How old school spirit helped former Sheffield United midfielder Mark Patterson bounce back from his lowest ebb

In the late 2000s, just over a decade after reaching the pinnacle of English football and playing in the Premier League, Mark Patterson sat boozed-up and broke on the side of his bath and realised that things needed to change.

His dad had recently died, his marriage had ended in divorce. He was officially declared bankrupt in 2007, with the news plastered on billboards in his home town of Darwen, and a mate helped him out with a place to stay, renting him a flat above a shop with nominal rent.

“It was supposed to be a deterrent to any burglars,” Patterson remembered. “But if anyone had broken in, I don’t think I’d have been in any fit shape to do anything about it.”

The turning point came after another boozy evening when he fell through the door, sat on the edge of his bath and had a conversation with his late dad. The old school mentality that had served him so well in his football career came in to play again, to help turn around his life.

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“I was brought up in a time when you were told to get up and get on with it,” the former Sheffield United midfielder said.

“But times were hard, at my lowest point. I was living on my own and at times, I thought: ‘What’s going to go on here?’

“I did a bit of gambling, which is no secret. I did plenty of drinking, which is no secret either.

Mark Patterson has a shot blocked for Sheffield United against Crewe

“I just said to myself: ‘This can’t carry on’ and I turned back into football mode. It was nowhere near as enjoyable as when I used to go into training every day, but I had to get back into that sort of mentality.

“It was that old school attitude. Get out there, get yourself sorted out. Do a good day’s graft, get out there and do something about your situation. It’s the easiest thing in the world to stay in the house and wallow in your own tears. I was skint for many years. But I couldn’t make any excuses, and things came right for me. They turned around full circle.”

These days Patterson is a landscape gardener back in his native Darwen, Blackburn, and keeps a keen eye on the results of his former clubs – including the Blades. His time at Bramall Lane, having been brought to Yorkshire by Howard Kendall, is featured extensively in his new autobiography – fittingly titled Old School.

Mark Patterson battling for possession with Walsall's Dean Keates in his Sheffield United days

“The reaction to the book has been fantastic,” he told The Star in a break from the day job, where he works with his son Scott.

“I’ve always been the sort of person not to hide anything. I didn’t want it to be a book of statistics or ‘I’ve done this and that’. I wanted it to be the story of my life and I’ve been completely honest about the highs and the lows.

“I’m not the only person out there who’s gone through hard times. I just wanted to be as honest as possible, and thankfully that’s how it’s come across.”

Patterson came through the ranks at hometown club Blackburn Rovers, embarking on a tour of Lancashire with Preston North End, Bury and Bolton Wanderers before linking up again with Kendall, the man who gave him his professional bow at Ewood Park, at Bramall Lane in 1995.

Mark Patterson now works as a landscape gardner with his son, Scott

“It was a great move for me,” Patterson said. “Under a great manager at the biggest club I played for in my career.

“I was just myself. I worked hard and always believed in putting the effort in to earn an honest crust, and I think the Blades fans took to me because of that. I wasn’t the best player in the world, but I always gave 110 per cent. And as long as anyone does that, in front of those fans, I think they’ll be exactly fine.

“That’s what I was brought up to do, right from being a kid. My dad used to work all hours God sent and my mum worked in the Co-Op to help put food on the table.

“Irrespective of what type of lifestyle you have and what money you’re earning, there’s no excuse to not go out and give your everything.”

No-one could ever accuse Patterson of not working hard, and he wasn’t shy of playing hard either. One of the best Blades stories in his book concerns an FA Cup tie against Aston Villa at Bramall Lane, which he and teammates were convinced would be snowed off.

Sheffield United's Mark Patterson closed out by Dele Adebola , left

Staying overnight in a Sheffield hotel, they drank the hotel bar almost dry but woke up in the morning to news that a herculean effort from groundstaff meant the game would be played after all. Dwight Yorke scored the winner from the penalty spot and any chance of hiding the episode from Kendall were dashed when he called the players into his office and produced a copy of their £200 bar bill.

“Lagers, Guinness, wine, meals, cigars and vermouths…” Kendall began. “Vermouths… what the f*** is vermouth?” It turned out that an older gentleman who had also been in the bar was a director of the club.

“I don’t think I’ve covered as many miles on a football pitch as I did for the rest of that season,” Patterson said. Kendall kept the whole thing quiet from the media, fining each player and putting the money towards a night for the squad, at which Patterson remembers centre-half Dougie Hodgson – a kickboxer back in Australia – flooring goalkeeper Simon Tracey, who returned from his car with a nine-iron in an attempt to exact his revenge.

“Howard making me the captain was something else,” Patterson said. “To lead Sheffield United, such a big club, would be a privilege for anyone and I wore that armband with a great deal of pride.

“No-one could blame Howard for returning to Everton when he got the chance but if he stayed, I do believe he’d have took United into the Premier League.

“He brought me to United to do a job and I really enjoyed it. I grew up in an era where your teammates would go over the top in a tackle in training and put you in your place, and you were encouraged to kick them back.

“I had enough about me to adapt, I could do a bit on the ball. If I only had one or the other, I’d have probably finished my career by the time I was 28!

“Football has turned completely on its head now. When I played in the 1980s, people talked about the old school of the 1960s and we had more televised games, so it wasn’t as brutal as it would have been before.

“When I played, if someone kicked you, you made sure you gave them one back. It sometimes kicked off in the tunnel. We were more educated in food and diets in the 1990s. We cut down on drinking, I even stopped smoking!

“Now, everything’s done for players. I watch Manchester City, for example, and I appreciate what they are doing; keep the ball, 30 passes and then a bit of magic to score.

“If I played now the money would be great, obviously. But I played for 19 years, earning good money in the last four, and to me it’s about the stories I can tell and the memories we made.

“The camaraderie, the holidays to Magaluf when we got smashed and no-one gave a monkey’s or even knew who we were. Kids now will have all this money when they retire but they won’t be able to tell anything like the stories we have.

“They’ll have a bit of banter here and there with their mates but they wouldn’t get away with that we did.

“And with that in mind, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Old School, by Mark Patterson with Kevin O’Hara, is published by Vertical Editions, £11.99. Available at and all good book stores.

Sheffield United's Mark Patterson makes a crunching tackle on Chris Bart-Williams