Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Blades 12 Days of Christmas

In the 12 months to Christmas United gave to me......

12 months of emotion

11 games unbeaten 

10 consecutive wins

9 FA Cup games

8 Tartan Army 

7 remaining Porter masks

6 minute comeback

5 League Cup ties

4 vanquished Premier League teams

3 patrons resigning

2 bearded full backs

And a spontaneous standing ovation at Wembley.

A Merry Christmas to all who have read and supported A United View in 2014. It has been full of ups and downs - writing about the Blades is a bit like supporting them.

Things have been quiet on here recently, but there will be an end of year post next week. Until then, here's to good times and three points on Boxing Day.

Up the Blades

Consistently Inconsistent - Sheffield United in 2014

Consistently inconsistent. I can think of no better way to describe Sheffield United's 2014.

They have given me moments of joy and exultation, both sat/stood in the stands and sat by the radio at home. Those moments that see you shoot up to your feet, the blood rushing so fast to your head that your legs shake and your temple feels like it might explode. The adrenaline rush keeping you upright as your body feels like it might collapse underneath you.

At other times they have left me angry. So angry that at times the words that are in my head, as I rise to my feet to hurl some well thought out invective, somehow disappear between brain and mouth. All that I manage is a sharp "For God's sake", before the insightful comments then fail to leave my lips. My mouth makes the shape to speak more words but they just never make it out. Arms flail, fingers pointed, fist waved, but no words and I flop back into my red plastic seat utterly flummoxed by both the team and my inability to say what I want to.

There have been times that I just haven't fancied going and when I have missed games, a rarity over the last 25 years but a more common occurrence these days. I didn't miss it like I should do. Or like I used to. Absence did little to make my heart grow fonder.

As we pass the end of the calendar year. There is much to be proud of. United have  made many a back page headline this year. Making news for reasons that bring that flush of pride to your face and a smile of satisfaction.

From thrilling cup exploits to unbeaten runs and ten consecutive victories. The euphoria of beating Villa in the FA Cup at Villa Park in January, but never for one moment anticipating it would end with the immense pride of watching the Blades play so well at Wembley, tinged with slight disappointment at what might have been, at what nearly was. Then the League Cup campaign this season. High flying Premier League clubs despatched, another semi final awaits in 2015.

Yet, despite this success, there has been on pitch disappointment. United are a team that are playing in the margins where success and failure have little to separate them and where cup success is easier to achieve than league consistency. After the lows of David Weir's brief reign there have been moments and games to match any low of the Weir tenure. The football has at times, been as un-entertaining as that seen under the much derided Kevin Blackwell.

The turgid, pedestrian football has lacked the spark and initiative to break down the most stubborn of League One defences and those that other clubs seem to open up at will. Matches where you leave feeling you could play until midnight with 4 strikers on the pitch and still not score.

The pleasure at seeing the club do its transfer business early in the summer, with all bar two of Clough's named targets secured, was quickly decimated by a hotch-potch of a preseason. Whilst fitness is a clear aim of the matches in July and August, it is also a time for the manager to identify his preferred eleven. The fact that he doesn't appear to have achieved this at the turn of the year is a huge concern.

Everyone is a football manager. Everyone knows better. From Sunday league to junior football, from FIFA to Fantasy Football, we all think we have the answer. Yet there are common themes in criticism, in amongst the bluster and Mike Bassett-esque calls for Four Four Fucking Two.

Whilst injuries have bitten hard at times, there has been an insistence in putting square pegs in round holes. No greater example being against Bristol City in the opening game of the season. Some of these problems have been caused by the manager's own stubbornness. Andy Butler and Neill Collins are unlikely to play for the club again, Summer signing Butler has barely played for us at all. The manager took a view in the flawed pre-season programme and that was that.

If you had told me, when we suffered relegation from the Championship, that Collins would still be with us now I would have laughed. Now his longevity can well be linked to our longevity in this division, but his contribution last season when he covered Harry Maguire as much as Maguire covered him seems to have been quickly forgotten by fans and management alike.

Meanwhile, we have seen full backs in the middle of defence, a youngster making errors as he learns his trade played both in the middle and out of position at right back. We have loaned a cart horse from the Premier League and found that our best central defensive partnership so far comprises a left back and a central midfielder.

It is probably fair to say every manager has his favourites. Clough is no exception. Players like Scougall and Baxter have both had spells in the team when form ought to have seen them left out. Baxter has played at 9, 10, out wide, deep central midfield, the manager doesn't know how or where to use him for the best.

Clough is proving to be a manager who is stubborn with a degree of pride that sees him making unpopular decisions and refusing to bow down to fan pressure. Marc McNulty is a raw talent, with a need to be more game savvy, but the frequent and public fault finding, even after game saving contributions seem spiteful, rather than productive. Especially when others are seemingly exempt from such scrutiny or criticism.

Last season the 4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1 formation worked. We had a solid central defensive partnership and progressive full backs. A settled back four gave us a platform that allowed us to hit teams on the break. We started the Clough era a side lacking in confidence and sides were more willing to attack us, taking the game to us.

There were false starts when you thought we might go on a run, but it didn't last. Reading the thoughts of those committed enough to be at Gresty Road on February 1st you could not have predicted what would follow. No one would have.

From that we had a Plan A. It worked for those final few months, it has worked against better opposition in the cup this season, it hasn't worked in the league this season. Teams are wiser and more wary,sitting deeper and inviting us to find the nous to break them down. More often than not we don't find it. We lack bodies in and around the box, that killer instinct, that incisive final pass or willingness to take a shot from outside the box. Frustration mounts on the pitch and in the stands.

There were signs of this against Wolves towards the end of last season. The general feeling was that we lacked one or two players, yet the way they zipped the passes around and the quality play in possession is still something we lack. The common denominator in the three promoted sides last season was goals. Whilst Rotherham and Wolves had individual strikers who contributed significantly to the tally, all three had goals throughout the team.

Only three of the four relegated sides scored fewer goals than United last season. This season our goal difference is way behind that of the Top 4, so even if the significant points gap can be breached, the paucity of goals could be costly. There has been talk of the towsing a team might get when we hit proper form, but that is as long way off. You don't win matches with possession percentages and neither with shots that are off target. A number of times I've left Bramall Lane this season bemoaning dropped points and the relaxing afternoon enjoyed by the opposition goalkeeper.

Throughout the year our support has been nothing short of magnificent in numbers, however the lack of positivity in our tactical set up has reduced the positivity and volume from the fans at times. The grumblings about the manager are increasing in volume. Ill thought out comments, regarding his league targets and the fans support have done little to temper frustration.

Whilst 2014 delivered several high points and treasured memories, it hasn't been without its problems. We start the year with another FA Cup third round trip to a Premier League team and fans are snapping up tickets for the semi final matches in the other cup competition. We are 11 places and 8 points better off than when we ended 2014, but with just as big a task facing us. We are further adrift of the top two, than the bottom four are to us.

