Preston North End's Ben Whiteman reveals soft spot for Sheffield United after Boxing Day reunion with old club scuppered by Covid-19 postponement

Ben Whiteman has been robbed of another reunion with Sheffield United on Boxing Day – but admits he still has a soft spot for the club where he made his professional breakthrough.

Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 4:30 pm

Whiteman, now of Preston North End, was scheduled to go head-to-head with the Blades on Sunday - before the game was postponed after a number of positive Covid-19 cases and injuries left Ryan Lowe unable to field a side.

Now 25, Whiteman came through United’s academy after being released by Manchester United as a teenager and later moved to Doncaster Rovers, who received around £1.5m plus add-ons when he moved to Deepdale in January.

“I was obviously just a young lad so I wouldn’t say I was a big part of the [United] team on the pitch, but off the pitch I got on with a lot of people there,” Whiteman, who made the majority of his appearance for the Blades during Nigel Adkins’ disastrous season when the Blades finished 11th in League One, remembered.

“But on the pitch, I didn’t really contribute anything. When I made my debut for Sheffield United, it was kind of a bad time for the football club. It wasn’t in the best place, and then Chris [Wilder] came in after that and the rest is history.

“It’s just another team to me now. If I had been there for another few years and played X amount of games for them, then I’d probably feel different.

“But they gave me my chance in football with my first professional deal so I do have a soft spot for them.”

Ben Whiteman during his time at Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Whiteman has played over 40 times for North End since making the move in January and spoke to Preston’s matchday programme about his early days at Bramall Lane after being released by their Manchester namesakes.

“It was tough,” he admitted. “Just on the basis that you’re 15 or 16 having to move away from home to a different city.

“It was just completely different to what I’d been used to. I like my home comforts so looking back now it was a huge change to my life, moving into someone else’s house in digs.

Morgan Gibbs-White of Sheffield United in action against Preston North End's former Blade Ben Whiteman earlier this season: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“I think I found that tough at the start, but it’s probably one of the best times I’ve had in terms of being with lads the same age as me, bonding and coming from similar backgrounds.

“Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a year younger than me, so was Aaron Ramsdale. Otis Khan, who’s at Walsall, was there as well.

“It was a talented group and I think the way Sheffield United did it was right. They got lads there who were released from the likes of Man United, Liverpool, Everton, and put them into the youth team there.

“I really enjoyed it, it was a big learning curve in terms of moving away and standing on my own two feet.”

In a statement confirming that the Boxing Day game had been postponed, North End apologised to both sets of supporters. Under EFL rules, a new date for the game to be replayed must be agreed within seven days.