Monday, 23 April 2012

Dismay, Dispiriting, Disunited

I started to write this post on Friday night. Being called a "rape sympathiser" (I think he meant "rapist sympathiser") by someone who doesn't even follow me on twitter probably riled me more than it should have done. What has followed has been three of the most dispiriting days I have known as a United supporter.

Like a majority of Blades fans I had been following the Ched Evans trial over the previous two weeks. It had proved to be an utterly unedifying experience. Live tweeting from a rape trial seems as seedy as the encounter that led to the case being brought. The live reportage brings with it inherent risks that public judge and jury form verdicts from limited tweets, summations that are made in 140 characters, where mistakes can be made which lead to social media outrage.

The previous week Sky reporter Mike McCarthy tweeted that a hotel receptionist had heard "screaming" coming from the room. He subsequently corrected himself in a later tweet where he emphasised that the correct word used was "squealing". I then found myself tweeting:

“"Squealing" and "Screaming" massively different connotations depending on which word is used”

I then got a reply from a Rotherham supporting friend saying:

"Tweets you never thought you would send.”

He was right, I read it back, I didn’t like it and I hoped I would never find myself doing it again. I didn't tweet anything else about the case after that. I read the tweets, the news reports, the forum threads where amateur QCs and fans who worked in the legal profession interpreted the reporting coming out of court, but I tried not to express any personal judgement on the protagonists. That was not my job after all and my opinion of it counted for nothing.

My view from the start was that someone is innocent until proven guilty and that would remain the case until the British justice system dealt with it in due course. Everyone has a right to a fair hearing. In suspending him United could have been seen to be forming judgement on him. By playing him, it only becomes an issue for some when a guilty verdict is reached. A no win situation.

On Friday afternoon, following the verdict, I tweeted that:

“He (Evans) has been stupid, irresponsible and thrown away a good part of his career. I said I would go by whatever verdict and I stand by it.”

“As a club we move on. We played him until a court of the land tried him. We now go forward without him.”

Nothing controversial you would think but following that tweet I was accused of being “a rape sympathiser”, having no morals and that “I weren't bothered when he was scoring goals". Conveniently forgetting that when the case was brought Evans was out of the side injured and had contributed little in his previous seasons at Bramall Lane. Not that this should be part of my thinking when forming a judgement on someone. I was accused of taking part in the twisted chants that some Blades fans started; “He shags who he wants...” yet I never did. As a father, as a man with a decent level of morals - despite what my new twitter friend had thought, it wasn’t right. It was, on the contrary,  indescribably wrong.

I’ve been given stick on twitter before; it’s par for the course. I can take the swearing and most of the name calling, but I took that kind of comment to heart. To clear my head, I paid a visit to Handsworth FC, the club from the Sheffield suburb where I grew up.  Needing a point for promotion from the Northern Counties East League Division One, in just their second season, the cold air, a pint of Stones and a great pie and a competitive game of football cleared the fuzz in my head.  Handsworth lost to third place Glasshoughton thanks to a late goal. Little did I know but that would be the first of two times that weekend I would see a team lose to ten men.

Despite the result, I returned home positive. It was a football experience so alien to the machinations of earlier in the day. It was cold outside, but an experience that warmed the heart. There was pride, passion, pint and a pie, but sadly no promotion and plenty of change from a tenner.

Then, as they do, things deteriorated further over the weekend. A tremendous Blades following of over 6,000 fans boded well for an enjoyable Saturday afternoon at Stadium:MK. All we had to do was make the vociferous noise to match the numbers and back the team. Sadly the atmosphere was extremely flat, subdued and with antagonistic elements. Unsurprisingly, in the circumstances, there was a lethargy and flatness amongst the players as well. Whilst the team struggled on the pitch, pockets of fans tried to start Ched Evans songs - but with little support from the vast majority they thankfully petered out at source. Arguments and contretemps broke out amongst the Blades support during the game. It was an uneasy and uninspiring atmosphere, alongside an insipid display on the pitch.