The players we have got are good enough to be several points and places better off than we are. That they are not is as much down to them as the manager and their should be a period of self scrutiny from the squad themselves. Money and wages do not guarantee success, but given United's relative size and budget there is no doubt we are below par in terms of results and league position.

Our 2015 will be largely defined by the end of January. In 31 days we may have started another cup run with an underdog victory, we may have finally reached a cup final for the first time in 80 years, we may have made the signings that will give us that added impetus which will see us converting league draws and defeats to wins, we may actually see a home league win for the first time since October. And in 31 days we may not have achieved any of this. You know how to manage your  expectations watching Sheffield United.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Sheffield and Football: A Blueprint for the future

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Back in June it was announced that a shortlist of three cities had been made from over 22 applicants, all wanting to be England's first "City of Football". Last month it was revealed that Nottingham was to be given the crown and £1.6m of Lottery funding. This immediately led to local gnashing of teeth. Yet again Sheffield ignored and then the question was asked, rightly given the city’s reticence in adequately selling itself, did we even apply?

After several tweets to various bodies and not a lot of response I finally found out that Sheffield had applied, but the bid was ultimately unsuccessful.  The City of Football initiative was an opportunity for cities to propose new ways of opening up football opportunities for everyone. In that regard it could be argued that Sheffield doesn't need that help. These cities showed a commitment to get more people playing the sport at grassroots level, a possible area of weakness for them, but not for the Steel City. In effect the title is a bit of a misnomer, maybe the name “City of Football Development” would have been better.

But this got me thinking. Sheffield knows its place in the global game, but does the World really know about Sheffield's contribution? We all assume it does. FIFA made Sheffield FC one of only two clubs to receive their Order of Merit (alongside Real Madrid) in 2004, but there is little recognition by national football authorities. The more I thought about it the more I realised that people in this country don't know enough about Sheffield's place in football history, never mind people in the rest of the world, and over time that position will only be increasingly marginalised. Sheffield has a unique selling point and not enough is made of this.

As far as Sky Sports are concerned football history started in 1993. If they do not have the footage then it didn’t really happen. The FA celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013 and their celebrations focused on the formalisation of football in this country, you would never know that football had been codified and played competitively for some 6 years prior to that. Not by teams such as the Wanderers and Royal Engineers who replayed the first FA Cup final at the Oval, but in the smog and grime of the Steel City under the watchful gaze of football pioneers, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest.  

Only last Friday Sheffield FC celebrated 157 years, their twitter timeline a series of retweets from football fans and clubs from across the globe wishing the club well. Yet a look to the @FA timeline showed no recognition, no congratulations. Two days later the Football Association twitter feed announced its 151st birthday; “On 26 October 1863, the Founding Fathers met to form the first set of rules”. A link to the FA website led to an article talking about the formation of the Association and the codification of the first Laws of the Game. Sheffield air-brushed from football history, possibly because they didn’t fall in line with the FA after its formation.

So to this post. This blog is called A United View, but for once it is A Sheffield View. This is not about us versus them, Blade versus Owl, Red versus Blue, it's about working smarter for each individual club's benefit, the collective benefit of all clubs and the city overall. To make this work, we need clubs, media and fans pulling together, along with local government and sporting authorities.

Obviously on-pitch success brings with it greater attention, not just within the UK, but worldwide. That point should not be under-estimated. Sheffield football would be a more marketable product and attractive to outsiders with top level football. Hopefully we will not have to wait long for that to be remedied. Readers may have differing views as to who they want to see fix that issue. In the meantime there is no harm in putting a plan together.

Much of this can be put in place now. Much of what I am proposing has as much benefit to local football followers as those from outside of the city, but it provides a structured and  coherent platform to move forward from, something that the city and the sport lacks at present.  They are in no particular order but pick out the selling points and action points to achieve positive change.

The Basis - Sheffield Football; Past, Present and Future

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Sheffield is a city of football firsts. The city, the clubs and many undervalued individuals were pioneers in so many ways, more should be known about them. Aspects of the game that are taken for granted now originated in the Steel City. Sheffield clubs participated in other first time events, although some took place outside of the city.

The World’s first football club – Sheffield FC

The World’s second football club – Hallam FC

The World’s first derby game –Sheffield FC v Hallam FC

The oldest ground still in use - Sandygate

The oldest professional football ground still in use – Bramall Lane

The first codified rules of the game – The Sheffield Rules

The introduction of throw ins, corners ad crossbars to football

The first football cup competition – Youdan Cup 1867 – won by Hallam FC

The first floodlit football match – 14th October 1878, Reds v Blues (Sheffield FA Representative match)

The first club called United

The only club with Wednesday in the name

The first football radio commentary – Arsenal v Sheffield United, 22nd January 1927

Image by goalsoul -

Each is part of a richly woven story of Sheffield football, alongside famous players, stories, joy, disappointment and tragedy. This is a story that needs to be told. The sub-plots at each club just adding to the narrative.

It is too easy in football to look back with fondness and a sense of pride, especially at a time when on the pitch success has been limited. Therefore it is worth remembering that the future is just as bright and in the youth of the city there is another achievement to be proud of. The Sheffield Junior Football League is the biggest in the country, possibly Europe, with 992 teams and over 12,000 players registered.

What promise for a successful future and what a platform to build on in the world of youth football. The FA, for all their many faults clearly see improving grassroots facilities as important and in choosing Sheffield as the pilot for a new scheme they clearly recognise the depth of the thriving junior and local leagues.

The first part is to map out all of the existing football facilities and establishing what the needs of the city. The second stage sees the FA work with the council, County FA, professional clubs, local league and clubs and other local partners to understand what investment is needed in facilities to ensure football in the city can thrive. Ostensibly this will see investment in more 3G pitches leading to better facilities, better playing conditions, better player development.

With such an impressive heritage and a solid base for the future, what changes can we make to maximise the returns on this superb infrastructure and compelling story.

  1. Get the Sheffield Club(s) back in Sheffield
With two football league clubs and a further 4 down to Step 10 of the football pyramid, there is something for every fan and every budget in Sheffield. Looking beyond the city boundaries there are a further 11 clubs in South Yorkshire and another 6 within 25 miles of Sheffield city centre.

This sounds great until you realise that not all of the 6 Sheffield based clubs are playing in Sheffield. For the city to develop their football offering and suitably back their claims to be the City of Football then all teams should be playing here, not least the World’s Oldest Club that takes the city’s name.

Sheffield FC have played at the Coach & Horses ground in Dronfield for 13 years and whilst within a Sheffield postcode, it is outside the city boundaries. The Coach & Horses is a neat little ground developed by the club with the added bonus of the pub attached which provides, pre-match drinks, half time refreshment and post-match solace in a pint. The fact remains they don’t play in Sheffield.

Handsworth Pararmore play out at Worksop in Nottinghamshire, 16 miles from the club’s junior set up in the Sheffield suburb from which they were born. Unable to develop their existing junior facilities at Olivers Mount, the club are seeking a site for a new ground and community facilities in Handsworth and finding plenty of challenges en-route.

