"So much love for Dem Blades" - Former goalkeeper Paddy Kenny lauded on a night of celebration for Sheffield United at Doncaster Rovers
As Paddy Kenny filtered into Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium last night, it didn’t take long for him to be recognised and asked for a selfie by an excited Sheffield United fan.
Word soon spread that he was at the game and after kick-off, it didn’t take long at all for a couple of chants to be sung in his direction. This time they weren’t ‘Judas’, or worse, as they were when he returned to Bramall Lane with QPR and was roundly abused by fans hurt by his departure in 2010.
Time is a great healer, and Kenny finally revealing the truth about that move in his autobiography probably helped too. He retains a huge affinity with the Blades, the club he represented with distinction after a bargain move from Bury. “So much love for Dem Blades,” Kenny tweeted later that night. It was certainly reciprocated at the Keepmoat.
This was a night of celebration, and not just because United breezed past their opponents 4-0. For the first time in 17 months, a packed end of Blades fans greeted their heroes as they emerged from the tunnel; the first rendition of the Greasy Chip Butty song from an away end in far, far too long was spine-tingling.
“We can’t wait to have them back at Bramall Lane,” Luke Freeman, who scored the fourth goal after bundling the ball home in front of the packed away end, told The Star.
“I’ve played for and against Sheffield United enough times to know what a rocking place Bramall Lane can be when they’re all in.
“I played there in League One, in the Championship with QPR and in the Premier League as well, and I know how brilliant the fans can be for us. So we can’t wait to get them back in.”
Slavisa Jokanović, the new Blades manager, echoed Freeman’s sentiments, although it remains to be seen if they will get their wish this weekend after the planned friendly with Norwich City at Bramall Lane was called off due to some positive Covid-19 tests in the visiting camp.
United are searching for an alternative opponent to round off their truncated pre-season campaign, which has also seen them hit by Covid-19 precautions. But the day of a return to S2 is only getting closer and the sight and sound of a packed away end at the Keepmoat only whetted the appetite for the season opener against Birmingham City at Bramall Lane – when the famous old ground will welcome a decent crowd for the first time since last March.
Back then, before the pandemic hit and life as we knew it changed, United were riding high in the Premier League and even mounting an unlikely push for Europe. So much has changed in the 17 months since. A new manager, a new division. Soon, Jokanović hopes, some new players.
But as last night showed, these supporters’ love for their club remains undimmed - no matter what. And absence has certainly made the heart grow fonder.