Can Sheffield United please just do the right thing?

Greg Marah was kind enough to write this, so follow him at @mrgregmarah

I have a simple question to anyone reading this. Should a criminal that has served his time be reintegrated into society and return to his profession?!

My answer to that is yes, I imagine many people will agree. Yet that isn’t that case when it comes to Ched Evans and the possibility of him resigning for his former club Sheffield United.

The Evans situation is an emotive subject. Over 160,000 people have signed a petition asking Sheffield United not to resign him and there was a huge negative reaction to a letter printed in the Sheffield Star defending Evans whilst also wrongly blaming Evans’ rape victim.

What has added more fuel to the fire is that Evans is now training with the Blades following a request from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA). Sheffield United didn’t have to take any notice of this request but they have which has now lead to sponsors threatening to pull their money.

With Evans training with the Bramall Lane outfit, the club has seen both female patrons of the community work they do in TV presenter and sexual abuse campaigner Charlie Webster and businesswoman Lindsay Graham resign.

Last night’s Newsnight saw Charlie Webster make a very good case for the club she support not resigning the Welshman. She said of Evans:
“He’s not just going into a job, he’s bandied as a role model, we cheer him on as a role model and he’s influencing the next generation of young men who are currently still making their decisions on how to treat women and what sexual mutual consent is.”

And there lies the main issue. He is seen as a role model as people will in his career look up to him. It’s probably not right but it’s true. My role models were my parents and my sporting heroes – it is the same of every child up and down the country.

Already since his release you have seen Sheffield United fans defending a convicted rapist and singing disgusting and crass songs about Evans and women. All of these things will be heard by young influential children and possibly repeated.

Furthermore, Evans has never apologised for his crime or to the girl that he was convicted of raping. In a video he posted on his release he decided to apologise to his girlfriend for his infidelity and thanked friends and family who had stuck by him.
Yet these are the very friends and family who named the victim on social media sites breaking the Sexual Offences Act 2012 and forcing Evans’ victim into hiding.

So I ask myself the same question again. Should a criminal that has served his time be reintegrated into society and return to his profession?!
In Ched Evans’ case that is a No. He’s not a tradesman returning to work, he’s someone in the public eye who has never shown remorse for his actions.

Even if Evans does maintain his innocence, he could at least have the decency to apologise to his victim for taking advantage of her and causing her years of issues.

Perhaps if had apologised then many would be willing to accept him in football again. But he has never done so and most likely never will.

Sport for all? Fat chance

I am a dreadful footballer. There are no two ways about it, and much as we’d all love to be a football prodigy from a young age, I most certainly wasn’t anywhere near, and that hasn’t change as I’ve got older. I do however love playing, and would love to play more, if only that was possible.

As an 8 year old I would go to football training, where I would generally play as a relatively useless defender. Despite training every week, and also being 8 years old, I would never get invited to the matches.

Now, this won’t become a mis-lit classic where I go on to reveal that alongside the fact I was never picked for football, I was also made to sleep in a wardrobe and only got a damn good kicking for Christmas.

In fact my parents were great, and would never make me do anything I didn’t want to do, so I stopped going to football training, and they were happy with that.

As a kid I initially thought playing in a football team would be great, it was soon becoming obvious that the reality was far from that.

There is very little joy to be had as an eight year old by being yelled at by an overly competitive “coach”, whilst other kids are telling you to “square it” or “keep the shape” What was so fun on the playground was tedious and miserable when it became competitive.

So, by age 8 I was done with playing football for a team. I was happy to play with mates, or in 5-a-side games, but playing competitive football could get stuffed.

So, by the age you go to Primary school I’d given up on competitive football, and I’m very confident that I wasn’t the only one.

I was talking to a work colleague who was saying that he was yet to find a club for his son, despite a city wide search. His boy wants to play football, but isn’t the best player so there’s no club for him.

So, with grassroots football again in the news, I thought I’d explain why at 28 I still won’t bother playing competitive football.

Nowadays, despite every “Olympic legacy” initiative to get people involved in sport, it’s still impossible to find a sports team that isn’t full of the most extreme dullards and nauseating arseholes on earth.

The uber competitive, the hyper critical and the overly macho still run football clubs, and every other sport club in fact. There’s little to no room for those who just fancy a good laugh and a few hours of competitive sport every week.

They’re boys clubs, where mistakes are heavily criticised, banter is king, and you’ll have to pick all your clothes out of the shower on a weekly basis.

I’m sure there are clubs where it’s fine to be crap, and where you can play sport without getting hounded by an overly aggressive accountant every time you misplace a pass, but I’m yet to find it.

For sport to prosper in this country many of the old values, and ways need to change. All comers need to be embraced, regardless of ability, and clubs need to realise that inclusivity and encouragement is not just for children but for everyone.