Yet, whilst this has happened, the city council and sporting authorities are facilitating other sporting clubs finding a permanent home in the city. On the site of the old Don Valley Stadium (once home to Sheffield FC) there will be a new community stadium built, for use by Sheffield Eagles and while I wouldn’t want to decry the Eagles and their important role in the city, the community and the city’s sporting offering, one can only wonder why the city leaders are not so welcoming and open to football. Could there not be a smaller scale football ground in the complex, also with the benefits of the EIS and University Technical College?

  1. Club Co-ordination
It's a simple thing, but co-ordinating match days and kick off times could have a positive impact for Sheffield football watchers. Clearly you will find very few people who choose to attend both Bramall Lane and Hillsborough, but why not make it easier to watch their club and another local side. A move away from 3pm Saturday kick-off would upset the traditionalists, it would need the agreement of respective leagues and opponents and some fixture co-ordination, but what an opportunity it would provide.

At a much higher level Tranmere Rovers played on Friday nights for a  number of years to avoid clashing with an Everton or Liverpool fixture and whilst Friday nights are an option what about Saturday lunchtimes? A 12 o'clock kick off at Sandygate would give time for fans to head on to Bramall Lane or Hillsborough. A similar kick off time at Bracken Moor would allow fans to have a couple of beers, watch Park Steels and head on to Hillsborough.

Then there are midweek dates. Last season Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Timms held an Ask the Chairman session, inviting questions at both a Q&A and online. A point I raised was that many midweek fixtures for Club clashed with United fixtures, stopping me from attending their games. With Wednesday having moved their midweek night from Wednesday to Tuesday; would it not make more sense for Club to play on Wednesday nights? Again giving more people the chance to attend? If only on an irregular basis, it would still add vital funds to the club coffers. The suggestion was acknowledged, but Club fixtures remain on a Tuesday night.

The same applies to Handsworth, Hallam and Stocksbridge. It is harder for these clubs, reliant on part time players with other commitments, to make these changes, but it is something that could have incremental financial benefit.

  1. Media interest
The Star has a "Grassroots" pull out section with reports, results and fixtures from all levels of the football pyramid and Sunday League details as well. Yet Radio Sheffield have only taken an interest in our teams outside the Football League when Sheffield FC have participated or organised a special event; such as the Pioneers Cup, or when they played at the San Siro.

The previous Sports Editor at Radio Sheffield had little interest in sport beyond local professional football, with other city sporting teams struggling for detailed coverage and support. The incumbent Sports Editor recently bemoaned the lack of local football, with United, Doncaster and Chesterfield’s League One games hit by international call-ups and Championship games already postponed. He pondered how he was going to fill a Saturday afternoon sports show.

I tweeted him, pointing out it was a national Non-League Day and there could be a great opportunity to broadcast live from a local club, with features and interviews in and around match-day. Other reporters could be elsewhere in the region. I didn’t get a response.

There was a time when Radio Sheffield used to broadcast results and reports from non-league games on a Saturday, breaking away from the phone-in for 5 minutes for Brian Bradley's round-up. Now they would much rather let someone speak about a game they haven't been to, or try and wind up opposition fans with their wonderful "banter" and trolling.

Although it is great that the clubs get the news coverage, it wouldn't take much to read out the results of South Yorkshire teams. It isn't as if there is a need for someone in the office to ring around the clubs to collate them, social media updates will do the job.

You could argue that social media has replaced some of the more traditional reporting of papers and broadcast media. Why worry about reporting on the radio when if someone is interested they could quickly get a score update from a twitter or Facebook account, but I think there is more to it than that. It is about creating a feeling of credibility and importance about our local clubs and their history. The Star, Radio Sheffield and now Sheffield Live TV could play a role is establishing that feeling that these clubs are still vital to the city.

I remember the Manchester local television station Channel M had a weekly football show on Saturday mornings, showing non-league highlights and interviews from the football league clubs. There is no reason why Sheffield Live TV could not have a similar football show each week.  Much has changed in terms of technology and media since the Channel M show. A lot of non-league clubs now video their games and have audioboom or videos of post-match interviews. It doesn't take expensive technology and can easily be shared to a wider audience.

For those who are finding themselves and their families priced out of attending professional football, they need to know there is a compelling alternative.

  1. Capturing the history and success – Museum of Sheffield Football
Going back nearly 20 years there were local media reports of Sheffield looking to build a World Football Museum. I recall plans for a giant football shaped structure off the M1 near Meadowhall. Whilst I was at University, around the same time, a number of academics were involved in either that, or a similar project, and i had initial discussions about being involved. Sadly it never progressed.

Sheffield would have been a natural home for a Football Museum, either on a World or National stage and the fact that the National Football Museum has been at Preston and now Manchester does not seem right given Sheffield's place in football history. A visit there sadly shows little mention of Sheffield FC or the city’s role in the development of the game.

With the National Football Museum seemingly settled in the Urbis building in Manchester, maybe Sheffield should look at having its own museum, charting the birth of football and the city's deep rooted involvement. Sheffield United has a great little museum - Legends of the Lane, Sheffield FC have a display of artefacts at the Coach & Horses ground, but there must be much more to display. Wednesday has no museum or public display and Hallam must have items which tell a story, given the club’s age and history.

I accept that bringing this all together in one place would not be easy. There are huge benefits to the clubs in keeping such displays in-house, for United the Legends of the Lane is a key part of stadium tours and a place to house hospitality guests on match day. But what about using exhibition space in the city centre to display artefacts create an interactive story telling of football in Sheffield? Exhibits could rotate around; visitors encouraged to go and see further club specific displays at each ground.

The city centre has so many empty spaces. There are display areas in the Millennium Galleries that could host permanent exhibitions. Could the clubs work together with the Sheffield & Hallamshire FA to deliver it? If another city had the football heritage Sheffield has there would be brown signs off the motorway and Parkway, there would be places to visit - to celebrate and learn, there would be football trails to the historic sites.

  1. Leveraging junior football and player development
With a thriving junior football league, impressive facilities across the city and further investment planed, there is a real opportunity to build on this competitive structure and hosting capabilities. Sheffield could host a high quality international youth competition.

Each year Sheffield United send representative sides to the Milk Cup competition held across several towns and cities in Northern Ireland. They have played against sides from across the world and in 2009 beat FC Porto in the semi-final, before losing to Manchester United in the final.

Our top junior sides have travelled to Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and taken on the best junior sides. Why not have a tournament here? With the added attraction of potentially playing on historic grounds. A cup competition for youth football in the city that introduced the first knockout football cup competition.

  1. Building on the Pioneers of International Football
The city has already made good football links and these could be used to further promote the city and its clubs. Although little mention is made of Ferencvaros and Chengdu Blades these days, United still have links with Central Coast Mariners and now have a connection with Fenerbahce through board member Selahattin Baki.

