper George Long.
“I remember finding out a couple of hours before kick-off that I was playing,” Long, now 22, remembered earlier this week.
“Obviously I didn’t expect to, but it worked for me because it didn’t really give me time to get nervous.
“Swansea had some particularly fantastic players at the time - Ashley Williams, Scott Sinclair, Joe Allen - and ended up getting promoted, but I really enjoyed the occasion.
“Obviously we lost the game heavily and finished a bad season on a low point. But for a youngster, making a debut for their hometown club, it was pretty special.”
The Star’s match report from the Swansea hammering remembers Long “impressing the most with a several fine saves. One, which saw him deny Nathan Dyer from point-blank range, drew gasps of astonishment from all four corners of the ground.”
Harry Maguire, Matt Lowton, Jordan Slew, Danny Philliskirk, Matt Harriott, Terry Kennedy and Marc Warren all featured on United’s teamsheet that day but, for a variety of reasons, have all since left the Lane.
Ten days later Long, Maguire, Slew, Kennedy and Harriott enjoyed their first real taste of Bramall Lane in the final of the 2011 FA Youth Cup, where a star-studded Manchester United side beat them 6-3 on aggregate after two legs.
Paul Pogba, who played in midfield for the Manchester giants, is currently at Euro 2016 with France and conservative estimates place his market value at between £70m and £80m. The attendance at the home leg of the final was 29,977 - higher than the last first-team Steel City derby against Sheffield Wednesday at Bramall Lane.
“I’ve played a lot of games since that day at Swansea and there have been a lot of ups and downs,” added Long, who signed a new two-year deal at United last week.
“But that’s always going to happen in football. You’ve just got to roll with it and continue to work hard.
“Being left out the team is never nice, and sometimes it’s easy to hide and shy away a little. But that’s not the way I look at things, that’s not my mentality.
“Every time it’s happened I’ve gone away, gone back to basics and seen it as a challenge to work even harder and get my place back.
“That hard work, day in, day out, no matter what gets thrown at you, is what gets you the rewards in the long run.”
Words which, no doubt, are music to the ears of Chris Wilder, United’s new boss who arrived at Bramall Lane after leading Northampton Town to the League Two title last month.
“The new manager has a great philosophy, and wants hard-working players who put in a good shift,” Long, a Blades fan who had a season ticket as a youngster, added.
“That’s what the fans want, too. We want to work hard, grind out results and get promoted. The new gaffer brings a work ethic to the club and what he expects from us suits me down to the ground, as that’s what I pride myself on.
“That hard work and dedication each day is what will eventually get you promoted.”
Long’s displays in the FA Youth Cup final run reportedly attracted admiring glances from Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, as well as Arsenal and Aston Villa, and the 22-year-old with the icy glare and warm handshake has no doubt where he wants to go with United.
“It’s time for me to kick on now,” Long, who travelled to Turkey for the U20 World Cup in 2013 and later made the England U21 squad, admitted.
“I’ve got almost 150 games under my belt, and I’m not a youngster anymore. My goal is to play in the Premier League and ultimately for England, and that is where I want to get to.
“But I am a Blade and getting promoted is a big motivation.
“I’d always give 100 per cent, but going up with United would be that little bit extra special and I think this season we have a really good chance.”