DAVE Kitson has been labelled a thinking man’s footballer, writes James Shield. Equally comfortable discussing current affairs as the benefits of the diamond system versus 4-4-2.
But Kitson, who barring injury or illness will spearhead Sheffield United’s attack at Tranmere Rovers in 48 hours time, told The Star last night he is ready to get his hands dirty in the battle for promotion.
And why, having started-out on the very bottom rung of England’s footballing ladder, the League One club’s gruelling end to the season holds absolutely no fear.
“My old team, Arlesey Town, have always been known for having a huge pile-up of games,” Kitson said. “I didn’t take a conventional route through the system because I came up through non-league and, in non-league, it’s all about just getting the game on no matter what.
“So, to be honest, although it’s far from ideal what we are facing now is nothing new.
“Arlesey’s pitch was never the best back then. When I left I still used to watch them when I could and one night the fixture was called-off so I ended-up helping to spread sand across it.
“I’ve got a lot of sympathy with groundstaff, especially at this time of year, because I’ve seen first hand what they are up against.”
United host Carlisle three days after their visit to Prenton Park before embarking upon a punishing schedule which sees them play six games in less than three weeks following next month’s outing at Walsall.
Kitson, who represented Cambridge United, Reading, Stoke City and Portsmouth before arriving at Bramall Lane, has scored 10 goals in 24 starts since signing a short-term contract with Danny Wilson’s side.
Sixth in the table following the postponement of last Saturday’s match with Brentford, the Hertfordshire born centre-forward will be a key figure in United’s attempt to overhaul the two gap separating them from second-placed Swindon Town during the remaining nine fixtures of the campaign.
Had best friend Lee Devereux not persuaded a teenage Kitson to spend his Sunday mornings playing for their local pub team, however, the 33-year-old might now be traversing the Far East rather than grounds such as the Bescot Stadium and Fratton Park.
“I used to play for a pub team called Arena Tavern,” Kitson said. “I ended-up there because my mate, who I worked at Sainsbury’s with, turned-out for them and he kept nagging me to get involved which I eventually did.
“Looking back, pretty much everything went from there because I though to myself: ‘Do you know what? You’re actually quite good at this.’
“At the time, though, we were saving up to have a gap year even though neither of us were at university. We wanted to go travelling and, if things had turned out differently, I can imagine myself still doing that now.
“It’s something that still appeals. Just visiting different parts of the world, areas that you probably wouldn’t usually go to and seeing what is there.”
“I’m someone who plays football rather than a footballer,” Kitson added. “I have other interests away from the game but people shouldn’t mistake that for a lack of a commitment or burning desire to succeed because nothing could be further from the truth.”
Kitson hails from Hitchin which, despite boasting a population of just over 30,000 people, has produced a disproportionate number of professional footballers.
“I think there are reasons for that,” he said. “Hitchin is in quite close proximity to London and, if you look its history, there are lots of estates because that’s where the government of the time was building houses for people to live.
“Kids on those estates, or anywhere else for that matter, play football. Be it in the street or on a piece of grass that’s just what you do.
“So that’s why I think so many footballers have come out of Hitchin. Because of its sociology and development as much as anything else.”
Kitson, who recently revealed joining United had seen him “fall back in love with the game,” is confident about their ability to reach the Championship.
“We’ve got the characters and ability here to do it,” he said. “There are always obstacles put in your way but it’s about how you respond.”