The city itself is twinned with Bochum and Donetsk surely giving opportunities to broaden those links through football.

Sheffield FC have initiated the Club of Pioneers; identifying the pioneering clubs who formed first in their respective countries. Following the lead of Sheffield FC, club such as Recreativo Huelva, Genoa CFC, Koninklijke Haarlem FC have been identified and fielded representative sides of former players and fans in competitions between the two. Attracting small bands of vocal followers to each other's grounds.

The idea of the Pioneers Cup provides not only a great marketing opportunity for Sheffield FC but for the city as a whole to support such a tournament and welcome new visitors. This tournament could be developed into a full pre-season competition over 3/4 days.

These club links again could be vital in facilitating a sizeable youth tournament in the city. It could also create real opportunities to bring new people to the city to learn about Sheffield's place in the development of football.

  1. International links - exploiting them
If you go to the Welcome to Sheffield website, click on Visit Sheffield, the Top 10 attractions have nothing football related. Click on the Attractions in the sub-menu and you are offered Sport as a choice. Click on Sport and the header says "In Sheffield, sport is more passion than play. Which is not surprising in a city which boasts the (….did this originally say Don Valley Stadium?) and where some of the world's best athletes train." It then takes you to Climbing and Golf Courses. A sub-menu to the left offers a link to Sport to Watch.

Four clicks from the Home page you finally read the following:

"You shouldn't be surprised by the range of sport you'll see in Sheffield, and you'll probably have heard of Sheffield as 'the first National City of Sport' but did you know that there's a lot more than that to thank the city for?    Sheffield is home to the oldest football club in the world... recognised by FIFA, Sheffield FC has been in existence (sic) since 1857.  That means we can genuinely claim Sheffield as 'the home of football'"

A huge claim tucked away in the website. Like the people of the city, proud, but we don't like to talk about it. Sheffield is a city that doesn't like to shout about its success, lest some outsiders hear about us and come and spoil it. Nor do we mention all our clubs or history, with United, Wednesday and Sheffield FC all benefiting from links on the city’s marketing website, but nothing for Hallam (steeped in history of their own), Stocksbridge or Handsworth. This lack of profile has to change and can be easily remedied.

Figures compiled by VisitBritain during 2012 show that 900,000 football supporters visited Britain last year. Football tourists collectively spent £706m, or £785 per fan – £200 more than the average visitor to Britain – with many arriving during the traditionally quieter period for tourism between January and March.

Four in ten of those who attended a match said watching sport was their principal reason for visiting the UK. Football was also found to encourage visitors to explore beyond London. Unsurprisingly, the stadiums attracting the largest number of overseas fans were in the north-west, but that doesn’t mean Sheffield couldn’t offer an alternative.

The ability to travel overseas and take in several matches (at different levels) over the course of a weekend is proving increasingly popular. Yes, people want to go and watch Dortmund, Barcelona, or Real Madrid. Yet on that same trip they will be just as likely to pay a visit to the vibrant terraces of Preußen Münster, L’Hospitalet, Alcorcon and get as much enjoyment out of that game and experience. "The Football Tourist" is a market Sheffield ought to be primed to exploit. Staggering fixtures and kick offs would of course be needed.

If you can make Sheffield a football attraction, the city can build on this Throw in the city's reputation for Real Ale and breweries and you have a heady combination that should attract ardent football watchers. Giving football fans a bigger reason to visit. Making the city a doubly attractive destination of choice.

Whilst the opportunity to tie in to the Kelham Island brewery/pub scene, or the city's wider real ale trail is certainly a positive link, more could be done to encourage visits alongside other big events, such as the month long Last Laugh Comedy Festival in October, or the Off the Shelf literary festival. The city could develop a wider strategy to capitalise on football tourism, encouraging fans to stay and explore the city and surrounding areas, use local businesses and visit tourist attractions.

The Off the Shelf festival offers a really good opportunity. Other cities are developing a Sports/Football Writing festival (events in London, Manchester and Bristol immediately spring to mind). These events combine authors and journalists, alongside former sportsmen telling their stories and talking about how they found their voice, their style in writing. Why not put on a week devoted to football or sports writing as part of Off the Shelf, rather than the odd event? Time it for a week when there are midweek fixtures, so from Saturday to Saturday there are football related events and matches across the city.

  1. Show the city’s pride
Whenever there is a big event in the city, banners appear at the top of lampposts around the city centre advertising the event with branding and imagery. Why not do the same to sell the Birthplace of Football?

Utilise the big banner on the side of the Central Library/Graves Art Gallery. Welcome to Sheffield – The Home of Football.

Contract a designer to make something vibrant and eye-catching. I would suggest the guys at goalsoul, the Sheffield based designers inspired by the eclectic and rich cultural tapestry of football around the world, who still show pride in their home city in many of their designs. Their artwork, telling the stories in images and words, is used in this post and many of their t shirts and art prints celebrate Sheffield football; the clubs and the history, as well as the stars and the lesser known heritage of the world game.

So there you go. Eight initial ideas, just over 3,700 words. I am sure you, as a reader and Sheffield football fan, could add more. If you can, please add them in the comments section to this post. I would like to think of this as a live post for new ideas to be added, new initiatives to gain attention.

So what now? These are ideas, some quite simple to implement and some with little incremental cost. We need to get this post shared, to clubs, to council, to the local FA, to the city’s cultural leaders and marketers. I am not saying this Blueprint must be followed, but it could initiate a discussion that leads to some actions being taken. I am sick and tired of our city under-selling itself, of our clubs not thinking creatively about how they market themselves. For a city of football firsts, we should not accept being viewed as second best, or mid-table fodder. Sadly I feel that we have been negligent to date and allowed this to happen.

As a city we can choose to sit back as cities such as Leeds or Manchester show some foresight and take another leap forward, with new investment, new innovation and define themselves as "go to" cities, leaving us further behind. We can moan about Liverpool, Nottingham, Newcastle or Bristol attract investment and develop. Or we can look at what defines us as a city, where history was made and where we can support and develop clubs and sport for the benefit of us, the clubs and the city as a whole. 

This is more than just supporting United and Wednesday, it is about supporting grassroots football and ensuring it is maintained and preserved. The last thing we want is to be focusing on the history, because the history is all we have left.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Something we will never be united on

It has been discussed on television - from the news channels to The Wright Stuff and Loose Women. The radio phone-ins, both local and national, have debated the issue. There have been opinion pieces and interviews in the written press. Social media has allowed people to express their views, some more eloquently and less abusively than others. Since Ched Evans was sentenced to 5 years in prison for rape in April 2012 his case and potential return to football have been frequently covered by the media.

One place you will not have read much about the Ched Evans case is here on this blog. Following the guilty verdict and United's defeat at MK the next day I wrote this piece, the only reference you might have seen since is in response to self-appointed fans' representatives speaking to the media. I took the view that this was a discussion only worth having nearer when he was released and there is something to discuss.

