'Bramall Lane was rocking' - Paddy Kenny remembers his time at Sheffield United and Leeds United ahead of Sunday's Premier League clash

After graduating through the levels with clubs like Bradford Park Avenue and Bury, it was Paddy Kenny's first real taste of that special combination of a big, midweek game and a large crowd savouring a cup upset.

By Danny Hall
Thursday, 24th September 2020, 6:00 am
Paddy Kenny, the former Sheffield United and Leeds goalkeeper - Richard Markham Photography
Paddy Kenny, the former Sheffield United and Leeds goalkeeper - Richard Markham Photography

Wednesday, November 6, 2002. Sheffield United 2, Leeds United 1. The day Bramall Lane's foundations shook.

Two goals in injury-time had turned this League Cup tie on its head, and the Division One Blades knocked out their illustrious - at the time - opponents, who were a real force in the Premiership back then.

Jubilant Blades fans invaded the pitch at the final whistle; some Leeds fans responded to the goading by ripping up seats and throwing them from the upper tier of the Bramall Lane end.

In the middle of the madness, a 24-year-old Kenny wondered what the hell was going on.

"I can't believe it's 18 years ago!" he said.

"Leeds had an unbelievable team at the time - they had Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka up front, with lads like Jonathan Woodgate and Nick Barmby as well.

"Mark Yeates, our defender, stuck out a leg and scored an own goal past me, but we came alive in injury time. I remember Bramall Lane was absolutely rocking, and I had never experienced anything like it before."

United got back on level terms when Phil Jagielka chested the ball down and smashed a volley past Paul Robinson from about 30 yards. And moments later, Peter Ndlovu tapped home from a lot closer to put United into the next round. They went all the way to extra time in the semi-final, before losing to eventual winners Liverpool at Anfield.

"Jags was only in that position because of his pace, too!" Kenny laughs. "We were throwing everyone forward and kept him back in case Leeds broke clear.

"But the ball sat up beautifully after he chested it down. I remember thinking to myself: 'Hang on, he's going to hit this!'

"What seemed like a split-second later, I was sprinting upfield to celebrate with him.

Sheffield United v Leeds United. F.A. Cup - Paddy Kenny gets his fingertips to the ball to deny Harry Kewell from close range.

"Then Ndlovu tapped home, and we never really looked back. We ended up turning Leeds over in the FA Cup as well!

"The cup runs gave us unbelievable momentum, although the amount of games we played that season took its toll in the end.

"But we got to the semis of the FA Cup as well, and we definitely didn't have an easy run. We were just an unbelievable team."

Kenny had only joined United at the start of that remarkable season, which saw The Blades reach the semi-finals of both cups and also the play-off final at Cardiff, and eventually played over 300 times for the club.

Sheffield United v Leeds United, FA Cup Sixth Round. Paddy Kenny celebrates Sheffield United's winning goal.

He was also in goal when United went to Elland Road and beat Leeds, managed by Kevin Blackwell, 4-0 on their own patch.

Blackwell had recently left United to take charge of Leeds, a move that Warnock found out about from a journalist.

"In the build-up, Blackwell had done a big write-up on all our players, slagging us off in some detail," Kenny remembers.

"Because football is how it is, a copy of it ended up being sent our way. To go there and ram those words down his throat and win 4-0 was really sweet."

The Republic of Ireland international also represented Leeds later in his career, and will be an interested observer on Sunday when two of his former clubs meet at Bramall Lane in what should prove a fascinating Premier League encounter.

"As much as people don't like to admit it, Leeds is a massive club," Kenny added.

Huddersfield Town v Leeds United. Leeds United' s Paddy Kenny.

"But it was a difficult time when I was there, going through different owners and all sorts off the pitch.

"Coming from just down the road in Halifax, I was really looking forward to going to Leeds after I left QPR.

"I knew all about the history of the club, Billy Bremner and Don Revie and all that. But it wasn't a good place at all at the time.

"We could play on the Saturday in front of 26,000, and on the Tuesday we'd be at home again in front of 16,000. It was a bad atmosphere.

"It's different now because they're doing well, which is good to see.

"But I'll never forget Neil Warnock telling me when he left that the club was poison.

"There were people there, working on the staff, who were only happy when the first team got beat at the weekend."

Kenny's career, and life, was packed with ups and downs, all of which are charted in his autobiography 'The Gloves Are Off', which is published early next month.

He was hit with a nine-month ban during his time at United after traces of the banned stimulate ephedrine were discovered in his system after he took ChestEze for a chest infection, and was controversially sold to Queens Park Rangers just months after returning from suspension.

He helped QPR into the Premier League and was later beaten by Sergio Aguero for the top flight's most famous goal in 2012. At Leeds he worked under the infamous Massimo Cellino, and his professional playing career came to an end when he tried to fight his manager at half-time in the changing room.

"There were a lot of things that came out about me, on and off the pitch, that I wanted to put the record straight on," the 42-year-old said.

"There's always two sides to every story, whether it's on or off the pitch."