It is a pleasure to welcome Thomas Carter (@ThomasCarter83) to the pages of A United View to summarise why former A United View interviewee Alan Kelly was his favourite Blade.
To put it mildly the mid to late 90s were turbulent times for Sheffield United. We’ve had F.A. Cup semi-finals, last second relegation, linesmen getting chinned, the play-offs, chairmen wanted by Interpol and one of our finest centre-forward partnerships being sold off for peanuts on the same day, to name but a few examples. After the departure of Dave Bassett in 1995 the managerial revolving door was in full rotation with more false dawns than a French and Saunders themed fancy dress party.
Against this background of instability two of the few constants within the club were the goalkeepers, Simon Tracey and Alan Kelly. Looking back on that time, and bearing in mind some of the ‘keepers we’ve seen at the Lane over the past two seasons it is amazing to think we were able to keep 2 keepers of that calibre on the books for so long.
As a youth of about 10-11, I fancied myself as a bit of a keeper and at the time Alan Kelly was the first choice at the Lane. Therefore he was quickly established as my favourite player. Simon Tracey’s displays in the promotion winning side of 89/90 were a bit before my time as a Blade. I remember breaking my arm playing in goal and I managed to get Alan to sign my pot. Being able to carry his autograph around on my arm for all to see went some way to atone for not being able to play football for 6 weeks.
Alan signed for the Blades from Preston NE in 1992, coming from good goalkeeping stock. His father was one of Preston’s greatest ever players, with his image now adorning a stand at Deepdale. His brother, Gary, also had a decent career in the game and even turned out for the Blades in the closing stages of 02/03.
There will always be debate amongst Blades fans about who was the better ‘keeper but for my money Alan Kelly just shades it, mainly for the great F.A. cup nights at Bramall Lane in replays against Blackburn and Coventry. The latter game on St Patricks day 1997 saw him carried aloft from the pitch by Unitedites following a hat-trick of penalty saves, not to mention a Gordon Banks-esque effort (as Radio Sheffield put it) in the first game at Highfield Road, to put the Blades into the semi-final at the expense of Premiership Coventry City.
For many Blades, myself included it was his commitment to the cause that endeared him to the supporters. An iconic image of the great man was him hobbling off the pitch after the play-off second leg away at Ipswich in ’97, with his left leg strapped up and probably more needle marks on his arm than Pete Doherty, from all the painkilling injections in Alan’s case, as the Blades dragged themselves into the play-off final.
He was linked with numerous moves to Premiership sides but chose to remain at Bramall Lane right up until the chaotic final days of Mike McDonald’s reign. His final game, a pre season friendly with Chelsea, was characterised by chants from the Kop begging him not to leave for a proposed move to Aberdeen.
He eventually left for Blackburn Rovers in the summer on 1999 after 7 years battling with Simon Tracey for the keeper’s jersey. He did however, have one final gift for Unitedites; turning down flat a move to our vile neighbours a couple of years later. His reason – “once a Blade, always a Blade”.
Alan can be followed on twitter at @keepingskills