Once back home a visit to twitter demonstrated a developing moral vacuum. The delight taken in the guilty verdict from fans of other clubs, largely elements of the Wednesday support, was sickening. In revelling in a man's guilt for no other reason than the football club he played for, they take twisted pleasure from a woman's suffering. On the other side of the divide, those who support Evans tweet and post about #justiceforched, talk in denigrating terms about the victim, off the back of a limited number of tweets emanating from North Wales with no clear evidence to support their veracity. It is one big, horrific mess and while football tribes battle for the moral low ground on various social media platforms, the real victims, those who are actually suffering; the girl, her family, the players' families are all ignored.

It continued today, when I recoiled from my computer screen in horror as a moderator on one Blades internet forum suggested a fellow supporter's proposal for applause for Evans on nine minutes (based on his squad number) on Saturday. Football fans across the country mocked Liverpool's public support for a racist, and here are our supporters suggesting we show support for a convicted rapist, because, whatever you think of the validity of his conviction, that is what he is until an appeal says otherwise. Thankfully the more sensible majority shouted down the idea further down the thread.

Whether you like it or not, our legal system works on a jury made up of twelve everyday people like you and me. Based on the evidence put before them they found Evans guilty; unanimously. They sat in the courtroom, they saw the nuances of verbal responses, the manner of the defendants, the reactions to questions and witnesses. Those who read reports and form their opinions do so without that benefit. The jury may have got it wrong, they are human, but no one can say that with any certainty.

It is for Ched Evans’ legal team to do what they see best on his behalf. It is of little consequence to us now and the increasing irrationality of comment on the matter will not be helping his case. To all of you saying that you know it is not about United or football, but you feel that an innocent man has been found guilty, I ask you this. Would you still be this passionate about the perceived miscarriage of justice if it had been McDonald found guilty and Evans innocent? Would you be liking Facebook pages and tweeting messages of support for him? If you are honest with yourself, you will admit the answer is no.

This case isn't anything to do with Sheffield United. It is nothing to do with football. It is about a sexual assault.

The only lessons that can be applied to football is for young and handsomely paid footballers think twice about the positions their ability and riches put them in and the situations they choose to engage in. The other more general implications can be applied to every young person - male or female - who heads out for a night of booze and a good time every Friday and Saturday night. This case would pass through the courts largely unnoticed but for the football connection, yet that connection is all it has taken for football tribalism to take effect; and some of the very worst aspects of it at that.

Those in charge at Sheffield United FC have dealt with the matter very well. At the minute you cannot say this reflects badly on the club, but now we have the danger of a negative media frenzy thanks to the actions of a vocal minority. As we hit the most important stage of the season, with our destiny in our own hands, the wheels are in danger of coming off. The playing staff have clearly been affected and Danny Wilson and Frank Barlow have a big task re-focusing their minds for Saturday. Whichever way you look at it, a friend and colleague of the team is now in prison. It will affect them as a group and as individuals. However, as fans we are not personally touched by this, yet so many seem keen to inject themselves into it when it isn’t necessary.

Therefore, for the next two weeks, can we please focus on what is important. That is United securing the points required to ensure we achieve what a majority fans would never believe was achievable at the start of the season, automatic promotion We started the season a divided club following the appointment of Wilson, we now end the season a potentially divided club thanks to the off pitch actions of one of our players.

The Sky cameras will be focused even more firmly on United and the supporters on Saturday. A spotlight intensified by the ferocity of comments from some of our support alongside the reported tweets of current and former players. Please don't let yourselves down. Please don't let the club down.

The focus on Saturday should be on the players, Danny Wilson and our club; nothing else. We are Sheffield U-N-I-T-E-D, although at times over the last 3 days, we have felt anything but. Let’s stand together this Saturday evening - we owe it to ourselves.


