ALMOST 50 years ago, this photograph, taken in the streets of Attercliffe by a Star photographer, landed on the picture desk.
In his caption he had typed: ‘Coloureds arrive in Sheffield’.
He may as well have written: The Aliens Have Landed.
I can just picture him standing agog at the sight before him as he took that shot; Sheffield’s very own Christopher Marlow, accosted by four incarnations of The Other species - in his own back yard.
Was he being racist, that photographer, when he etched his caption into The Star’s archive forever? I very much doubt it. I suspect he actually thought long and hard about the ‘correct’ way to refer to the quartet of Asian men he’d captured on camera. To continue the Conrad analogy, in his head they may well have been ‘exotic savages’ that ought to have been hiding in the ‘Darkness of the Orient.’ But here they were, claiming the streets of South Yorkshire as their own, and as we now know, ‘they’ were here to stay!
Now look at the restaurant sign: clearly the ‘Bombay’ restaurant is not, as its strapline suggests, ‘English and Continental’. It’s an Indian restaurant, but at that time the owners didn’t dare label it such in case the local population might think it a parlour from the Last Crusade where snakes were charmed and animals sacrificed. Better to show willing on the assimilation front by badging up their business as something it absolutely wasn’t than alarm the locals, eh? Quite why the door is boarded up, one can only speculate.
Back then, it was all new. Nobody really knew how they should go about integrating, and so tensions arose as the tectonic plates of two disparate cultures rubbed against one another. The inevitable culture-quakes erupted, of course, but as a city we managed to sort out our differences and get on with living side by side. We’re a city of sanctuary, after all.
Your average Sheffielder is unlikely to now refer to the Asian community as ‘they’; more likely ‘us’. Refer to anyone as ‘coloured’ and you’ll almost certainly be put right by anyone within earshot. We’ve moved on from that. We know more about our neighbours, and love them all the more for it.
But flash forwards 50 years and Page Hall, once again, some might say, is now being ‘invaded by aliens’. Like before, tolerance is low and tensions are running high.
Look at the video footage and photographs obtained by The Star. Police helicopters circle, officers line the streets, cordons are in place and ambulances are on stand-by. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were observing conflict from the Ukraine crisis.
Gangs of marauding yobs armed with bats, bottles and anything else they could get their hands on engaged in pitched battle in the middle of Sheffield on a balmy summer’s evening – is this what Sheffield has come to?
Well today I, and the Sheffield Star, are declaring: Enough Is Enough. Someone is going to be killed on the streets of Page Hall unless action is taken now.
The people of Page Hall are pleading for help. Their neighbourhood, they say, is not safe. We say, regardless of what the politicians, the police and other people say, it’s the residents on the streets whose view is most legitimate. And they are desperate.
History shows that Sheffielders are the most friendly and welcoming of any city’s inhabitants. All they demand is a bit of respect for the way of life that we all enjoy in Sheffield, regardless of race, colour or creed. We can all get along as long as everyone knows how they should behave. If anyone wants to break the boundaries of what is acceptable then they should be dealt with by the full force of the law.
We must not see The Horror, The Horror that erupted on Monday night ever again.
Sheffield has come through community transitions just like this time and time again. We must not fail this time around, no matter what we think to the cards we’ve been dealt.