Alan Biggs at Large: Bad timing for Sheffield United - but coronavirus crisis can cause football to re-evaluate

No-one in football really has a right to feel victimised by coronavirus other than any of the actual victims themselves. And their families.

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 2:42 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 2:42 pm
Chris Wilder

Sport runs a very poor second when it comes to this sort of winning and losing.

However, in sporting terms, there are those with more to lose than others. Sheffield United and their supporters can count themselves particularly unfortunate.

This should have been the most exciting week of an exhilarating season - climaxing towards an undreamt of pursuit of a European place, further intoxicated by a home FA Cup quarter final with Arsenal.

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All this might still happen. But when and how? Can the Blades recover the momentum that seemed inexorably behind them?

If anyone can, Chris Wilder can. But it represents a challenge for which no manager could prepare.

And first of all, he, and everyone else whose lives are steeped in football, has to accept - as he does - that the game is secondary.

That goes against the grain for everybody in or around football, including this column. For us, it is an all-consuming passion.

For instance, I’ve come to the shocking realisation that in 36 years as a freelance I haven’t taken a single day off sick. Despite being ill on many occasions, while also being incredibly lucky.

This, times many, is the force that drives those actually on the inside of the game, especially the high achievers.

That carry-on regardless mentality, in victory or defeat, is so powerful that being forced to sit idle, captive to helpless uncertainty, is agonising. The only relief being to keep your players and staff ticking over on the training ground.

And I’m guessing Wilder will feel more for them than himself - a group of professionals at the peak of their careers who could be denied a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

In the particular case of Sheffield United there’ll also be a feeling of ... if it can go wrong, it will go wrong, even when it’s not entirely our fault.

Flashbacks here to referee Graham Poll’s bodily “assist” to Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final winner against the Blades in 2003 and, of course, that relegation amid the Tevez Affair four years later. Oh, and it has to be admitted, any number of own goals from the club itself.

But this is different. Different to anything any of us has experienced. And while this life crisis is deeply depressing to everyone at Bramall Lane, there are many others on the glory trail, from the Premier League downwards, in similar limbo.

Ultimately, the greatest sympathy - other than to disease victims - has to go to those clubs fighting for another form of survival. Those who cannot continue without match income.

A timely reminder here, amid the ghastly prospect of more games being played behind locked doors, of the value of the paying spectator.

I still see that as far preferable to nulling the campaign, which would be deeply unfair on some and highly fortunate (in football terms) for others and potentially create legal chaos.

But if any good at all is to come from all this, again from a football perspective, it is the highlighting of the fact that the game is nothing without fans.

They are marginalised at the top level as insignificant sources of revenue; ridden roughshod over with ticket prices and kick-off times; generally not listened to.

But these are the most important people in a game that increasingly knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Those at the top driving this imbalance should make a start with financial aid to those lower down the scale who exist on paying customers.

And then re-evaluate what football’s biggest asset really is.

Plus a re-evaluation of itself. I saw it perfectly put the other day: “The most important of the least important things in life.”