While the club have remained largely silent on the subject recognising that this is something to be discussed in the as and when and not before, the opinions of those who support Evans case for innocence and would support his return get louder. With United losing 1-0 to Leyton Orient and struggling to put away chances that could get us back into the game last Saturday, the chants started and were probably louder than at any point so far. "Super Ched" and "He's coming home" were sung with gusto by a number of fans at the back of the Kop and the chants were picked up by others joining in elsewhere in the stadium.

This was no way a majority of fans, despite the vociferous volume. A look around saw many people around me on the Kop shift uncomfortably. Several female supporters shook their heads. The desperation and belief we are lacking a regular goal scorer increases the belief for some that Evans might be that man.

I sat there wishing we could use that passion to back the eleven on the pitch, wishing we had signed a 20/30 goals a season striker, firing United towards a much needed promotion, yet that just hasn't been the case. Or maybe we have  and Marc McNulty needs to be given a decent run in the team? Three managers have failed to solve the striking conundrum which, if answered, would have meant the calls for Evans to return would not be as numerous and loud. The dilemma facing the club now may not have been a dilemma at all.

So what are the issues as I see them?

Is there any need for debate?

My first question is does the manager want to sign him and does he want him part of his squad? If the answer is "No", then the debate should end there. I don't think a club should impose players on a manager, regardless of the history with that player, or the possibility of regaining some of the "lost value" of that player somewhere down the line. Sadly I feel that the latter is playing a part in the minds of some of our decision makers. That alongside maintaining a competitive advantage i.e. better to sign Evans and take the flak, rather than him signing for, and potentially being successful at, a rival club.

If the answer to the question is Yes, Nigel does want to sign him, then my personal opinion is we shouldn't, although I suspect I am increasingly in the minority here. As I said before, the longer we go with unconvincing performances and a lack of goal threat from our front players the more likely those undecided fall into the "Sign him" category and the sway of opinion moves. 

I would have liked to see the manager and club show interest in signing other talented League 1 strikers who have been available, been signed by rivals and would have had an impact from Day 1 at the club. The fact that Kieron Agard, Will Grigg and Simeon Jackson (three examples) have gone elsewhere represent missed opportunities for me.

Only the manager and board can say whether we had any interest or not. But if we (club or manager) are placing their hopes in a striker who hasn't played for over two years and is nowhere near match fit, at the expense of ready-made candidates, I would be hugely disappointed.

The Brand (or as fans would see it, the club's name and standing)

Much of the club's limited comment has been focused on damage to the club and brand. A brand is a difficult concept for fans to accept. It's our club, not a brand, but we need to accept it is a business and tarnished business names do suffer financially and operationally. From the owners' perspective they need to sell the club to sponsors, business associates and potentially new investors. I can see why brand and standing will be one of their key considerations.

Adidas have reportedly said they would be fine with Evans returning to United and they may well feel they can make that statement in the here and now, but do they really know what the negative publicity may be like?  Do any sponsors, business associates or club officials really know?

This isn't a local issue; it is national and one where the focus isn't going to move away for a while yet. Certainly whilst Evans - as is his right - is fighting to prove his innocence and seek grounds for an appeal.

We are potentially entering new ground here, the first professional footballer to return after serving his punishment for a rape charge. As I mentioned in the introduction, the debate on television, radio and in the newspapers and social media has been frequent since his jailing, it will only multiply in number and the intensity of scrutiny increase post-release.

In terms of the club's name and standing, we hardly did ourselves any favours signing repeat and violent offender Marlon King. The Tevez affair seemed to harm our club more than it really should have done. Fans seem keen to adopt a Millwall-esque mentality of if the wider public don't like us, who cares. Yet I suspect the guardians of the club care. We are no longer "The Family Club", the moniker adopted by the club in the 1980's, but very few clubs could claim to be.

United under scrutiny

My position on Evans is based on two strands of thought. I'm struggling with moral issues, which I will come back to, but more importantly I can only see his return having a disruptive impact on the club and there is no certainty regarding the impact he will have on the pitch. The ensuing media focus, the division of opinion amongst fans and the unavoidable criticism from many quarters can only be a bad thing for the club and players.

Never is it more important for a club to be United and there has been great work done in the last few months by the club and board to build this. Obviously relative success on the field also helps.
Recent comments by the manager regarding the club's transfer activity and digs about money did no-one (board, fans, the manager himself) any favours and showed cracks that need healing quickly.

I fear the return of Ched would leave gaping chasms to try and fill. We could ostensibly lose fans through the gate on this issue. I know some would say "Stuff them" - I have seen that on forums and social media, but can the club afford to alienate long-standing fans on this issue? Clubs increasingly find that once fans are "lost" it is increasingly difficult to get them back.

On Pitch Impact & Fitness

Any player returning after a two and a half year absence will not be match fit, will not be match sharp and will be prone to injuries as a result of their lack of preparation. Even if we signed Evans it could be months before he is in a position to play. Surely there is better use of club finance and resources?

Lee Hughes took his place in the Oldham Athletic team less than two weeks after leaving prison. He failed to score for 7 games and then required an operation, eventually scoring his first goal three months into his return. The following March he was injured again and out for the rest of the season.

Anyone can keep fit, but getting yourself conditioned to avoid niggly injuries, to have the alertness to anticipate the cross trajectory, the movement of your marker, that's completely different. There is also a mental fitness required. More so when returning to football in the manner he potentially will be.

Evans has proved to be a confidence player, when he was good he was brilliant, but for two years he was awful. It is easy to forget that his one good season saw him supported by team mates, several of whom are playing at a higher level. Many of the other goals and assists that season came from Lee Williamson and Kevin MacDonald (now playing in the Championship), and Stephen Quinn and Matt Lowton (both with Premier League clubs). All hugely influential in the way we played and key to the success of the club and Evans' incomplete season.

A return will be in a different role in a different formation and whilst playesr like Jose Baxter and James Wallace have undoubted quality for League One, Evans would miss the hard running and hold off play of a strike partner like Richard Cresswell. At times derided by United supporters, he slogged away for his fellow strike partner's benefit that season.

The moral argument

Views on morality are personal, any judgement that determines whether actions accord with right or good conduct, are bound in an individual's personal beliefs and personal code. Morally, I wouldn’t want my son and daughter cheering on and idolising a convicted rapist and that is what he is. I accept that others don't share this view, although I wince when I see supporters speaking and writing in terms of "shades of rape" rather than acknowledging that, by the law, that rape is what it was.

Yes, his conviction is subject to a further appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Board, but from what I understand it could be two years before that is heard and the likelihood of a case being referred back to the courts is limited. With no contrition or apology it makes the position of any employer even harder in the ensuing period. For a parent who had to explain what had happened (as best you can) to Evans, his return and potential glorification cannot sit well. 

