'Forced out' - Former goalkeeper Paddy Kenny lifts lid on his controversial Sheffield United exit to QPR
It is one of the most revealing chapters of Paddy Kenny’s autobiography, ‘The Gloves Are Off', which was released last week.
In this exclusive extract from the book, which was co-written by Star writer Danny Hall, Kenny discusses his departure from Bramall Lane - not long after he completed a nine-month ban after traces of banned stimulant ephedrine were discovered in his system.
When my agent told me the news, that QPR had activated the buy-out clause that Sheffield United had inserted in my contract that I signed while I was banned, my first reaction was shock.
"That’s strange," I thought. Why would they want me to go? It didn’t really add up. When I signed the deal, on half my original wages, I had agreed with the club that, when I came back from my nine-month ban and proved my fitness, my money would go back up to what it was before and they would give me another couple of years. I returned to the side and kept two clean sheets and had kept my personal trainer throughout the summer. I was determined to put a disastrous year behind me and get back to playing at Bramall Lane.
My agent told me that United were looking to bring in Steve Simonsen on a free transfer from Stoke City, and the club thought that they were getting the better end of the deal by cashing in on me. “But I don’t want to go,” I told my agent – and that was the honest truth. I owed Sheffield United everything at that point. My own stupid mistake had cost me nine months of football and I could only watch helplessly as my friends and teammates struggled to eighth in the league, a year after losing in the play-off final.
If United had just cut me loose when I was banned – which they would have been more than entitled to do – I would have been screwed. I would obviously have had a year without a job, which would have been hard enough. But it would have been so difficult to get back in – especially with the stigma of a drugs ban permanently attached to my name.
I later heard that my ban had actually put QPR off signing me a little, but their manager dug his heels in and insisted that the deal went through. It was that man Neil Warnock and, although I obviously owed a lot to him and loved playing under him at both Bury and Bramall Lane, I also had no ambition whatsoever to go and play in London. I always maintained that, whatever happened in my career, I would never go down there. My kids were nine and seven at the time, living just up the road in Halifax, so moving four hours away to London had no appeal whatsoever. I had endured enough stress during the previous year and I owed United big time for their faith in me. I wanted to stay.
But the message to our camp was clear: “We want Paddy to go to QPR.” Maybe they saw £750,000 as decent value for a goalkeeper who’d played twice in a year, especially with Simonsen coming down from the Premier League. I told them again I didn’t want to go anywhere, but it didn’t make a bit of difference – their minds had already been made up.
The thing I found most strange was that I didn’t hear a single thing from the manager during the whole process. I had my ups and downs with Kevin Blackwell through the years, but he never picked up the phone once; not to say he wanted me to stay and not to say he wanted me to go. Nothing. The messages instead came from above Blackwell's head, and were pretty clear. I was forced out of Sheffield United.
I began to look at the alternatives. I clearly wasn’t wanted. Did I want to sit on the sidelines for another season or even be bombed out completely? I had missed a year of football and didn’t want to be out for another minute. Reluctantly, I agreed to speak to Warnock.
All players have a shelf life and as much as people love to talk about loyalty in football, clubs are only loyal to players for as long as they are useful. For whatever reason United decided my time was up and I was no longer wanted, although a different story came out at the time. The feeling was very much that I had pushed to leave and it probably suited the people at United who had made the decision to let people think that.
Even to this day there are a lot of United fans who resent me and think that I jumped ship. I can’t deny that I earned more money at QPR but, when I factored in travelling to London and renting a place for a couple of nights a week down there, I wasn’t much better off financially – with a lot more stress and hassle on top as well as being further away from my family.
The move to QPR was not motivated by money. I was promised a new deal at United and I was happy that the promise would be honoured. Even if they had offered to meet me halfway at £7,500, I would have been happy with that. If they had said: “Let’s see how it goes in three or four months,” that would have been fine by me, too. Without meaning to sound big-headed in any way, I was quite a fans’ favourite at the time.
The way the crowd reacted to me when I came back against Swansea still gives me goosebumps now. I did an interview after that game and someone said it had been years since anyone had received a reception like that at the Lane. And, no matter what anyone thinks of me, there is no way I would throw that affection back in the fans’ faces.