'Proof that dreams come true' - Regan Slater's dad remembers day his son made Sheffield United history

Regan Slater will write the next chapter of his formative career story at Hull City after agreeing a season-long loan deal with the League One side.
Chris Wilder with Regan Slater after victory at Ipswich: Simon Bellis/SportimageChris Wilder with Regan Slater after victory at Ipswich: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Chris Wilder with Regan Slater after victory at Ipswich: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Hull boss Grant McCann noted that the combative midfielder has a lot of admirers at Sheffield United and wherever his career takes him, will always be remembered for his thumping challenge that sent Ipswich's Bersant Celina flying a few years ago.

In a game that saw Nathan Thomas saw a stunning goal from about 30 yards out, Slater's tackle was the highlight for boss Chris Wilder.

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But, for Dan Slater, one moment of his son's career stands out - a Checkatrade Trophy group stage game, back in 2016.

"It's not a game many will remember," he admits. "But what happened in the 53rd minute will forever be the most memorable moment I will ever have of football."

Slater made his United debut in a young side that evening - United were later fined for playing too many junior players, in a competition ostensibly designed to promote youth - alongside names like David Brooks, Jordan Hallam and Ben Whiteman, who have gone on to play football elsewhere in the EFL.

"It was the most nervous I have ever been at a game," Dan, who works in the prison service, remembers.

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"It was more than just a Checkatrade game - in my world, it was a test. To see whether it was the start of a professional career, or the realisation that dreams don’t actually come true.

"When Regan plays, I don't watch the game. I end up watching him, whether he has the ball or not. Is he in the right position, or should he have driven forward or gone in harder.

"At half-time United were losing 1-0 and over a beer, I hoped he would have done enough to not get dragged. He didn't, and then a ball broke free at the edge of the box, about 20 yards out.

"Regan hit the ball low, and beat the 'keeper to his left. The realisation of what had just happened kicked in. 'He's only gone and scored on his debut'.

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"It was pride, elation and joy all rolled into one. I'd like to think I'm a pretty strong person - you have to be in my job - but that was me done. I couldn't stop the tears rolling down my face.

Regan SlaterRegan Slater
Regan Slater

"It was the first time my partner, Shaz, has ever seen me cry. But she knew how much it meant to me and has also had to suffer all the travelling and the time that went into making that 53rd minute at Blundell Park."

United went on to win 4-2, with an own-goal, Jack O'Connell and Leon Clarke adding to Slater's goal which made him the youngest scorer in the club's history, and Shaz had to drive home from Grimsby while Dan answered the texts and calls that were flooding in, as well as speaking to his son.

Slater, who was a United mascot as a youngster and was pictured sitting on his future teammate Phil Jagielka's knee, was heavily involved in pre-season earlier this year and could even have made his Premier League debut last campaign, before red-tape prevented him from taking his place on the bench against Tottenham Hotspur at Bramall Lane.

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A heavily-depleted United could only name seven of their nine allotted substitutes, and Wilder wanted Slater on the bench. But because his loan spell at Scunthorpe had been a season-long one, he was prevented from doing so - despite the fact that Scunthorpe's season had been cut short by the coronavirus crisis four months earlier.

Regan Slater of Sheffield Utd (c) celebrates his goal during the Checkatrade Trophy match at Blundell Park Stadium, Grimsby. Picture date: November 9th, 2016. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage Regan Slater of Sheffield Utd (c) celebrates his goal during the Checkatrade Trophy match at Blundell Park Stadium, Grimsby. Picture date: November 9th, 2016. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Regan Slater of Sheffield Utd (c) celebrates his goal during the Checkatrade Trophy match at Blundell Park Stadium, Grimsby. Picture date: November 9th, 2016. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"At Grimsby, Chris stopped him before he got back on the bus to congratulate him for his night's work," Dan added.

"But Del Geary, Regan's U18s coach at the time, made sure he didn't get carried away. After every game the players normally get the next day off, and I don't think Regan was expecting Del's reply: 'F*** me, you've played one game for the first team... I'll see you in the morning at 8.30am, We're playing Bolton's U18s at Shirecliffe on Saturday!'

"Loads of people ask me what it's like to see your son wear the shirt of the club you support, and the only way I can describe it is like watching 'When Saturday Comes' through the eyes of a parent.

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"You kick every ball, feel every challenge. You enjoy all the highs but also feel all the lows, without actually kicking a ball or pulling on a shirt yourself.

"Since Regan got involved with United at the age of six, I spent evenings and weekends travelling up and down the country, watching United academy sides. I saw him score a hat-trick at the City Ground and walk off the pitch at Middlewood in tears after losing an academy derby to Wednesday for the first time in six years.

"He's had to get permission from his headmaster to have an afternoon off school to play for United's U23s at Hillsborough, and been at St George's Park to listen to an induction by Gareth Southgate when he was the head of youth football.

Star Birthdays - Regan SlaterStar Birthdays - Regan Slater
Star Birthdays - Regan Slater

"I've kicked and headed every ball during that time. I can't say I've made every challenge with him, mind you, as he's far braver than me!

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"I'm his biggest fan, but also his biggest critic. I'm allowed that, being his dad. Although dads are supposed to be their sons' hero, not the other way around.

"Wednesday, November 9, 2016, and the 53rd minute at Blundell Park, is proof that dreams do come true. Mine did, anyway."