It’s not just about your ability, in fact that’s bottom of the pile, it should be the case that if you want to play, you can. Gender, height, weight, sexual preference, age, shoe size, social standing or what biscuit you dunk in your tea shouldn’t be the slightest barricade to playing sport.

It should be for everyone, but sadly it seems that it isn’t.

The price isn’t right

Before I start, I should say that I love football. I’ve been besotted since my dad first took me to a game as a child. The game has at times occupied my life. It’s been a family connection and an opening conversation starter at every party I’ve been to as well.

I’m fortunate enough to live about a 20 minute drive from a number of football clubs. I’m primarily a Huddersfield Town fan, but I really like the idea of going to watch some local teams and would like to just go the football as a neutral on occasion.

Firstly, it’s important to say that not one of these clubs is in the Premier League, and secondly there isn’t one that’s even close to being sold out week in week out.

Further to this not one of these clubs has a reputation for exciting football, or even any recent successes that would suggest an increased demand for tickets.

So, why on earth does it cost a minimum of £20 to watch these teams? In some cases, why does it cost considerably more than £30 to watch?

I cannot think of a single good reason why football, at a lower level costs so much. I understand that football clubs want the guaranteed season ticket money, but even that doesn’t reduce the match day cost considerably.

Football clubs are now completely relying on fans who don’t think they’re a proper fan unless they go to every game regardless of the price.

Football is becoming a cost I can just about afford on rare occasions, but certainly not one I can ever truly justify.

Personally the football match day experience wasn’t about the football on offer. It was about spending time with my dad, and latterly my brother too. We’d go to the game, talk absolute rot for 90 minutes, get acid reflex from a slop pie, and then continue talking nonsense on the walk home.

Nowadays, we can’t all afford to go together as it would cost more than £60 to watch a game, and it’s a price that none of us are too happy to pay.

I’ll always miss that experience, and that time with my family, but unless football prices change we’ll have to continue to talk over the TV.

Now this isn’t a new problem, as prices have been creeping up for years, but now I’m officially done. I won’t pay a penny to watch football until prices are affordable for everyone.

Those days in the stands of various grounds up and down the country with my dad are some of my fondest memories with him. It’s sad that they won’t continue or that many others will miss out on similar experiences with their family.

Whether or not things will ever change, I don’t know, but as much as I’ll miss live football, it’s a price I’m not willing to pay.

Blogging: it’ll thrive as long as you want it to

With the nominations for the football blogging awards starting up again, it seems an appropriate time to explore how relevant blogging is currently and whether it can survive in a world where people have increasingly short attention spans.

Now, where blogs and analysis once truly thrived on Twitter; the vine and the meme has eclipsed them. The old idea that a picture paints a thousand words certainly seems to be true when it comes to what appeals to people online.

Why bother writing a two thousand word analysis on Manchester United’s performance yesterday, when you could just tweet a picture of David Moyes grinning like a Cheshire Cat instead?

However, should we accept such simplicity? What was once amusing, is becoming mundane, and there really is a limit to how many times you can see the same meme being passed around by the relentless spoof accounts.

Now call me old fashioned, and a snobbish arse if you like, but after a certain age you shouldn’t need a book to have pictures anymore. So, on that front the meme cannot replace written analysis, perhaps merely be an added supplement. All it truly offers is a maximum reward for minimum input. It tells us absolutely nothing, and surely cannot be that funny.

However, I appreciate that I’m in the minority on this one. My blog posts are read by a handful of people, whereas the picture of a baby clenching his fist with the words “David Moyes right now” attached will be seen by millions.

So, how do you compete? The answer is you don’t bother, you just attempt to stick to what you do and hope people appreciate what you’re doing sooner or later. But, you’ll need some help.

The reality is that you aren’t really competing with Memes anyway. It’s just harder to get noticed with them around, clogging up everyone’s timeline.

What we all can do, is support one another by spreading the word of the blogger. If you read something you enjoy, tell the world about it, and help to keep blogging alive. Constantly take a chance on a new blog. Take a few minutes out to see if you enjoy their output. If you do, then tell them.

As long as people want to read different opinions on any range of topics, blogging will be relevant. Analysis or insight that is unencumbered by deadlines, editors, and political agendas will always be appreciated by readers.

The power of the reader, and being appreciated by fellow bloggers can and will help a blog prosper. Regular retweets and sales pitches by fellow bloggers will be worth far more to you than a one off retweet from Henry Winter or Robbie Savage, so value the reader with 5 followers as much as you value the one with 5 million. Spread the word about others, and they’ll do the same for you.

Ultimately, if what you write is worth reading then you’ll find an audience. Blogging can, and will survive, as long as people continue to read them, and pass them on to others.