I accept that once someone has served their punishment they have a right to return to society and seek employment. However I have a real issue with the privileged position footballers seem to have on that score thanks to their potentially high value in their particular employment market. I know that neither I, nor anyone else in a professional position would struggle to find employment so easily (not that I would consider doing what he did) and would also lose our professional qualifications.

He will be on the sex offenders register. Only a player of perceived value  would find themselves employed at a football club with that marked on their record. We know that players have it much better than anyone else, this just heightens that uncomfortable awareness.

I have questioned whether I am being over-sensitive on the moral issues; I know some think I am. Football fills your senses with extremes of behaviour, both on the pitch and in the stands, which you wouldn't ordinarily expose yourself or your children to.

Then again, hearing offensive songs and witnessing violence on the terraces in my young years following United hasn't had an effect on me. I guess it is more down to parenting and life experiences as much as the words and actions of others. Yet, having said all this, my Dad is fine with Ched returning, which may seem at odds with what I have written, but perhaps shows how opinion can be split amongst members of the same family.

Petitions and Protests

One aspect of the current debate I cannot agree with is the petitions and claims that he should not return to United (and to United specifically). 140,000 have signed a petition to this effect and if someone has this view, surely it should be widened to all clubs? He could just as easily go elsewhere - say Championship or another League 1 club - and earn more than we might be prepared to offer. Surely that is as big an issue for the petitioners and protesters? A man earning significant rewards after such a crime. If you accept that, whether you like it or not, Evans will return to football, I see no difference between that being United or anywhere else.

If he does return

If his return was to happen it must be ensured that any deal must be on the club's terms, however much some might fear him going elsewhere and strengthening a competitor. Some fans seem to think we owe him, although I am not sure what we owe him. I also think a club statement that described us as remaining in contact as we were "offering a duty of care to a former employee" was ill thought out and is something that would be rarely seen in normal employment, if at all. Other supporters think he owes us.

The latter is perhaps more relevant, however we know that in football there is little place for feelings and a sense of duty; money rules. Without the case hanging over him back in 2012 he would have probably been sold in the January transfer window anyway. United would have then been just a club in his playing history.

Some fans chant "He's coming home", somehow forgetting the transient nature of football careers, very few players these days have a club they call home and statements from Evans' friends and family stating he want a return to United are as much about keeping his story alive and perhaps a realisation that re-starting a career may not be as easy as some might suggest. Why not make eyes at a former club, where you know you have support amongst the fans, at the same time stirring interest in others.

It is my view that we should not break any existing structures, nor should we upset existing squad members with any financial package offered. Unrealistic figures, based on his previous contract, have been mentioned in newspaper reports and whilst they are way wide of the mark, any package that is seen to be above average or rewarding could well provide further negative publicity for the club. A deal should be earned and not a given.

Mitigating the impact

There are ways in which United could sign Evans and look to deflect some of the attention in the immediate aftermath of release. An example would be to sign him and immediately loan the player out to a League 2 club to gain fitness and take the attention away from United. Whilst I see this as a smart move in principle I wonder if it might become a stick to beat the club with.  Given the moral arguments being posed, layering on top a view that United are protecting their "investment" in Evans may not be viewed positively.

Another issue regarding this approach would revolve around the acceptability to the player. Would he want to do this if he had offers of Championship or League 1 football? Would there be a club willing to take on the potential of goals, at a cost of the media attention and disruption? I guess there probably would, but again would the club/location be acceptable to the player and also the legal authorities? Would there be limits on his movement post release?

Other ways in which a deal could be structured could involve some form of community work, advising young people to learn from his mistakes. As many people have pointed out the situation Evans put himself into is probably replicated by many young people across the country every week on a night out. However his lack of contrition makes the rehabilitation by education difficult.

I respect the fact that he believes he is innocent, however the actions he undertook that night ought to be a lesson to young people more widely. There is also the possibility that his appearances anywhere (both on a pitch and undertaking any wider community/educational service) could be hit by protests and abuse, whether he is trying to do good by them or not. That would be unhelpful for any party involved, be it community, charity or club.

Another option might be to keep him and play him in U21/Development games, but I think this could be disruptive to the young players and their development. The negative focus on his appearances cannot help his team-mates.

So what happens next?

Will he return? Who knows? When the club said that a decision has not been made, I have a tendency to believe them. If an issue is this divisive and emotive for our support, I can only imagine similar, but maybe less vociferous, debates and divides exist elsewhere within the club. We are all individuals; no-one can claim to have a collective view representing all, be it in the street, the stands, the offices and boardroom.

No matter how much the media demand the club makes a statement and shows their intent, they are right to wait until they have clarity and confidence in their chosen plan of action. They will also need to have a plan in place to deal with the fall out of their decision and that is better made as they assess the feelings and focus nearer release day. The national focus will be one aspect, but whatever the decision there will be unhappy United fans.

This is a big decision for the club, that I think could make or break our season. I am sure most of our fans would agree with that thought, but there are many who would view it that way for different reasons. And on this we will never all be united. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Time For Action at the Lane

As I write United sit tenth in League 1 yet, at such an early stage of the season, we are just three points off second place with a game in hand on some of those above us. After last season's end this is perhaps below expectations and performances to date have done more to dampen them than raise. Those of a positive bent point to the small points gap and the fact we are yet to gel and find form, yet it is that lack of clear purpose and direction that worries me more.

Three home league games have seen an unjust defeat to early pacesetters Bristol City and scrappy single goal wins over Crawley and Rochdale. In both of the latter two games we have been pedestrian and plodding, whilst creating limited chances. In fact our best performance came at Preston where we soaked up pressure and counter attacked very well.

The manager is focused on not conceding, rather than winning, but with few clear cut chances created we are always at risk of defeat, or at best a draw, if the opposition score. To criticise such tactics may seem churlish given this was the basis of the strong unbeaten run from February onwards. It also delivered results for six games this season, but we are playing to tight margins and the risk of failure is high. 

The defence, shorn of it's best two players looks susceptible and errors are commonplace. Players who ended last season brimming with confidence, such as Murphy and Flynn, look lacklustre and limp with little energy or will to drive us forward.  

Post game, after the 5-2 defeat at Swindon, Clough explained that he set out to nullify the home side's attacking threat, but in doing so invited them on, we couldn't handle them and all impetus was lost. Chasing the game we give ourselves the glimmer of another three goal comeback but their players knew they had the beating of us. 

The comeback at Colchester aside we look mentally weak and there is a fear inherent in our play - such as taking it to the corner with ten minutes to go at home to Crawley. The manager has them worried about the opposition, not focused on what we might do to them.

There have been rumours of player fall outs and the manager has struggled to incorporate his new signings into the squad. One player,brought in as an experienced centre back and leader was written off in pre season, others have struggled to fit in the team and perform the role expected.

His team selection for the opening game against Bristol City could be equally judged brave or bizarre. His substitution of Neill Collins at Swindon could have long term ramifications for the player, not least for the fact he was viewed as culpable in pre-season defeats. My impression was that he intended replace Collins with Butler and Doyle with Basham, yet form and injuries seem to have scuppered the plan.

