Bouncing Day hero Mark Duffy's emotional message to Sheffield United fans after confirming professional retirement
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The 36-year-old has signed for Macclesfield Town, with the ninth-tier club beating off competition from a number of higher-placed clubs to secure the signature of the former Blades fan favourite.
Playing for Town will allow Duffy, who was most recently at Tranmere Rovers, to take his first steps on the coaching ladder, combined with playing part-time for the North West Counties Football League Premier Division side.
Duffy was a member of the Blades side that rose from League One – winning 100 points and making history in the process – into the Premier League in the space of three seasons, and is best known for his iconic goal in the Steel City derby against Wednesday at Hillsborough in 2017.
Fresh out of League One and seen as the underdogs in many quarters, United went 2-0 up before Wednesday dragged themselves level at 2-2. Hillsborough was shaking as jubilant home supporters bounced in celebration – before Duffy twisted Joost van Aken inside out and smashed home to put United ahead again. He had only been on the pitch a few minutes, and Wednesday were level for 38 seconds of play.
“So my time as a full time professional has sadly come to an end,” Duffy posted on social media.
“I've decided to play part time, so I can concentrate on my coaching a bit more and get my A-License finished off.
“What a journey it's been. From being released from Liverpool for being too small, to getting promoted to the Premier League, playing in the top division in Holland, and many more achievements.
“If you would have told me I would achieve these things back when I got released, I would have thought you were mad.
“I want to thank all the clubs and players I've played with along the way. You have all played parts (big or small) in my life and career and I can't thank you enough.
“But I want to say a special thank you to Sheffield United; the fans, players and the club itself. The time we had there was unbelievable and will live with me forever.”
Duffy arrived at United on a free from Birmingham City, after helping Burton Albion to promotion from League One, and repeated the trick at Bramall Lane, wowing Blades fans with his displays in the No.10 role in Chris Wilder’s innovative 3-5-2 system.
Duffy was once again instrumental as the Blades attacked the Championship fearlessly, and helped Wilder’s men into the Premier League after winning automatic promotion. But that was to prove the end of the road for Duffy in South Yorkshire, as Wilder ruthlessly cast him aside after a contract dispute.
Released by his boyhood club Liverpool as a youngster, Duffy fell out of love with football and became a sports coach with Liverpool council when he was persuaded by some mates to play again, for £40 a game.
He worked his way up the leagues but admitted in an interview with this newspaper that he had ambitions of coaching and management when the time came to hang up his boots.
“For now I'll be playing for Macclesfield and coaching there as well, alongside other places,” Duffy added.
“Coaching/managing has always been in my mind as something I want to do after football, and Macclesfield have given me this opportunity to work towards this while still enjoying playing. So I thank them.
“My family have been by my side through the good times and the bad and I wouldn't have been able to do everything I have without them, especially my wife to be Alex.
“The strength an patience she shows is unbelievable, and I can't thank her enough. So thanks again everyone for your loving support over the years, it's been one hell of a ride.
“Duffs, AKA the bounce slayer.”
A day never 2-4get
Duffy signed off with “2-4” – a reference to the final score on that iconic day at Hillsborough – and it’s certainly some legacy to leave behind at a club that clearly left a big impression on him.
“I came off the pitch at Hillsborough and Billy Sharp told me that I would be a Blades legend forever, because of that goal,” Duffy told The Star previously of his derby heroics.
“I asked what he was on about because Leon Clarke had scored twice, so thought he should surely have been the legend if anyone! But I guess the timing of the goal is what made it so special.
“The derby was the biggest game I'd ever played in, by far. The atmosphere was a joke but the day just panned out so well.
“I remember looking up and seeing fans going berserk and flares going off... it just meant so much to everyone. There's a great video of the Wednesday fans bouncing and then the camera pans to the top of the away end just after the goal.
“I don't know why they uploaded them all, to be honest! You'd think they'd have deleted them all. But I'm glad they didn't. My dad has them all on his iPad and watches them when he's had a drink!
“After the game, I reckon I had 10,000 messages, tweets, emails... my phone went into absolute overdrive. People have made all sorts of that moment, pictures and mugs and steel plaques and badges. I've got all sorts of stuff. Some players go a whole career without something so special happening, and I never tire of seeing the goal.”