hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Up the Blades!

Bill Shankly, a famous manager of Liverpool Football Club once said that 'fitba', he was from Glasgow where they speak a language beyond the register of most humans, was not a matter of life and was far more important than that. Given the tragic events in Norway such a statement seems fatuous in the extreme, but I know what he meant.  

For the record, I am not going to dignify that Norwegian monster with any consideration.  It was an act of evil pure and simple and he should be cast with his views into the dustbin of history.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families and the people of Norway...of all colours and creeds. End of matter.

No, today as a new seasons beckons I am going to admit to an obsession that has been with me since birth and which I will take with me to the grave.  I am a football fan - yes, real football. I am not only a football fan I am a sad, mad, obsessed fan of Sheffield United Football Club.

Americans amongst you may offer oblique sympathy because you are still prone to a version of this obsession, even if your so-called 'sports' are by and large silly. Europeans amongst you will fully understand and no doubt share this particular obsession for a game that was to all intents and purpose invented in my home town - Sheffield - and which is now played far better across at least 99% of the planet.  Bill, you are excused at this point (you know who I mean).   The only thing that can really be said for this obsession is that it channels the national, patriotic and local zeal from one entirely violent field of European endeavour onto another marginally more peaceful.  
Known as the Blades 'we' (note the depth of the obsession) are renowned for 'our' blunt edge in front of goal.  In fact, last season we not only lost the ability to score a goal, but were by and large unable to locate the goal itself.  And, all this whilst a large neon sign was illuminated over our own goal with the words 'Score Here For Free' emblazoned.  Excessive defensive largesse led of course to much gnawing of teeth amongst the faithful and much departing of managers whose grasp of  tactics seemed by and large to be limited to offering excuses for defeat before a ball was kicked.  We were awful. 

Consequently, having been but three years ago amongst the gods of the Premier League, playing the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool we are now cast asunder amongst the weeds that make up League One.  Note, I have not mentioned Arsenal as they are not really a club, more an up-market north London beauty salon run by and for the French.

Now, being English nothing is what it seems.  League One is of course the third tier of English football - of course it is.  This morning I received the fixture list from the Sheffield United Supporters Club of which I am a proud member.  Indeed, me and the other bloke see ourselves as the gritty back-bone of supporterdom and jealous guardians of our club's anthem - the chip butty song. 

Next season far from attending the glitzy grounds of the great - such as Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge - we will travelling to those very symbols of post-imperial industrial decline such as Walsall, Tranmere and Huddersfield.  These are teams that have managed not only to avoid a golden age, but are probably more proud than we are of being truly and utterly dire.  If they ever had a future it is now so far behind them as to constitute ancient history.  Solid folk all!

Still, there is one saving grace.  Sheffield Wednesday - the enemy and known justifiably by we Blades as the Wendies - are also in League One.  This means there will be two so-called local 'derbies' at which some 40,000 people will pay very good money - well, pounds - to cram into two fading grounds to watch complete and utter rubbish for ninety minutes - twice!  Worse, I will travel all the way from the Netherlands to watch what is probably the worst football on the planet.  And, I will enjoy it.  Is that obsession or what?

The facts are these.  Both clubs are broke.  Both clubs are rubbish.  In a sense both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday reflect the great city of Sheffield from whence I hail.  The steel city of an empire now long gone Sheffield is a great city that struggles to avoid relegation into history.  

Some years ago I allowed my strategic head to rule my supporter's heart and wrote to the Sheffield Star, our local paper, suggesting the two clubs merge with Sheffield F.C., the world's oldest.  Then, I argued, the city of Sheffield would have a club that could compete with the best.  Interestingly, my email address was placed at the bottom of the letter by an editor clearly possessed of a strong sense of humour.  Being born no more than 500 metres from Sheffield United's ground, Bramall Lane, I thought I knew most of the words that make up Sheffield's distinct dialect.  Clearly not!

And that is of course the point.  As yet another season approaches you can forget the Champion's League, the Premier League, the World Series (oh, please!) and even the World Cup (bunch of overpaid prima donnas - just like academics, without the overpaid bit).  Most fans support rubbish clubs and are proud of it.  So, spare a thought for me and the millions like me as we watch the 'lads' yet again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on some cold, dark night in front of a few cold, sad people in a dark mood in some cold, dark place. It is the true mark of the human spirit, the triumph of hope over experience and proof if ever needed that we are all in need of a little insanity.

Football is not a matter of life and death, but it matters to me.  I am a football fan, I support a rubbish team and I am proud of it!

Up the Blades!

Julian Lindley-French


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