  1. Very well put Ian. I will admit to using the # justiceforched on the grounds that it is a split verdict and i believe that both males should have the same fate, either innocent or guilty, the lady in question was reportedly incoherent before both of them met her. I question the verdict on those facts. If its proven Ched joined a lot later and just used a body for sex then yes let him hang and rot, the limited reports havent helped clear the confusion of the 1 man innocent, 1 man guilty verdict given by the jury, this is what needs to be made clear now in view of the case. As for sufc, lets get behind the players, manager and all involved with the club to ensure we get out of league 1 at the first time of asking.

    1. I agree with Geordie below. The perceived gaps are for the defence team to deal with, although an appeal based on the split verdict is not allowed. I have my thoughts on it, but will keep them private, needless to say I can see how the verdict was arrived at.

  2. Well said and very well put.
    I believe in innocent till proven guilty. He's been found guilty by a fair and honest jury and have to move.
    Whilst not having followed the trial closely there do seem be few blanks but that's for qualified lawyers and Cheds defence team to deal with.

    As for 'that' chant I found it disgusting but will admit to inadvertently chanting it as thought it was the he'll score when he wants(which could in some ways be argued be almost as bad).

    Great blog overall by the way.

  3. very well put & a great article i came to same conclusion this morning after thinking about it last (sunday)night in bed that sheff utd have got to forget about ched no matter if he wrongly convicted or not because cos sheff utd need to have no distractions for last 2 games its way too important the ched thing could derail promotion its harsh but i rather see sheff utd in the championship than ched innocent

    & as dominic says im not defending ched my point on it all is that surely both are guilty or both are innocent because i would thought you cant clear someone of the same charge that you just proscuted someone for

  4. Excellent piece. Thanks for it. It's great to get the view of a United fan in the middle of all this.

    I would take issue with the implication that Wednesday fans en masse are gloating at this verdict. I don't think we are (I seriously hope we aren't), though obviously some idiots are (just as some idiots on the red and white side of the city are trying to drum up support for Evans). I won't wish you luck for the rest of the season, for obvious reasons, but thanks for the article.


  5. SUFC have had a bad press over this and it is nice to read a reasoned piece such as this, which shows that not all football fans can look beyond their own clubs needs.
    From what I understand of the case however I am very surprised McDonald was not charged with aiding and abetting as well as rape, then he would have at least been found guilty of a share of the crime.

    As has been said in this blog it is a terrible situation for those concerned, sympathies go to the victim

  6. Good write-up on thoughts, morally and realistically over a horrible situation all-round.

    I still think that McDonald getting nothing is all a little strange and it makes me wonder, what we've not heard. Regardless, he also said he's in shock and supports Ched. HOWEVER, when it comes down to the reality of the situation, the decision has been made and that's the law in any case. I don't mean that with irony or sarcasm, he did something incredibly stupid and this is the result.

    Moving on, I was disappointed again by the way our fans seem to forget to try and support everyone left. Sure, we had another amazing amount of travelling fans but I feel we're guilty as any other smaller club in not helping the team on the pitch as much as we could as that 'extra' man.

    We've got a massive chance of nearly sealing it this Saturday evening, I hope everyone who turns up really gets behind the lads as they need the positive feeling, more than ever. Obvious sympathies to the victim and her family but lets' not throw away a season after one horrible situation.


    1. Agree Dan. The full house of home support need to be as one on Saturday.

  7. Excellent perspective on the whole sorry charade Ian!

    Like most Blades fans I've been in a kind of stunned foglike daze since Friday, which began as a thick choking smog and has gradually thinned out allowing me (with the help of articles such as this) to make some sort of sense of the whole shabbam.
    Saturday is huge, as fans we need to play our part to achieve the goal of what we all want, that means getting 100% behind the team with no divisive chanting, individual squabbles in the stand and general apathy all round.

