Sheffield United: Kieron Freeman on his love for Bramall Lane, Nottingham Forest and a tricky conversation with his dad

Kieron Freeman started his career with Nottingham Forest: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Kieron Freeman started his career with Nottingham Forest: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Kieron Freeman has faced plenty of challenges during his footballing career.

Kieron Freeman has faced plenty of challenges during his footballing career.

But none were quite so terrifying as the moment he told father Andy he was leaving Nottingham Forest. And for where.

“My old man is a massive Forest fan so I knew it was going to be a difficult conversation right from the start. He was buzzing, absolutely buzzing, when I first joined the club. When I explained I was going to Derby County, well, that made it even worse. It was a football decision but he certainly didn’t take it like that.”

Although Freeman snr’s temper eventually subsided - “He didn’t come to watch me to begin with. I told him to grow a pair but it still took a while” - the City Ground faithful are unlikely to prove so forgiving when Sheffield United roll into town tomorrow. Although four years have passed since his last appearance for County, Freeman, who moved to Bramall Lane in 2015, understands the East Midlands well enough to know he will still cop plenty of flak.

“Dad was involved in non-league football when I went there and I think they barred him from every ground in the competition,” he grins. “I definitely got him plenty of stick. But that’s football, isn’t it. People just love their clubs.”

Freeman is standing on the terrace of United’s Steelphalt Academy training complex as he discusses family, friends and formidable choices before tracing his journey to South Yorkshire. By his own admission, the 25-year-old has never done things the easy way but, gazing across the expanse of lush green pitches, it becomes apparent how that has made him the player he is today. Certainly, if Freeman was not so single-minded, it is doubtful whether he would still be at Bramall Lane. Signed by Nigel Clough, the manager who two-and-a-half seasons earlier had lured him to Pride Park, Freeman fell out of favour under his successor Nigel Adkins before being made available for transfer when Chris Wilder took charge.

“I’ve never done things the easy way,” Freeman continues. “Or it seems that way anyway. This game is full of opinions, right or wrong, it’s full of them. You’ve got to prove people wrong if they don’t have a good one about you. But if you don’t get given a chance, then how do you change them? I was lucky enough to get given a chance by the gaffer and I just want to run with that.”

Having persuaded Wilder that he was worth keeping, Freeman went on to become a mainstay of United’s starting eleven as they cruised to the League One title last term. Indeed, it is a measure of his new-found standing at the club that, as it prepared for life back in the Championship, he was awarded a new contract.

“The two managers I’ve done best under, the gaffer and Nigel Clough, are willing to change their mind,” Freeman says. “But that’s why we love football, because it really is a funny old game. That’s just the way things work out at times.

“It’s been a rollercoaster here. It’s been crazy at times. A year ago, I thought I was going but I got my chance and tried to grab it with both hands. I’m just enjoying being here.”

Although a rib injury could force him to miss the meeting with Forest, Freeman has been a driving force behind United’s climb to second in the table. Single-minded and headstrong, the qualities which persuaded Wilder to perform a u-turn could be invaluable as they look to consolidate their grip on an automatic promotion berth.

“People say the opposition have got better individuals but we’ve got good players too. And we’ve got something to prove. We want to show, even though we’ve not been in the Championship for a while, we’ve still got what it takes.”

United, who travel south searching for a third victory in succession after beating Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday, will enjoy a sold-out following against Forest.

“It’s nice to see the fans appreciating that we are giving our utmost for the club,” Freeman says. “There’s nothing more infuriating for a player when you have one of those days when it doesn’t quite happen but you are still working your n**s off and people don’t notice it. But they do here and that’s good because it gives you the freedom to keep plugging away and trying to do things with the ball. That’s why they are such a big help.”

Having endured a nomadic existence at the beginning of his career, Freeman has put down roots at United.

Security is something he has always craved since being farmed-out on loan to Mansfield Town and Notts County as a youngster before agreeing a temporary transfer to Portsmouth during the dying embers of Adkins’ reign. It was for precisely that reason he decided to leave Forest after making only two appearances for his hometown club.

“I left Forest and that was a big decision for me, especially because I’d been there since I was eight,” Freeman says. “I was 19, I think, at the time. But I took the decision to go and play football and get games in the Championship. Looking back, it was a good decision for me. But it probably wasn’t for my family because they are all big Forest fans.”

“I made the decision on my own,” he adds. “ At the time, at Forest, I wasn’t getting the chance to play. I spoke to other managers but Derby were the Championship club and it’s only 30 minutes from Nottingham. I’d only played two games for Forest but it didn’t go down well with the fans. It didn’t go down well with my family either but they’re over it now.

“They’re proud and I love it here at United, I really love it. It’s where I want to be. I wouldn’t have signed the deal otherwise. It’s a brilliant club and I’m loving my time here. I was delighted because I really wanted to stay.”

Nevertheless, tomorrow’s fixture will stir some fond memories.

“I grew up as a Forest fan. I used to like Stuart Pearce because he was a full-back. I used to watch him on my dad’s video tapes. But, in terms of growing-up, it was Wes Morgan and Jermaine Jenas because they were from Nottingham and they’d come through the system. Wes used to play for my dad in non-league. When you saw them doing it, you thought if you were given a chance, you might have the opportunity to make it.”

Freeman was and he has.