Paddy Kenny remembers infamous rumble in tunnel clash between Sheffield United and Millwall
It speaks volumes about the madness of Sheffield United’s visit to Millwall in December 2014 that the most bizarre occurrence of the evening was not the fact that defender Phil Jagielka played in goal for 45 minutes, or that right-back Del Geary smashed home the winner on the volley for his one and only senior goal.
Instead, it was a half-time flashpoint in the narrow tunnel at The Den that is the abiding memory of a game that United won 2-1, and was captured so beautifully on the Warnock documentary following the fortunate of United’s then-manager, Neil and will be revisited this week ahead of the Blades’ latest meeting with Millwall this evening at Bramall Lane.
After the game in 2004, Warnock half-consoled Millwall’s crestfallen players – including a future Blade in Paul Ifill – with a handshake and the insistence that their late heartbreak “serves them right for Muscat”. It is a phrase that has entered United folklore, and stems from the infamous half-time fracas involving the Australian Kevin Muscat and Blades goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny.
“Muscat liked to try and prove himself as Millwall’s ‘hard man’ and had smashed a couple of our younger players in the first half,” Kenny remembered in his autobiography The Gloves Are Off, published last year.
“As we walked off at half-time, he was just in front of me. I told him to smash someone his own age. He turned around to look at me and, out of nowhere, headbutted me. As you can imagine, it took me a little by surprise. Then I regained my bearings and went for him.
“By now we were in the tunnel and all hell had broken loose. I was trying to get at Muscat, he was trying to get at me and Danny Dichio, who was in a suit because he wasn’t even on the bench, was hitting me over the head, from behind, with a Lucozade bottle. That was brave of him.
“Andy Leaning, our goalkeeping coach, tried to control me by pinning my arms behind my back, so I couldn’t even defend myself against Muscat, Dichio’s plastic bottle or whoever else was involved. All I had done was defend the young lads in our team!
“In hindsight I should have been the bigger man and walked away. But I was ‘in the moment’ and anyway, if someone headbutts you out of the blue I think it is a natural human reaction to stand your ground and try and give some back.
“The tunnel at Millwall isn’t the biggest, and I think the cameras only caught the aftermath of everything that went on. In the middle of it, it was carnage.”
Geary the hero of the hour
Warnock initially praised his players for sticking together after finding out what had gone on, but Kenny remembers him changing his tune when the referee knocked on the away dressing room door to send off his goalkeeper. Muscat also saw red for his part in the melee.
Kenny watched the second half on television with defender Rob Kozluk and goalkeeper Phil Barnes, who wasn’t named on the bench, as defender Jagielka took the gloves for the second 45 minutes.
He was beaten 13 minutes into the second half by Mark Phillips, but Andy Liddell equalised before Geary scored a stunning volley in the 84th minute to give United the points.
‘Who needs Paddy?’
“I remember Jags making a really good save from Paul Ifill which kept us in the game,” Kenny added.
“‘Who needs Paddy?’ joked Warnock in the changing room afterwards and my ego was almost as bruised as my eye! We flew straight out to Dublin after the game for our Christmas do, and a few Millwall fans tried to get onto the minibus that was taking us to the airport to get at me.
“I had been headbutted and sent off, and now I had fans trying to fight me because I had tried to defend myself. And I mean ‘tried’. Thanks again, Andy!”
It was not the only time Jagielka was forced to go in goal for the Blades, with Warnock often preferring to put an extra outfield player on his bench and the future England international effectively serving as Kenny’s back-up goalkeeper.
“I think Jags, like many outfield players, looked at us ‘keepers and thought ‘that looks fun’,” Kenny added.
“It might do, until they have to do it and it hurts! To be fair to Jags, he wasn’t bad - he is like that annoying kid at school who is just naturally good at every sport he tries.
“He used to join in with the ‘keepers when we trained a few times, just do 20 minutes here and there of basic handling. He had a little bit about him, to be fair - he could catch it alright, which sure helped.”
‘I knew it was in’
Yesterday, Geary spoke to The Star about his memories of that goal, one of the highlights of a career that was unfortunately cut short by injury after the defender had won over the Blades fans initially sceptical because of his prior association with Sheffield Wednesday.
“To be honest,” Geary added, “I got caught up in everything that was going on and that’s why I thought I’d shoot. So much had been going on, when the ball fell really nicely for me and because my body shape was set up perfect, I just thought: ‘Anything could happen in this game so why not have a pop?’
"The minute I hit it I knew it was going in. I went running over to the fans and I think they appreciated that, they could see how happy I was. So that, for me at least, changed everything.”