I may well be turning into a grumpy old man ("as opposed to the grumpy young man?" I can almost here a loved one heckling from the crowd). I have written yet another letter of protest, this time to The Star, the local newspaper in my hometown of Sheffield.
As more regular readers will know, I am a lifelong fan of Sheffield Wednesday FC. Football is one of those things, for the English as well as some of their European neighbours, that draws hugely on tribal, emotional instincts rather than our God-given reason. In fact, more often than not it completely overrides reason! I am no different - I have cried over lost cup finals, I have pitch invaded in absolute joy, I have uttered the classic line, "I'm never coming again..." only to then return the following week to the same seat in the same stand, brimming with optimism.
Football was very much birthed in Sheffield, with the city having the honour of the oldest surviving football club in Sheffield FC, the oldest surviving ground in the form of the slightly sloping Sandygate Road which is home to Hallam FC (apparently the second oldest surviving club), the oldest professional stadium which has been home to both professional clubs at various points and the 'Sheffield Rules' which formed the basis of modern day football rules. And of course, there are the two professional clubs, Sheffield Wednesday FC and Sheffield United FC, which have in the increasingly far off past won the major domestic honours. All of this might be news to any readers from Manchester or London (he says, slightly bitterly).
It is a shame that Sheffield does not make more of its footballing history, with it tending to focus more on its past as a world-renowned producer of steel. As a side note, the city also has a fascinating history of radicalism, rooted in Methodism and to a lesser extent Unitarianism.
It is even more of a shame, to me at least, that the city's most recent exposure in the national media has been the furore over Ched Evans - the Sheffield United FC striker recently released from prison after serving two and a half years for rape. Many Sheffielders are opposed to his return to football with Sheffield United FC but it also has to be said a significant proportion of United fans would like to see him return. Again, regardless of all the arguments over his 'innocence' (he is currently appealing his conviction), I think this desire from some fans for his no-questions-asked return ultimately comes down to a tribal, emotional attachment to him as one of their footballing heroes of recent years and the basic desire for their current team to win games. The same could be said of those Wednesday fans who defend to-the-hilt the recent return of Sheffield Wednesday FC striker, Gary Madine, to footballing duties following a prison sentence for two separate incidents of serious physical assault whilst out on the town.
All that said, the case of Ched Evans - who is very likely to get a new lucrative contract with his old employers as soon as the media storm wanes - is indicative of a change in the composition and culture of the English football scene. It is a change to one in which massive sums of money, often 'invested' by dubious benefactors, rule over the game completely - a change that I feel is for the worse. I have tried to raise this, in my own small way with my letter to The Star, as I believe all football fans need to re-find their sense of reason - at least outside of 3pm to 5pm on a Saturday - and stand up for their clubs as community-based organisations with a moral compass. The letter goes as follows:
The recent debates over whether United should or should not re-employ Ched Evans point to wider issues within English football.
Our city’s biggest football clubs, both United and Wednesday, started out as community organisations – taking on a business dimension with the growth of professionalism. With the formation of the Premier League, which both clubs were party to, the business dimension of football has increasingly taken over at the expense of the community aspect.
Consequently, we should not be surprised if the asset that is Ched Evans, who cost the club £3million, is reclaimed by United. Just as the investment, Gary Madine, was also maintained by Wednesday. The only hesitation from the United boardroom is likely to be the impact on ‘the brand’.
So whilst Sheffielders may hotly debate such things from a community angle – and many will rightly be opposed to convicted criminals who have caused lasting harm to their victims having an easy route back to fame and fortune – the sad reality is we are out of step with the way the beautiful game has gone."
Viva la revolution!