Revealed: Why Sheffield United's Premier League exploits are capturing hearts and minds in Ukraine

Six months ago, when Lys Mousset scored Sheffield United’s equalising goal during their draw at West Ham, three sides of the London Stadium fell silent.

Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 6:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 6:31 pm

But around a thousand miles away, as the ball reached the back of Roberto Jiminez’s net, a small bar located in the suburbs of Lutsk erupted as its regulars celebrated the finish with an expat from England.

It was the moment, Adam Pate explains, an unofficial Blades supporters club in western Ukraine came into being.

“One of my favourite results this season has to be the one we got there because of what happened,” Pate, a United fan now living in the country smiles as he recollects the memory. “I was in the city and walked into a local bar near the stadium there. I knew the match was on television and so the owner agreed to put it on. We had the entire pub cheering on the lads for the whole game.”

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Pate, aged 39, has been based in Ukraine for a decade after accepting a teaching post in the capital Kiev. But his real passion is football so, after packing up his belongings and deciding to head east, he embarked upon a mission to learn more about the country by travelling its length and breath attending games and meeting fans. Pate chronicles his journeys on ukrfut24.com; a website containing pictures and videos captured en route to some of Ukraine’s most famous sporting outposts and plenty of its lesser known ones too.

Together with his partner Natasha, Pate also uses the trips to spread the message about United; carrying a flag, emblazoned with their logo, on all of their adventures. The sight of it being raised aloft at grounds seldom visited by tourists has led to some intriguing conversations with fellow spectators, many of whom, Pate acknowledges, are already aware of the achievements of Chris Wilder and his squad. Indeed, with The Star recently reporting how a group of Russian supporters have adopted United as ‘their club’, he believes they reveal why United’s exploits resonate so deeply with audiences in the region.

“I think we appeal to them because of the traditional community model our club represents,” Pate says. “We’re known as one that hasn’t spent much money, has a small budget compared to the others in the division we’re in, but is consistently punching above its weight if you like.

“Wilder is a United fan and a local boy done good. The same goes for our captain Billy Sharp. It’s the sort of story that many followers of clubs across Ukraine wish to emulate. You have to remember that the league here has only been won by two teams - Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk - since 1992, so supporters of all the other teams need to cling to the hope that, one day, the good times will come to them as well.”

Adam Pate says Sheffield United are loved by Ukranians because of the club's community values

It was a meeting with fans of one success starved club - Veres Rivne - which reminded Pate how United’s climb from the third to the first tier of English football in only three short seasons has been an inspiration not only for many teams from these shores but also overseas.

“As with some of the smaller teams in the UK, there’s a club over here that’s run in a similar vein to a football trust,” he explains. “They’re called Veres Rivne and they had a number of bad experiences with businessmen in the past where supporters were even assaulted by the personal security of the chairman.

“After a scandal in 2018 (when it was decided Veres should merge with Lviv) that almost saw the club go out of existence, the supporters established a new one and swore never to put their club at risk again, so they took it over themselves.

“The fans there pay an annual membership towards the costs of the club and take representative places on the board.”

Sheffield United fan Adam Pate enjoys meeting fans from Ukraine when he travels to watch matches in the country

“They receive a lot of support and backing from Union Berlin, who have just made it back to the Bundesliga in Germany, and after my first trip there they took a real shine to the Blades and are eager to build bonds with supporters’ groups back home. They differ from the Ultras as they take an active role in the day to day running of the club.”

Pate’s experiences in Rivne proved the catalyst for his internet project and convinced him to shout even louder about United’s achievements.

“After out first trip there, to Rivne, we were inspired to visit as much of Ukraine as possible to share the Blades’ story. I made my St George’s flag with Kyiv Blades labelled on it, for the 2018 World Cup and I take it to as many games as I possibly can.

“Most of the clubs we visit have very little money and are happy to get publicity so the coaches and press officers have been happy to spend time with us prior to the match and to share their own stories.

Adam Pate (second right) is spreading the message about Sheffield United in Ukraine

“We wanted to find the unique stories around the country and to document the story of football in the country outside of the big two; Dynamo and Shakhtar. It’s been brilliant and we’ve met so many warm hearted people as we make our way around. They all love hearing about the Blades, if they don’t already know what’s going on, as well. In fact, what happened in that bar in Lutsk really showed me how we, United, have stepped up to the next level now and how we’re constantly being talked about over here. Like I said, I think people love what we stand for.

It was exactly that sense of militancy, the desire to overcome the odds and refuse to be cowed by the establishment, which sparked Pate’s love affair with United.

“It all started back in the Nineties, when Harry Bassett was in charge,” Pate, who hails from the Midlands, says. “I loved hearing all the stories of this team that were rubbing the elite up the wrong way.

“I hadn’t actually been to see us play live until my dad, an Aston Villa fan, took me to Villa Park to watch the Blades and I was in awe of Glyn Hodges.

“It was 1994 when I made my first trip to Bramall Lane for a game against Barnsley on a Sunday afternoon. That was actually my first trip to Sheffield, as a 14 year old, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Pate now watches United on television rather than in the flesh as fixtures from England’s top-flight are beamed, until the season was mothballed due to coronavirus, across Ukraine.

Adam Pate's Sheffield United flag, which he takes with him on his travels across Ukraine

“Being overseas I rely on TV for my viewing these days and I-Follow streaming has been a real pleasure over the last few years too,” he says. “I was able to see pretty much every game in the Championship as well. I’ll never forget the Bouncing Day win over Sheffield Wednesday, Basham’s goal (against Leeds) and more personally for me, the 4-1 win over Villa. They’re my stand out memories over the past few years.”

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