Bottle, proper blokes and brilliant fans - David McGoldrick reveals why he has fallen in love with Sheffield United
Every game has its own story. Even, as Chris Wilder has remarked after watching his players discover clever new ways of losing ones they should have drawn or won, it is a variation on a familiar theme.
But sometimes, only sometimes, the plot line is so hauntingly familiar it leaves you with a case of acute deja vu. Sheffield United's match against Aston Villa was one such occasion, as Wilder’s side edged themselves in front and, following Phil Jagielka’s sending-off, then held onto their lead by fighting a courageous rearguard action. It was like watching them play last season all over again.
“We showed bottle, it was tough, but we stood up like men,” David McGoldrick, a veteran of the side which finished ninth in the table earlier this year, said. “We put our bodies on the line.
"We made blocks, we made tackles and anything else that was required to get the win. We’d spoken about it beforehand, about the importance of doing things properly and whatever was necessary. I think people can see what it still means.”
Wilder’s squad spent the first national lockdown researching the best travel guides for destinations such as Barcelona, Milan and Madrid, before eventually falling just short in their push for Europe last term.
Twelve months on and, with the win over Dean Smith’s side only their fourth of the campaign so far, United are preparing to reacquaint themselves with places like Bristol, Millwall and Middlesbrough, despite still harbouring hope of a mathematical miracle.
Although their hopes of retaining top-flight status remain painfully slim, events during Wednesday’s fixture proved United’s character remained intact.
As he discussed the fixture, his mind veering towards tomorrow’s meeting with Southampton, Wilder went all ‘Clint Eastwood’ as he picked apart the performance during the post-match Zoom call. Beneath the cool, calm exterior, however, he probably felt like dashing back into the dressing room and giving them all a bloody big hug.
Footballers, especially in the social media and pseudo celebrity era, are often accused of caring more about their Instagram presence or luxury wash bag collection than the teams they represent. Plenty of charges can be levelled at United after a thoroughly miserable and at times self-destructive campaign.
But betraying the ethos of their club, an unashamedly blue collar institution with lifelong supporters holding a number of key positions, isn’t one of them. Regardless of their shortcomings or masochistic streak.
“That’s definitely not the case here,” McGoldrick said. “We all care. How can we not? The manager is a diehard Sheffield United fan. The captain (Billy Sharp) is a diehard Sheffield United fan. How could we get away with not doing that? I’ll tell you, we couldn’t. It just wouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
“We are a bunch of men and we all care,” the centre-forward continued. “We all care about the situation we are in. We’re all bothered. Even though we know it’s going to be tough, you’d see a lot of others just chuck in the towel and accept it. But the lads here aren’t and that really pleases me - the desire and the determination the boys have got, even though they understand how difficult it will be.”
McGoldrick enters the meeting with his former employers searching for his eighth goal since September after prodding home the winner against Villa. It is a pretty impressive tally, not only because of United’s recent troubles, but also because he would have struggled to hit an overweight cow’s backside with a gigantic banjo for long periods last season after winning promotion from the Championship.
Speaking earlier this month, Wilder described United as a “club that sucks you in” during one misty eyed monologue about his own playing career at Bramall Lane. “It just seems to happen,” he acknowledged, “Even for those from away. It might not be their hometown side but so many boys who come here make it their home. And if you ask them, it’s for all sorts of different things.”
Born in Nottingham, previously of Forest, Notts County, Ipswich Town and even briefly Sheffield Wednesday, McGoldrick, who spent four years at St Mary’s as a youngster, can identify plenty of reasons for his love affair with United. But one in particular stands out.
“Obviously the promotion two years ago dragged me in,” he said, reflecting on events since his arrival the summer before. “But the biggest was last year. There was a period when I just couldn’t seem to score and even though I got there in the end, it took so long and I was missing chances.
“There was one, down at Brighton, when I took it around the ‘keeper and still didn’t put it in. I felt awful. Then the fans started signing my name. How often does that happen? I’m not a big one for social media. But the love I got from people proved this is a special place.”
“We’ve got that team spirit, no matter what,” he added. “The senior boys show it and the young lads just bounce off it. The manager and his staff do their homework. They want to surround themselves with the right people.”
Despite their perilous situation, McGoldrick believes United have an obligation to fight; particularly given the soundtrack to this strangest of strange seasons is the sound of torn-up betting slips.
Southampton were being touted as Champions League contenders when they swatted United aside in December. Now, less than 12 weeks later, they are peering anxiously over their shoulders after losing seven of their last nine outings. United, who have won only once in four, are bottom of the table and 12 points adrift of safety.
“This club has got a huge place in my heart, with what it’s done for me and what the fans have done for me,” McGoldrick said. “I hate the position we’re in but I’m doing everything I can to try and drag us out of it.”