Sheffield Wednesday: ‘Ben Heneghan Day’, extras on the astroturf and dark days at Sheffield United
On September 22 each year, a little corner of Cheshire joins online in celebration of Ben Heneghan.
Fear not, it’s not a cultish candle-lit ceremony. Rather a case of the message boards and social media hashtags attached to Chester Football Club lighting up in memory of one of the club’s fondest recent memories. In Chester, September 22 is ‘Ben Heneghan Day’.
The day was born in 2014 and the ball had been hit deep from left-back. It was injury time and the score was 1-1, with the Blues having levelled up Wrexham’s early opener.
Live on BT Sport, Sheffield Wednesday’s new defender waited under the cross for what seemed an eternity. And with the calmness no gangly 20-year-old right-back should possess, he volleyed into the corner of the net with the side of his foot.
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Pandemonium. Chester and Wrexham might not gather the same crowd or attract the headlines as a Sheffield derby, but the passion is the same. To Chester fans, Ben Heneghan is perhaps the ultimate cult hero.
“The ball came over and I could see Ben was up there,” laughed Jon Worsnop, Chester’s goalkeeper on the day. “I just thought 'what on earth is he doing?' and I was screaming and screaming for him to get back!
“It was a hell of a finish and to be honest I think that moment made Ben Heneghan. It was a big moment for all of us and the club, a derby like that and it was live on BT Sport. They still celebrate the anniversary of it all now.
“He was always a quietly confident lad but I always felt he really kicked on after that.”
Chester was and still is a modest fan-run club that had been built back up from the ashes of Chester City. Operating in the National League at that stage, things were very hand-to-mouth and the signing of a quiet, beanpole young defender recently released from the academy at Stoke City was seen as something of a coup.
Former Rotherham United captain Ian Sharps played alongside Heneghan in the defender’s second and final season at the Deva Stadium and remembered a quiet but determined defensive partner that would happily collect the balls at the end of training sessions and tidy the changing rooms after matches.
Together with a tricky winger called Sean McConville, now at Accrington Stanley and one of only two players to claim more League One assists than Barry Bannan last season, he spent extra time in the gym preparing himself for the full-time opportunity he knew would arrive.
“We were one of the lower teams in the league in terms of budget but we played attractive football,” Sharps said, claiming Heneghan’s size and build belies a player who can play with the ball at feet.
“It was a fan-run club so the only money going in was what the fans could sort out in terms of sponsorship, season tickets and stuff. There were no big backers.
“We didn't have a training ground. We'd use the astroturf at the university and just made do with what we could really.
“Ben is a humble guy who worked hard and didn't shirk anything, he got his head down and did all the jobs we shared and was the opposite of a big-time charlie. He did what he needed to do.”
Worsnop, who incidentally took time out of his own stag do in Marbella to pay testament to a player he still calls a good friend, believes Heneghan’s Wednesday opportunity that could have come much quicker for him.
A successful switch to Scottish Premiership side Motherwell followed his two years at Chester before he made the move to Sheffield United in 2017.
The move seemed doomed early on when Blades boss Chris Wilder gave a bizarre, ill-tempered interview in which he admitted Heneghan was way down on his list of targets and he had ‘taken a punt on him’. He played only one cup match for United.
“He left Stoke and turned up to training one day,” Worsnop said. “He had loads, and I mean loads, of ability to the point I was thinking 'what is he doing here?', he was far too good for us. He was always going to do something.
“He's a great pupil and he understands the game. Wednesday have got an unbelievable player, he's fast, he's strong, he can head the ball, he can play.
“He goes under the radar a bit in the changing room sometimes, he's not the most vocal but he's tough. He knows what he is and that's how he gets about things.
“He's the ultimate professional and he trains as he plays; if there's a 50/50, there's a 50/50. It doesn't matter if it's the FA Cup final or training, he'll clear you out if the ball is there.
“When he signed for United I thought that would be his big move and he'd go on from there, but Wilder never really gave him a chance and for whatever reason his face didn't fit. I think he's been very unlucky. Football can be like that sometimes.”
Time as an ever-present at Blackpool and AFC Wimbledon followed and now 28, he looks set to play a big part for Darren Moore’s Owls this season.
Back in the city that took him to his lowest point in football, Heneghan is philosophical about his time at Bramall Lane, though there’s clearly still a bruise or two there.
“It has been some journey to be fair,” Heneghan told The Star on his football story earlier this week. “You learn something new at every club, experiencing how to deal with certain things.
“I’ve enjoyed most places I have been, obviously not playing much at Sheffield United but that time’s gone now.”
A Blades-sinking ‘Ben Heneghan Day’ celebrated across the blue side of Sheffield some day in the future? He’d fancy that, you’d think.
He’s got form in derbies, after all.