ELLIOTT WHITEHOUSE, CALLUM McFADZEAN AND JOE IRONSIDE ARE THE LATEST YOUNG PLAYERS TO EARN THEIR FIRST TEAM SPURS AT BRAMALL LANE AFTER GRADUATING FROM THE CLUB’S REDTOOTH ACADEMY.
IN THEIR FIRST MAJOR INTERVIEW, THE STAR’S SHEFFIELD UNITED CORRESPONDENT JAMES SHIELD DISCUSSES NEXT SEASON AND THE CHALLENGES WHICH CONFRONT UP-AND-COMING PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLERS WITH THIS TALENTED TRIO.
James Shield: Last term, you were all pitched straight into the heart of a promotion battle. But, from a personal perspective, would you say the forthcoming campaign is the most important of your careers?
Callum McFadzean: Yes, definitely. We had nothing to lose back then and, to be honest, people probably didn’t expect too much of us back then either. We were seen as youngsters coming into the side and allowances are made for you a little bit because you’re learning. But this time around it’s going to be different.
Joe Ironside: Definitely. The challenge facing all of us now, anyone who comes through from the academy and into the first team in fact, is to push on and keep on improving. There aren’t any excuses for us now. Not that we tried to fall back on them last season. But now we’ve got a foot in the door we’ve got to work hard and deliver. You don’t want to let anyone down.
Elliott Whitehouse: We’re training with the first team now. We’ve been involved in pre-season and around the senior players. That means we’ve got to prove our worth. Not only to them but also the management. We’re still at the start of our careers but the big difference now, probably from the first games we played, is that now there are no excuses. People aren’t going to be so easy of we do something wrong. But I don’t think any of us are the type of people who looked for them anyway. And that’s all part of the job.
JS: Your careers are still at the embryonic stage. But you’ve already packed so much into a short space of time. In the past few months you’ve tasted highs, lows, the play-offs and also a change in management.
EW: That’s right. A lot has happened and hopefully that’s going to stand us in good stead for the future. Everything, when results go well and also when they don’t, is all part of the learning process. You go away and think about what’s happened. Think about what you can do better, what you did well and also how you can get better.
CM: It was great to be involved last season. Despite what happened, when we lost in the play-offs, from a personal point of view it does fill you with confidence that people trust you to go out there and do the job. But you can’t afford to relax or think you’ve made it. Because we haven’t. We’ve got to build on what we’ve done and keep pushing on.
JI: It felt terrible not to go up last year. But you remember what that felt like and use it to drive you on. There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve got to draw a line, learn and be ready to go again. I know people say ‘well, you would say that,’ but it’s true. There’s pressure but it’s a good pressure.
JS: How do you cope with that?
JI: Accept that it’s going to be there. But no one can put more pressure on any of us than we do ourselves.
EW: Exactly. When you are a footballer, you are always probably going to be your own worst critic. But as long as you’re sensible about it then there won’t be a problem. And, in any case, it’s much better to be at a club that’s expected to achieve something than, with respect, one that’s not.
JS: Two of you, Joe and Callum, come from footballing backgrounds. Has that been a help or a hindrance? Is it difficult trying to live up to what others in your family have done?
CM: Not at all. It helps. My brother Kyle used to be at United and he plays for Crawley now. He’s been in the same position that I have, trying to establish yourself, and when he comes home he’s always giving me advice. Telling me what to do, what not to do and how to behave off the pitch. I joke with him about it but I really appreciate it. I know he’s doing it because he wants me to do well.
JI: My dad played for Scarborough and Middlesbrough. He was a goalkeeper but the position isn’t important. He knows what to say and what not to say at different times. He knows what I’ll be feeling at certain moments. And, on top of that, he also gives me encouragement and tips.
EW: Nobody in my family has really been into football. So I suppose they were a bit surprised when that’s the path I took. My dad likes his sport though. The most important thing is that they’re there to support me. And that counts for a lot. I can’t thank them enough for that. The first team players here are brilliant too. They’ve been really helpful and supportive.
JI: My dad is more like my best mate to be honest. That’s how I look at it. So when he tells me something, it’s not like he’s trying to coach me. He’s not talking like a coach. He’s my dad.
CM: Just working with the established lads here brings you on a lot. You learn a lot just by watching them. How they handle themselves and the drive they’ve got.
JS: Your dad, Ian, had a range of soft drinks named after him when he played for Scarborough, Joe. Any plans to branch out in that direction?
JI: I was telling these lads about that the other day and they didn’t believe me. It was called ‘Irons Bru.’ So I’m glad you’ve brought that up. But no. I don’t think so. I’m a long way off anything like that yet.
JS: Training with the first-team, being part of the trip to Scotland, must have been invaluable?
EW: What has really struck me is how, when you come in for the first time, the rest of the lads make you feel welcome. Of course, if you ask them about certain things then they’ll give you some good advice. But you also learn so much just by training with them during the week. You see the qualities they’ve got and why they’ve achieved what they have in their careers. It’s that drive really. Drive and focus. Everything they do they commit to fully. So that’s a really good lesson. The example they set and attitude towards their profession.
CM: I’d agree with that. Personally, it does make you feel as if you’re on the right track when you get invited in. But, at the same time, it’s also important to remember that we’ve not achieved anything yet. We’re all still right at the start of our careers and so we’ve got to keep on trying to learn and get better. That’s the attitude the older lads here have got. Even now, they all still want to listen and learn. You can’t stand still.
JS: In 2011, you were all involved in the FA Youth Cup final against Manchester United. Sean McGinty, who moved here in the summer, was part of the opposition that day. That two-legged game must have been invaluable in terms of furthering your footballing knowledge.
CM: It was. To walk out at Bramall Lane in front of a full house was something else. It certainly taught me a lot because of what was at stake and knowing how to handle situations like that. To taste that type of atmosphere, at such a young age, was so important looking back.
EW: Those matches, and also the run to the final itself, were invaluable. Lots of people never get the chance to contest a trophy throughout their entire careers. We did and although we lost over the two legs, it really helped our education. The atmosphere at Bramall Lane as absolutely brilliant that night. And then to be able to play at a ground like Old Trafford too. Well, you can’t buy experience like that. You know Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world and to play against them taught me a lot that I’ve been able to put to good use here as I’ve come through.
JI: It’s strange how Seann has ended up here isn’t it. It’s funny how things work out. We’ve had a bit of a chat about it with him and I’m sure we’ll talk even more with him about it when we get a moment. But it’s really busy at the moment with pre-season and we’re all focusing on that.
JS: Finally, what are your targets for next season?
JI: It’s promotion. That was the target last time and it still is again. A club like Sheffield United is expected to be up there and there’s nothing wrong with that. So we all just want to try and get better. Because, by doing that, we’ll be helping the team.
EW: To get better and to get promotion. Definitely those two. And also to watch the established players here. Pick things up from them and take advice that will help me to improve my game.
CM: To help get this club into the Championship. That’s got to be the main thing. And not just for us. For everyone here. It felt horrible losing in the play-offs last season. Really, really bad. I don’t want to feel that again so I’ll be ‘bottling’ that experience and using it to drive me on.