To protesting Coventry City fans - Right of reply from a Sheffield United supporter
On Friday The Star published an email from Craig Brown, a Coventry City fan, expressing his frustration and upset at United fans mocking his club's plight at Thursday night's game at the Ricoh Arena.
An easy accusation to make. No one can dispute that some Blades fans did chant their support towards Coventry's maligned hedge fund owners SISU, but there needs to be acknowledgement of the circumstances that led to them doing it.
Blades fans had paid at least Â£45 to travel to and watch the game, some will have taken time off work to get down there. They were left watching a farcical game in trying circumstances which seemed to negatively impact on their team, more so than the subject of the Sky Blues' supporters' ire. In fact towards the end, when the players were taken off they must have wondered when the match might finish, if it would at all. All that way and expense on a Thursday night potentially for nothing........
Whilst some blame can be placed at the door of Sky for choosing this game and giving the Coventry fans the opportunity of creating a public spectacle to highlight their frustrations, the way in which the fans went about it alienated both Blades fans there and those watching back in Sheffield. It should be noted that before the Blades played at The Valley recently, the Charlton fans action group publicly and politely informed Blades supporters of their campaign, the background to it and their planned actions. The disruptive elements of which were soon over early in the game.
Coventry fans blew whistles incessantly through the game, not an issue in itself unless you suffer from tinnitus, but the constant shrill was punctuated by sharp blasts very similar to a referee's whistle. To my ears and many other Blades fans watching, this seemed to be when the Blades were attacking. A cynical view or misperception? Maybe not when you note how it all died down for a while after City equalised and had a promising spell of possession.
Balls were thrown on the pitch with the aim seemingly more at black shirts than the acres of green and play was stopped with the Blades in a good position down the Coventry left so a balloon could be burst. The restart saw the ball sent back downfield to Simon Moore. Then came the on the pitch protest as Sky Blues fans, aided and abetted by the police and stewards, walked on to the pitch, having had free reign to move around the stadium before that. It was fortunate that the clearly angry fans didn't do anything rash towards the Blades players who were still on the pitch, but how were the police and stewards to know that wouldn't happen? Ask Clint Hill what happens when pitch invasions turn ugly.
So there was no protest early in the game when play can resume with little impact with much of the game to go, but instead with minutes left and the Blades having had a strong spell of pressure, the players were taken off. It was clearly premeditated and maybe the timing of it was planned beforehand, but it came at a time when Blades fans were seeing signs of a vital winning goal; Caolan Lavery had hit the post twice and City had desperately scrambled the ball clear of the box a couple of times. The fact that Sharp scored after the re-start was a relief, but it could have been very different and could have left the mood after the game even uglier.
I understand that Coventry fans are desperate. We have been there. The Blades Independent Fans association was one of the first structured fans organisation formed with the aim of effecting boardroom change at a club. We had marches, protests, red card displays and an atmosphere manager Dave Bassett described at the time as "poxy", but if anything our protests had a detrimental effect on our side, not on the opposition. We never disrupted the game or invaded the pitch. Eventually chairman Reg Brealey sold out to BIFA backed Mike MacDonald, which led to a whole host of new problems including the fateful day, with the Blades flying high in the second tier, striking duo Brian Deane and Jan Aage Fjortoft were sold on the same day. From frying pan into fire. Our boardroom has had so many issues and stories over the years that a book has been written about it.
Mr Brown called the chants of Blades fans appalling and unnecessary. Maybe they were to Coventry ears, but when your actions and your protests have shown little respect to the opposition players and fans, should you expect any different? Football fans will always aim their barbs at the perceived weakness of the opposition and this was no exception at a time when frustrations were understandably high. United have previously stood in alliance with Coventry fans, supporting their campaign, even displaying our own banners of support, but when your actions are perceived to be detrimental to your opponents then sympathy will be in short supply. Some will aim their jibes in a sharper manner.
Mr Brown - I genuinely hope you overcome the huge challenges in displacing SISU, finding a stadium solution and that you continue to have a club to support, but to find unity with fans of other clubs, you need to show a bit more forethought and a little less partisanship in your methods and recognise that they have spent time, money and effort to see a football match. We are all football supporters after all.