What a fan wants

There was once an advert for Kinder surprise, where an irritating little child was asked what they wanted by their obliging parent. “I want something exciting, and a toy, and some chocolate”

The parent ultimately fobs the child off with a kinder egg. “Yeah thanks, but where’s what I asked for? I don’t want a thin chocolate egg and small toy terrapin”

Well, much like this precocious little shit, football fans have become increasingly demanding. Not only do they want everything, they want it now.

When a club makes a new signing, it’s immediately followed by a number of fans saying “yeah yeah, well done on signing him but where’s the defensive midfielder we need, in fact it’s a fucking joke. #wengerout”

It has become the norm now for fans to demand everything they want on every occasion. And if they don’t get it they hide their disgust about as well as Imelda Marcos gazing upon some cheap primark trainers.

However, it’s not the fault of these fans, as they’ve grown up with a different style of football. Managers are sacked the second the fans begin to boo, players come and go, and are worth a million after a good game, and 20 million after 10.

Ultimately fans are demanding because clubs charge them so much just to watch a game. Fans aren’t really fans as much as they’re consumers, and people now want value for money.

There’s not much room for patience or romance in football. Fans want everything right now, and will not wait. It’s no longer a game where you can enjoy the moment; it’s a game where you only wonder: what now?

The stands are full of fear

If you glanced at Twitter yesterday at around 5.30pm you would’ve seen countless tweets criticising the lack of atmosphere on Liverpool’s Kop. “Where’s the famous atmosphere?” was the general message, coming from fans happy to take pot shots at rival fans.

However, in recent years, with the rise of the lightning fast opinions of twitter, and more significantly the vast injection of obscene amounts of money invested in football has seemed to lead to a gradual decay of a decent match day atmosphere at many top level clubs.

Fans no longer focus on the game, with their mind elsewhere during the game. One goal isn’t enough to settle nerves, and leads to fans trembling and becoming anxious neurotics. They’re not bothered about anything but the result, and the match day experience becomes irrelevant. Most fans of big clubs seem to have become that Arsenal fan who went crazy at his computer screen when they threw away a 4 goal lead at Newcastle.

The thought process of football fans, at an event they should enjoy is comparable to that of someone about to take a driving test. Torture with a positive result being the only tonic to ease their tortured soul.

The overwhelming negativity that impacts so many grounds is creating tense, hollow atmospheres. Everyone is too busy biting their nails to cheer or clap. And these nerves translate onto the pitch, with a misplaced pass leading to thousands having collective nervous breakdowns, and players appearing to be fearful and bogged down under the weight of expectations.

The media play their part in creating this negativity, with horrendous over the top reactions to single loses and individual poor performances.

The enormous importance put on obtaining a top 4 Premier League place, has sent fans crazy too. “If we don’t reach the top 4 the club won’t make quite as much money this year, just think of our end of year shareholders meeting”

The reality is if you finish anywhere in the Premier League you’ll be rich beyond your wildest dreams, so a top four finish is not the be all and end all anyway.

Step by step the insane levels of expectation, entitlement and the short sighted nature of football fans will mean that atmospheres dwindle further as every nervous fan is too busy clutching a rabbit foot in both hands to even watch the game.

All perspective has been lost, fans are more interested in the end destination rather than the journey, and anything other than a win isn’t enough to satisfy the modern football fan.

My worry is that football fans don’t enjoy the game anymore, and are solely concerned with success. Full of fear, afraid of what fans of other clubs think, and more neurotic than Woody Allen, the modern fan needs to realise that they’re supporting one of the leagues most successful teams, and should probably enjoy it a bit more.

Eating a slice of humble pie.

When Mark Robins left Huddersfield Town after the first game of the season, I was at first hugely critical of the club. Before the facts emerged, I was embarrassed that we’d sacked our manager after one game.

I was also highly critical of our transfer dealings. The drawn out Adam Clayton saga, the lack of a star player, and the failure to address our lack of on field leaders.

After Robins’ departure I was left irritated by how long it took us to find a replacement, how we seemed to be stumbling blindly hoping to somehow find a suitable candidate.

In each of these cases I was eventually shown to be wrong, that my perceptions and the reality of what the club were doing were two very different things.

It might have taken longer than I hoped, it might not have been perfect, but I need to learn to be patient, as ultimately the club delivered what I hoped it would.

Football fans are emotionally charged, and often make snap judgements. It’s frustrating at times when it seems that the club aren’t addressing clear issues, and I often let that frustration show.

Full credit to Huddersfield Town for proving me wrong, and I’m more than happy for that to have been the case.

The club have moved forward hugely in the last few years, and it’s reassuring to know that things are being looked after, even if I don’t always realise how good we have things right now.

That was a huge slice of humble pie, and quite frankly I’m rather full. Good manager, good signings, and renewed optimism. The season starts now