Whilst United fans have wanted the transfer market equivalent of Fabergé eggs, the resulting buys have been more like Kinder eggs. Largely underwhelming, lacking sparkle, meet the basic requirements of being an egg, but you are left with a feeling that what you are left with is an inadequate product, poor value for money and not something you would want to have again.

Pre-season results were poor and as much as you say it wasn't about results but fitness and understanding, it rapidly became apparent that bulking up the squad left the manager uncertain as to his best XI. Matches were thrown into the schedule late on, such as Dundee at home and the much demanded Fenerbahce tie and I am not sure this helped.

What increasingly worries me are the cracks in man management, something Nigel Clough is renowned for. After the Colchester victory, secured on the back of three late goals, the manager criticised the efforts in the previous day's training session. Yet whatever he said in response to the lacklustre session had little effect for 80 minutes of that match and much of the game at Swindon that followed.

For the last few months United felt unified. Business done early, with the best of League 1 purchased and players with Championship and top level records overseas. These were players that we were told were attracting Championship interest and we had fought off their interest to sign them. At no point did the manager suggest these were not his targets or that he had a lack of funds to buy the players he really wanted to. Yet post match versus Swindon he criticised the Summer recruitment plan and the panic bidding on Deadline Day.

The words of a manager refusing to toe the party line or of one not willing to acknowledge he has potentially made some bad signings? Let's be honest a majority are proving to be more of a Billy Paynter than a John Brayford. If it's a lack of funds he could have made a stand in the summer, but we were told that he and Mal Brannigan had approached the board for a sum of money to get a promotion winning squad.  This had reportedly been received and they were left to recruit he players they wanted without board sanction. The only exception being when salary bands were breached, or if additional funds were required.

So what is the case? For a board who are, somewhat understandably, reluctant to show their financial hand publicly, a gauntlet has been thrown down by the manager. They are in a difficult situation with a seemingly compliant manager now displaying such a recalcitrant attitude. It would be difficult to publicly deny his claims without undermining the manager, placing him in an increasingly awkward position. To say nothing would leave it open to imply the manager was correct and club statements of action and intent were false.

Clough's standing in the game and portrayal by club and media as a straight talking and honest individual places him in a stronger position in the fans' hearts and minds, than a board yet to fully win over many fans who cannot see where the money is spent. 

For what it's worth, a look at last year's accounts show a loss making operating model, this summer has seen a significant incoming players, not all for fees, but at a cost in signing on fees and salaries. I think a decent amount of money has been spent and there is more available. But fans are naturally suspicious having been hurt by failed promises in the past. 

It is now time for Nigel Clough to stand up and show whether he is up to the job. To show he can be positive and for his team to impose themsleves on the opposition. It is now the time for action in the transfer market. It is now time for the board to show that they mean business. Without this I see a jittery season, belief waning, crowds falling and the unity felt in May disintegrating. 

There have been noticeable improvements in the way the club is run off field, however they lose their importance if success on the pitch doesn't follow. The key to unity is trust in one another. Comments like those post-match on Saturday do little to maintain trust. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

No Masking the Blame on Tevez

Last summer, in the aftermath of the Blades' shambolic end to the season and in the midst of an elongated (and ultimately misguided) managerial search, I poste an article to this blog called Reasons to be Cheerful.

It garnered thousands of hits, was linked on West Ham discussion forums and ended up as the second most read article on A United View. You can read it here.  It won't take long. The post was blank.  No words. No pictures. As a United fan I could see no grounds for optimism.
That this caused so much happiness amongst Irons fans caused me much amusement. They really do hate United and some of the 30+ comments left on the kind of defy logic and seem to be based on fantasy and fallacy. Before I share a selection of the comments it is probably worth remembering a few facts regarding the Tevez case which causes much of the hatred and venom.

To start with. Let’s be clear. There is no mystery, there was no simple mistake. The rules were clear and West Ham lied about breaking them.  At the time of the transfer agreements  for both Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano (right on the transfer deadline in August 2006), and until January 24 2007, West Ham United failed to disclose the third party agreements to the Premier League and deliberately withheld these agreements from the Premier League.

When West Ham signed the Argentinian internationals from Brazilian club Corinthians, the players were contracted to four offshore companies via agent Kia Joorabchian - a fact that, according to the commission, Hammers bosses deliberately concealed from league authorities. Both Scott Duxbury and Paul Aldridge denied the existence of the contracts.

"[West Ham] knew that the only means by which they could acquire [the players] would be by entering into the third party contracts," said the commission. "Equally, they were aware that the FA Premier League, at the very least, may not - and in all probability would not - have approved of such contracts. They determined to keep their existence from the FAPL." – Independent Commission statement.

On April 27th 2007 they were found guilty by a FA Premier League Independent Commission of breaching rules B13 and U18. Rule B13 states that all Premier League clubs should act in good faith, while U18 relates to third party influence. A Premier League Commission fined the club £5.5m, stating that a points deduction would have virtually condemned West Ham to relegation which would have been unfair on the fans and players.

At the time of the fine the Premier League added that if they were found to be breaching the same rules again, a heavier punishment would be in order (points deduction/relegation implied).  The club claimed (and this was accepted by the Premier League) that the agreement was ripped up and Tevez was free to play in the final three games.

Despite legal action between Joorabchian and West Ham over the economic rights of Tevez, the Premier League saw fit to agree to the Argentinean’s move to Manchester United the following August. But if such a valued asset was under West Ham’s ownership they must have been gutted to receive a fee of just £2m from the Red Devils.

Following relegation The Blades pursued action to try and force a more standard punishment on West Ham and also financial compensation. They were unsuccessful in appealing the original decision with both a Premier League independent commission and the High Court. They were even told that the appeal commission could not reverse the original decision, but if they had made it in the first place there would have been a points deduction.

United then took the matter up through the FA's arbitration procedure and there was a ruling in United’s favour in March 2009. Lord Griffiths, who headed the committee, suggested that West Ham had not “torn up” the offending contract after the initial tribunal had required them to do so, but instead simply told the FA Premier League that they had done so whilst executing a verbal side agreement with Kia Joorabchian to confirm to him that they were not intending to simply walk away from that contract. This alleged deceit then enabled Carlos Tevez to play in the final three games of the season. This was a key element in reaching the final verdict.

There was a belief that the Premier League had been further misled, so where was the further investigation and action promised two years earlier? The Premier League remained quiet. By quiet I mean whistling in the corner, eyes darting around, making no contact, hoping no one would chase up the further action required.

The thing is, despite their cheating, despite the ongoing fantasy of their fans where they see themselves as the wronged party, I don't feel any real anger towards West Ham any more. Only despair at their blinkered, partisan and misguided views, which their fans continue to espouse. They were, in the words of the commission, dishonest and deceitful, but it was the Premier League commission's failure to adequately penalise them that still rankles.

