Former Sheffield United player on autism and the impact on Portsmouth, Sunderland and Wolves spells

A former Sheffield United player has opened up in a detailed interview
Greg Halford enjoyed a loan spell at Bramall Lane (Image: Getty Images)Greg Halford enjoyed a loan spell at Bramall Lane (Image: Getty Images)
Greg Halford enjoyed a loan spell at Bramall Lane (Image: Getty Images)

Former Sheffield United defender Greg Halford has opened up about his autism diagnosis and how it impacted his ability to settle at clubs during his 20-year professional career.

The 38-year-old has played for 19 clubs since making his professional debut for Colchester United in 2002 and is still turning out for semi-pro club Hashtag United in the Isthmian League Premier Division. Halford spent just one season on loan with the Blades, but was a permanent fixture that term and racked up 49 appearances during the campaign.

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The defender's time at Bramall Lane on loan from Sunderland was one of the most successful stints in his long career. Halford netted eight times from defence during the campaign and was a key figure in leading the side to the Championship play-off final, scoring the only goal in the semi-final against Preston North End.

During his career, Halford also racked up 82 appearances for Nottingham Forest, 77 appearances at Portsmouth and 38 appearances at Rotherham United after playing 163 times for the Colchester United first team as a youngster. Some of the player's other clubs include Reading, Wolves, Brighton, Aberdeen, Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City. While at Cardiff City, Halford did taste promotion success after finishing second in the 2017/18 Championship under Neil Warnock.

Speaking to the UndrTheCosh Podcast, Halford spoke openly about his diagnosis with autism and reflected on how it may have had an impact on his difficulties settling down at clubs. He said: "Obviously, I haven't told anyone this in the football world, but I am on the spectrum of autism so change and not knowing at that time and fitting into a new group of people.

"Changing the way I lived, where I lived, to being away from my family, my girlfriend at the time - I found it very, very hard. It was hard to interact with people. After training, I never wanted to go into the training ground as I didn't really want to be around and I felt awkward, it was a weird sensation, so I would just go home.

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"I would do my training and then go home, being on the pitch was completely different, that is my area and I can control myself there but when it is small intimate groups, I found it very difficult at that time."

Asked whether he knew he had autism at the time, Halford said: "I didn't know at the time. I only found out and got the diagnosis after I had my son when he was diagnosed as he was exactly the same as me when I was his age.

Greg Halford enjoyed a loan spell at Bramall Lane (Image: Getty Images)Greg Halford enjoyed a loan spell at Bramall Lane (Image: Getty Images)
Greg Halford enjoyed a loan spell at Bramall Lane (Image: Getty Images)

"I always knew I was different in some kind of way, I just didn't understand what it was and so it was one of them things. Football gave me a way, because I was being put into so many new situations, that I was able to grow.

"By the time I was moving to places like Portsmouth, I had already had four or five moves and every time it was a lot easier to interact with people. I learned and grew and I could go into a new club today and be comfortable."

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During the podcast, Halford also spoke about suffering play-off heartbreak with Sheffield United in 2009. Halford played the full 90 minutes in the 1-0 defeat to Burnley with an early Wade Elliott goal enough to crush Blades' promotion hopes.

He said: "We just didn't turn up. You look at our squad compared to Burnley's and no disrespect to Burnley because they were a good team but we should have walked that game, we should have walked the league.

"You know James Beattie first half of the season, Danny Webber, Billy Sharp, Arturo Lupoli, Kilgallon, Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton, and Paddy (Kenny) as well it was an unbelievable team."