    Likewise, hopefully, the players have recovered from the shock of their teammate being imprisoned (this was all too apparent at MKD)and will be able to produce what is needed to give us victory.
    Finally, I confess to some unease at CE's conviction given the evidence available to the public, but have sympathy with the victim, the victim's family and Ched's family too.

    Somehow, I don't think we've anywhere near heard the last of this!

  8. Shame on Sheffield United fans - 6,000 lining Pete Winkleman's pockets!

    Seriously though, an excellent, thoughtful piece and good to see a silent majority of sensible Wednesday and United fans leave the tribalism behind even if the initial twitter outbursts made one fear for how our society has evolved.

    1. Lining MK pockets didn't sit easy with me LR, but it had to be done to back the team.

      I think the silent majority hav ebecome more vocal as the week has gone on, which can only be a good thing for all concerned.

  9. Well put and thoughtful piece, my only one criticism is the way sheffield united have handled this sorry mess !
    one youth player tweets inappropriate comments and get suspended ! yet one player gets convicted and the clubs stand as no comment just stating the law firm quote the mr evans will be appealing ,
    If the roles was reversed one would wonder if the same stance would occur or maybe my suspicions of trying to recoup some outlay of 3m transfer money is pure way of the mark!

    1. I wrote this before the suspension of Connor Brown. Some may view the clubs actions suspiciously. I guess it is much easier to deal with a ninternal disciplinary matter, than a legal matter going through the courts and is subject to appeal. It is unlikely Evans will be being paid and is out of contract in weeks.

  10. Excellent article on this totally sordid event.
    I have increasingly been ever more alienated from most so called football fans, not least our blades fans. This week has made me sick of the sight of many of these fellow fans.
    No Evans chants on Saturday please.

  11. As a supporter of Another League 1 Club (not Wednesday, either), this is the best thing I've read about this case over the past few days. It's the only thing I've read that has pointed out that the jury not only heard all the evidence, but saw the people giving it and were able (and, more to the point, entitled) to draw inferences from what they see.

    I do have an opinion about the verdict and sentence, which I'm not going to state here because it would be irrelevant. Given that Evans' legal team have said that he's going to appeal, though, you might find this booklet of interest: The whole thing is quite illuminating, if you're interested in that sort of thing, but the section on "Grounds for Appeal" starts on page 35 of the pdf. One of the things specifically mentioned as being NOT acceptable as grounds is a complaint that one person was convicted and a co-accused was acquitted. This is actually pretty common.

    Good luck with the whole promotion thing. My club are safely bedded-in in mid-table mediocrity, which suits me fine. I don't really carry a torch for Sheffield United, but missing out because the team were knocked out of whack by something that involved one player away from the pitch would be a bummer.

    1. Thanks for the very kind words.

      It would indeed be horrible for it to be de-railed at this stage of the season with so much good work done. Sadly, the timing of injuries to Cresswell and Hoskins make something that had a negative impact worse.

  12. Great piece Ian, well done! Really enjoyed reading this. I'm a Liverpool fan so it's interesting to see the views of a blades fan.

  13. I find it bizarre that so many commenting on this case as seen in some comments above need to keep asking 'surely both are guilty or both are innocent because i would thought you cant clear someone of the same charge that you just proscuted someone for'.

    What is hard to understand here? Consenting to one guy, does not automatically mean you consent to having sex with another. Or in your world, does a girl having sex with you automatically mean she is 'fair game' to be slept with by your friends whether she agrees to it or not? The victim was judged as having agreed to go back with Mcdonald, not with Evans who turned up later on.
    Moving on...

    In regards to the inability of some to accept the verdict. You don't have to accept it, however that does not change the fact that a jury and court in full view of the evidence, including video evidence of the phone videos that a 'mate' filmed outside the window of the hotel, came to the conclusion of guilty.

    You would do best as fans and a football team to accept that Evan's actions are his own fault, and legal proceedings have judged him as so. No one player is bigger than the whole club. It's good to see articles like this acknowledging the need to move on before this sorry situation poisons the rest of the club.