VIDEO: The inspirations behind Sheffield United keeper George Long's success
The engraved glass trophy George Long received after making his 100th appearance for Sheffield United will take pride of place on the mantelpiece at home.
But, tucked away somewhere inside a chest of drawers, is much more tatty but equally treasured memento which once belonged to the person responsible for inspiring him to become a footballer.
“I’ve still got a pair of Paddy Kenny’s signed gloves,” Long smiled. “I might send him a pair of mine now, if he wants them of course.
“Paddy was who I watched when I was growing-up and I used to dream of following in his footsteps.”
A decade after watching Kenny help United reach the Premier League, Long is now doing it for real after establishing himself as the club’s first choice goalkeeper earlier this term. The 22-year-old, capped by England at under-18 and under-20 international, actually made his debut for United five seasons ago but, having played under six different managers since progressing through the ranks, has convinced Nigel Adkins that he is worthy of regular starting role.
“I’m a better goalkeeper than when I made my debut at 17,” Long told The Star earlier this week. “Really, it’s just down to hard work.
“I didn’t have a God-given talent or anything like that but I just give everything I can during training. That’s what gives you a chance.”
Adkins, a former goalkeeper himself, is sympathetic to the unique challenges Long and his counterparts across the divisions face. Having been loaned to Oxford United and Motherwell by his predecessor Nigel Clough, Adkins’ decision to select Long for the opening match of the season against Gillingham was criticised when Justin Edinburgh’s side scored four times without reply. But, like Long, Adkins persevered and reinstated the youngster after deciding his potential needed to be nurtured.
“You see a lot of younger ‘keepers now,” Long said. “There’s Sam Johnstone, Jack Butland is playing for England and Declan Rudd too. It’s a case of if you’re good enough, then you’ll get your chance. It’s brilliant to see so many young ‘keepers getting their chance now at the highest level and, hopefully, I’ll be playing in the Premier league too.”
Long, whose landmark achievement was overshadowed when United were beaten by Wigan Athletic last weekend, is scheduled to make his 101st appearance when they face Doncaster Rovers on Saturday. Having slipped to 11th in the League One table, the fixture is of critical importance in the race for play-off qualification.
“My mum and dad come to most games,” Long said. “It will have been nice for them to see me get to a 100 here.”
“They were always ferrying me around left right and centre as a kid. It wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for them.”