A decision partly based on whether it would disproportionately punish fans, whilst welcome in some areas of the game (I am sure Wimbledon fans would have liked this applied by the committee reaching a verdict on their move to Milton Keynes), had no place here. The delay to the hearing which led to the decision not to deduct points, was down to on-going West Ham deceit over the nature of the contracts.

I accept United should have stayed up that season under their own steam. It is not about blame for relegation. It is about fair play, abiding by the rules and trust in the authorities to adequately manage these issues. As members of the Premier League you contractually sign up to abide by the rules. If rules are broken which ultimately lead to financial loss for another member club, then it is perfectly rational for them to pursue financial recompense. The fact is whichever club was relegated would have pursued a claim against West Ham. Fate meant that we ended up being that team. 

It galls me whenever I see other, often much smaller clubs, punished by points deductions for administrative oversights and registration issues. Take last season when AFC Wimbledon were deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player, Jake Nicholson, in the Sky Bet League 2 fixture with Cheltenham Town on 22 March. He came on as a substitute at half-time, before scoring his side's second goal in the 4-3 victory. He had an impact in one game and they were penalised the three points.

Further down the pyramid the Conference board punished Alfreton's failure to register an emergency loan keeper; a blank fax causing the lack of registration. The three point punishment was consistent with deductions issued to Conference North sides Oxford City and Harrogate Town.

Yet the so-called “Greatest League in the World” – the FA Premier League failed to apply such punishment to a more blatant breach of rules, breach of trust and the use of illegal contracts. In a world where reference is made to tarnishing the product, damaging the integrity of the brand, surely an instance that Richard Scudamore described as ranking “up there as the number one act of bad faith that any club has ever done towards me during my time here” deserved a similar, if not stronger punishment?

Scudamore’s further comments only lead to the conclusion that finances are all that matters in the moneyball league, fair play, legality and abiding by the rules are just mere PR puff.

"It is quite simple - you are completely undone by an act of bad faith. If a club, through its executives, chooses to lie straight to your face, there is a great deal of damage that can be done from that.

"Ultimately, the Tevez saga goes down to people not being honest. With any regularity body, if people are not honest there is very little you can do about it and that is why the whole thing unravelled.”

Yet this deceit and wrongdoing doesn’t seem to register with Hammers fans who see only United doing wrong. Their argument perpetuated by members of the London based media, such as Hammers fan Martin Samuel who perpetuated myths regarding the transfer of Steve Kabba from United to Watford. In this instance both clubs were investigated and it was found that there was no case to be answered.

So in this mire of denial, anger and abuse, many amusing statements are made. Here are some of the comments made on this blog and a few responses.

“Reasons to be Cheerful: Reason #1: Payments of the money the Blades swindled out of West Ham for not being good enough to beat the drop will stop after this summer.”

Swindled? I seem to recall West Ham settled the claim as they knew they were guilty and before the tribunal set an amount?

“I found a reason to be cheerful, you'll still be in League 1 for a long time.”
“Unless you end up in League 2 ...”

Well we had a good go last season.

“One Carlos Tevez.”

Yes, you are right, there is.

“Where did all the money go? The money that the blunts stole from West Ham? Fairness in Football!!!!!”

Capital B on Blunts if you don’t mind. And as for stole. Steal according to the Oxford Dictionary is to take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it. I think West Ham settled a payment of their own volition and in negotiation, therefore there was permission and legal right.

“What did McCabe do with the blackmail money? He certainly didn't spend it on the team.”

Unfortunately he did, giving it to Bryan Robson and Kevin Blackwell wasn’t the best use, granted. As for Blackmail – “The action, treated as a criminal offence, of demanding money from someone in return for not revealing compromising information which one has about them”. I only wish we had more compromising information on West Ham, however I think West Ham themselves had revealed enough to compromise themselves, once they had stopped lying to the FA Premier League.

“Phil 'handball' Jagielka is doing rather well at Everton.”

He is. Well done to him. Always good to see your young players develop into the international players you thought they would be.

“Total and utter karma”
“You make me happy every day, I revel in your appalling situation, all bought on by your attempt at a contrived result that went wrong. Karma.”
“Oh deep joy. May you continue unrestrained on your descent into oblivion, it is no more and no less than you deserve. All that ill-gotten dosh and nothing whatever to show for it. It’s really hard to think of a better example of karma in action.”

Karma? In Hinduism and Buddhism this is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existence. A sort of retributive justice. Given that West Ham cheated and have only suffered financial penalty in the cash fuelled world of the Premier League you could actually argue that karma is yet to exert itself on them. As for us, we got some reward and blew it all. That’s life. That’s football.

“Do they have a word for shaudenfreude in blunt-land?”

Yes, it is spelt schadenfreude. I presume it is the same word you are referring to?

“Can't even get out of League 1 despite our charity payments hitting your begging bowl every year, dread to think where you will be when your wealthy, cockney, top half of the Premier League, still watching the big teams, spending £10m+ on single players, moving to a massive new ground benefactors stop subsidising your shambles of a club. Still at least Avram is is reportedly on his way to make it all better. COYI”
“Every time I think about your nasty little clubs plight I am filled with an enormous sense of satisfaction. Who can you sue to try and get out of this one? It must be someone's fault?”

Acts of charity are voluntary. I don’t recall you being too willing to make this payment. Nice to see the fan here gloating over the Olympic stadium farce that is not just bad for the tax payer but Leyton Orient to. Another example of football’s rules being ignored to the Hammers’ benefit.

And finally it is no one’s fault but ours, well the people running the club. You may well gloat, but with the twists and turs of football, just remember the next team mismanaged could be you.

So then a couple of weeks ago, it finally happened. The Blades were drawn to meet The Hammers in the second round of the Capital One Cup; the first meeting since that Premier League season. No doubt the tie will get the media talking and it got the fans of both clubs talking when the draw was made. United's visit to Upton Park immediately generated plenty of social media comment, but with very different levels of animosity from the respective sets of fans. 

United fans mockingly joked about facing the Shammers, Wet Sham or some variation thereof and the fact at last, some 7 years later we would face each other at last. Hammers fans immediately started with a #BlameTevez hash tag on twitter and seemingly couldn't wait to put the Blades to the sword and give a “warm” East End welcome to United fans.

The interest in the match can perhaps be best summed up by the relatively low ticket sales to United fans. A midweek date doesn't help. Some fans have openly said it just isn’t worth the potential hassle and trouble.  The other factor is many just don't really care about West Ham or the match being against them. If we win, fantastic. If we don’t then, to be honest it is not unexpected given relative league positions. We move on and focus on the league.

So, while Hammers get excited and prepare a hate filled welcome, many United fans will reserve their ire for those who let the situation happen; Richard Scudamore and the Premier League. We don't blame Tevez, many more were culpable and in a greater sense.

Enjoy wearing your Tevez masks lads. The only impact it will have is improving the looks of the average Upton Park crowd and the bank balances of entrepreneurs and street hawkers in the East End.