Sheffield United: Why A Russian love affair should make every Blade feel so proud
It was on the way home from Cardiff City when Yaroslav Matveev’s mobile telephone pinged, reminding him that Monday’s visit to Bramall Lane will be a landmark moment.
The Russian, who has fallen in love with Sheffield United since moving to England to study, realised last weekend’s game in the Welsh capital was his 49th watching The Blades. So, after reserving a seat for their meeting with Queens Park Rangers, he is preparing to complete a half century of United matches.
“I didn’t realise it until we were travelling back,” said Matveev, whose relationship with United has previously been chronicled by The Star. “But I’ve got an app where I log all of the ones I’ve been to and it flashed up that I only had one more to go to reach 50.”
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Originally from Moscow and a CSKA supporter back home, the reasons why Matveev has fallen for United should fill everyone at the club with pride. The 20-year-old, who provides content chronicling its fortunes for a Eurasian social media site, admits witnessing United’s climb into the Premier League under former manager Chris Wilder helped pique his interest. But it is the people, both on the pitch and in the stands, which persuaded him to keep on coming back. Particularly now United have been relegated from the top-flight.
“The Moscow teams, without being disrespectful, they might be bigger than us,” Matveev explains. “But when you go to them, and lots of other places in the game, everyone is in their own bubble and nobody ever really speaks.
“Here, I’ve made so many friends and so many acquaintances, it’s just different. That’s what makes United special.”
Highlighting their victory over Leeds two years ago en route to promotion from the Championship as a personal highlight - “When we scored, I was hugging strangers and the bus back to Sheffield, well, let’s just say it was very happy” - Matveev continued: “The other thing that stands out for me is how the players are with us fans. I know there are restrictions because of Covid now but they always stop for a chat.
“I remember watching Oli McBurnie a while back stand chatting to a family for ages in the car park afterwards. Seeing that, it makes you know what United is all about. I don’t think I could ever imagine that happening at CSKA or any of the other big teams in Russia.
“But that is what makes United special. That togetherness and everyone being in it as one.”
United are preparing for their clash with QPR in 10th; winning all of their last three outings, including two under Heckingbottom, who replaced Slavisa Jokanovic at the helm last month.
“There’s been some brilliant times recently and some not so good times,” Matveev admitted. “Hopefully we are going to be set for some more good ones soon. But the ups and downs, that’s what being a football fan is all about. Especially at United, where it’s all about the people and the group.”