Friday, 20 February 2015

Falling for the Blades

In the last fortnight I have seen the question posed many times; Could the result at Gillingham be the equivalent of Crewe away last season? A turning point in this phase of our relationship? Colchester the Tuesday after saw some moments of joy, but there were concerns that this wasn't a long term, sustainable happiness. The fear that all wasn't quite right still, the fear that when the big date comes they will fail to turn up.

After the Colchester victory, charismatic full back and bearded cult hero John Brayford tweeted "The Blades train is coming". To which a fellow Blade replied "It's a bit fucking late". It is, but how many thought we would go to Bristol City and win? I know I didn't and I am someone who thought the gap between the two teams wasn't that great back on that first date in August.

Since then Blades fans have been green eyed monsters. Admiring glances cast towards the "quality" signings made by City and the clear impact they have had. Meanwhile, we added plenty of depth to the squad, but with a feeling that the match day eleven wasn't being greatly enhanced. Chopping and changing week in week out, our love had lost its identity. The over-arching commitment was there, but there just wasn't the association with what we saw, the things we hold dear. The commitment felt one way.

But on Valentine’s Day they delivered. The emotions swung again and even for the most hardened and pessimistic a happy ending to it all seems a possibility. But then you realise that it's just two dates with destiny and we need as many as 13 or 14 in the next 18…..Then a night in Nottingham ends well and you can see, or you hear of, the steely determination to make this work.

I want to believe we can replicate last season's run. I really do. Nearly 40 years of being a Blade reins in that hope. It's a form of self-preservation. Like a broken relationship that you will never walk away from. It is all about managing the potential disappointment. You still want and hope for the best, but you never expect it.

Football fans are the most loyal half of a relationship I can think of, in any aspect of life. You are in a marriage, often arranged, set upon you by parents or grandparents. Arranged but then secured in that moment when, clutching your Dad or Grandad's hand so tight, you see the floodlights, the expanse of green, and hear the buzz and the noise.Sometimes there is a choice, but those who have a choice tend to choose a partner more in the public eye. Yet for all this unstinting devotion, for all this commitment and financial expense, for the public disdain and contempt, what do we get back?

A roller coaster of emotion, varying results, fluctuating from success to failure knowing that success is relative; limited by finances and the ever expanding gap between top and the middle, never mind the bottom.

You travel every week to be treated like a criminal, with no other justification other than your chosen love. You are kettled and frogmarched, shoved and contained. You are warned and disrespected without provocation. You are not allowed to respond, to defend yourself, even in the most polite or respectful terms. Your words twisted, your intentions deliberately misconstrued. Barriers restrict your movements, young and old, fit and infirm equally discriminated against. Some fall, no official hand is offered to pick them up. You pick them up and help them along.

You pay extortionate amounts for just 90 minutes with your love, but pillars and posts often block your loving gaze. They test your levels of endurance, through enforced discomfort, but you still sing songs of devotion, until they become objects of your ire and pent up frustration.

You stand exposed to the wind and rain on open away ends like Gillingham, as the rain waters down the jug of milk by the burger van and further dilutes your tea or beer when bought. That is if you can pass the taste test and distinguish between the varying shades of brown liquids which are poured into plastic cups that barely shield your hand from the scalding liquid within.

You gorge on food that's fast, but a fast track to adult obesity. Carb loading, wallet emptying. Food that has a mark-up that would only make it appear reasonably priced to a person who lived in Zimbabwe under Mugabe.

We show our love by wearing our love's favoured colours, but every year that spectrum is expanded by new away kits, or even third kits required through conveniently inappropriate away colour selection. Hues chosen by the colour blind, or a fashionista who knows nothing of your years of devotion or the history and tradition. 

Being a lover of the Blades the potential upsides have been joyous. Dates in the less enervating cities of Leicester and Cardiff and in the dated town of Darlington have brought euphoria. Closer to home and visits to less salubrious parts of our home city somehow left us in rapture and bliss. But more often than not the big dates in the smoke have seen a failure to perform, a let-down, with an audience in tow. The pain more heartfelt and public.

The negative memories tarnish and always rise to the surface. They pin back your hope for a brighter future. They will mess up somewhere along the line and you will just accept it and return for more. 

As a London Blade tweeted to me this week, “You have to have the rain to have the rainbow”. But in the back of your head you just see rain. You dare not hope for the sun, because when will it come?

I do hope that we ride the love train and have a date with the Championship in August, I really do. Just forgive me if I don’t build my hopes up too much for now. I'll take it one week at a time. As much as I look forward, me and United have got history. 


  1. Brilliantly written and unerringly accurate.

    Yet again "Lets wait and see"

  2. I was first taken to watch SUFC at BDTBL 50 years ago this year. Since then there have been many occasions when I've said 'I'm not wasting my money on that load of **** anymore'. But as soon as we have a run of wins it's like a drug dealer knocking at the door. I know realistically I'll only have a short period of euphoria before the pain kicks in again, but I can't resist making that purchase once more. I'm an exile living in deepest east Kent and each match I go to feels like a reunion with my clan. See you at Wembley once again......