His instinct would have been to slip away quietly. No fanfare, no grand gestures and definitely no fuss. But after scrolling through the replies to his message on social media, confirming he would be leaving Sheffield United following four years of service, the softly spoken centre-forward agreed he would accept the club’s invitation to perform a lap of honour around Bramall Lane before the home leg of its play-off against Nottingham Forest.
“Do you know what? I don’t think a lot of people understood what that was actually all about,” says McGoldrick, more than a week after the event. “I got a text message from someone the day before, asking if I’d do it. Normally I’d have replied ‘no’ because I’m not someone who usually goes in for all that. I’m pretty private and stuff like that doesn’t come naturally.
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“But when I read the things people were putting on my account, when I said what I said, I really wanted to do it. Why? Because I actually wanted to say thank you to them for what they’ve given me. So that’s what it was, as far as I’m concerned anyway. It was me showing my appreciation and respect for them. Not the other way around.”
The really touching moments
McGoldrick admits it felt strange and emotional making his final journey to a ground, wearing United colours at least, he now regards as his footballing home. “I actually struggled to sleep the night before, because of the things going around inside my head.” Signed on a free transfer in 2018, after being released by Ipswich Town, its pitch has been the stage for some of his most memorable moments as a professional including reaching the Premier League and then top-flight games against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. But as he prepares to head for pastures new, McGoldrick’s abiding memory of United isn’t the promotion he achieved under Chris Wilder or his first goals at the highest level; which came during a win over the visitors from Stamford Bridge 22 months ago. Instead it’s the people. Both inside the dressing room and also on the terraces. Because United, in McGoldrick’s eyes, are “one big family”.
“That’s how I’d describe it. Definitely. When I turned up to that match against Forest, there were people coming up to speak to me and asking them to sign things. But what genuinely touched me was some of the older generation just wanting to shake my hand, and tell me it wasn’t the goals or anything they really respected. It was how I handled myself and represented their team.”
The family club
McGoldrick has made 510 appearances during a career which began, nearly two decades ago, at Notts County and also includes spells with the likes of Southampton, AFC Bournemouth and Sheffield Wednesday. But listening to him speak, it quickly becomes apparent the 136 he accumulated for United are the most special.
“Lots of clubs say they’re families but really, they aren’t,” McGoldrick says. “Here, it’s different and I’ll give you an example. Usually, when a player leaves, you keep in touch for a couple of months and then that peters out. That’s never happened with us. I’m still in touch with so many of the old lads on a regular basis. Simon Moore, Dean Henderson and Mark Duffy, we all see each other and the families get on great as well. It’s just different, this place. It means everything.”
McGoldrick found out just how different during a difficult period when, before claiming that brace against Chelsea, he went 25 league games without finding the back of the net.
“There was one match, everyone will remember it, at Brighton. Not many strikers get their name sung after rounding the ‘keeper and then missing an empty net. I wanted the ground to swallow me up but the fans started chanting for me and that helped so much. No matter how mentally strong you are, your head would have dropped if people got on your back at that point. So that was something special.”
The finest hour
McGoldrick’s favourite moment with United, however, came a year earlier.
“The two (goals) I got at Hull City, right before we came up out of the Championship, those were special. The Chelsea ones, brilliant as well. But I’m all about the team. Genuinely, I remember beating Arsenal in the Prem that year and I came off feeling just as good, just the same.”
Fittingly for someone who shuns the limelight, McGoldrick’s arrival at United was pretty low key.
“I remember the club were looking at these £4m and £5m players and then it came out we were looking at me on a free. It wasn’t really a trial, more ‘Come in and prove your fitness.’ I got a call off my agent after two days telling me I’d done that. But I was happy to call it a trial because I used it as motivation, to try and prove I was better than the other lads they were thinking about. Then, I went along with the trial bit to motivate others in the same position - let them know what can happen.”
The last of McGoldrick’s 30 goals for United came at Cardiff City in December, before a calf injury ended his campaign and it became apparent his contract was not being renewed.
“I’ll come back as a fan,” he promises. “Chris Basham will be playing until he’s 50 so I can get tickets off him and Billy Sharp will probably have a statue up that he’ll want me to polish.
“It’s strange the best time of my career has come near the end but you can’t always write your own story. I’ll always look out for United’s results and this will always be my club going forward. It means everything to me.”