James Shield's Sheffield United Column - Gesture politics, restuarant scams and how some people have betrayed their prejudice towards football fans

You always knew it was going to happen.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 11:19 am

After watching folk who wouldn’t know one end of a football pitch from the other masquerading as uber-supporters while England negotiated their way through the Euros, I suspected they’d go back to denigrating us once the tournament was over and so it has proved.

Social media was awash on Sunday evening with blowhards and hand-wringers criticising some of the scenes we witnessed outside Wembley both before and after the Three Lions were stalked and hunted down by an Italy team with few obvious weaknesses. Yes, they were shameful. But what truly grated, perhaps even more than the result of the match itself, was reading many of them asking ‘What do you expect?’ The inference being that the very same community they were claiming membership of when it suited - fandom - is exclusively populated by knuckle dragging thugs. How do they know those pictured snorting a few lines off the back of their match ticket or trying to storm the stadium’s gates hadn’t also jumped on the bandwagon when it appeared to be turbocharged before quickly leaping off when it ran out of fuel? They don’t. But the fact these ‘commentators’ simply assume they are betrays their deep-seated prejudice of anyone who grew-up - and I mean grew-up - around the beautiful game.

Yes, some of the pathetic bigots who took to Twitter to racially abuse members of Gareth Southgate’s squad are probably lifelong followers of the sport. But I’ll wager all of my winnings - after lumping on the Azzurri a couple of months ago - that plenty of them aren’t. A couple probably spend their weekends drinking overpriced coffee outside cafes that masquerade as bistros or mixing with Poundland millionaires at ‘authentic’ Mediterranean eateries that use pesto ‘As Tesco likes to make it’, not mama. Trust me, after inadvertently wandering into the kitchen of one well-known destination whilst picking-up a takeaway not so long ago, I know it happens. And they charge double what my old pal Ferdi will stick on your bill at his fine establishment near Meadowhead. He didn’t ask for this mention but certainly deserves it. Plus, we haven’t spoken for a while so, if you’re reading, please take this plug as an apology.

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At the beginning of next month, when Sheffield United dip their toes back into the Championship following two years as a Premier League club, a proper crowd should thankfully be there to greet new manager Slavisa Jokanovic and his team following the relaxation of social distancing restrictions introduced at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whether or not vaccine passports will be required to gain entry depends on who you ask. The picture, like the argument that this shameful proposal doesn’t pose a threat to our civil liberties, is about as clear as mud.

I’m still not sure if the away end will be full either. Again, across the competition as a whole, you get a different answer depending on who you ask and what day you pose the question.

Whether you’re a Covidient, Covidiot or like most of us if we’re being honest somewhere in between, there is simply no good reason why Birmingham City supporters shouldn’t be allowed to visit South Yorkshire on August 7 or vice versa if the fixture had fallen the other way around. I’m perfectly within my rights now to travel to the Midlands and go shopping at the Bullring. If I lived in the Midlands, there’s nothing within the rules that prevent me from doing the same at Meadowhall.

An English fan draped in a flag walks through Trafalgar Square, London during the UEFA Euro 2020 Final between Italy and England, Sunday July 11, 2021. (Victoria Jones/PA Via AP)
An English fan draped in a flag walks through Trafalgar Square, London during the UEFA Euro 2020 Final between Italy and England, Sunday July 11, 2021. (Victoria Jones/PA Via AP)

How many of those who crammed into the Centre Court at Wimbledon for the mens and womens’ finals lived within a short drive of the All England Club? Probably not many. But then it’s not acceptable - and quite rightly so - to treat tennis fans like something you found on the bottom of your Dunlops. Football followers? Well, that’s different. It’s perfectly okay - probably quite en vogue among some pretentious so and so’s - to view us like we’re ****.

Speaking of social media - which is actually anything but - it beggars belief that companies which boast of raking in billions want us to believe they are incapable of stopping the abuse thrown in Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka’s direction on Sunday night at source. It doesn’t do much for Big Tech’s desire to position itself as a responsible aggregator for the globe’s news content either. We can send a spacecraft to Mars or the outer reaches of the solar system. But they can’t stop some sad no-mark sat at home in their bedroom typing abuse into their computer or mobile phone. Well, actually they could and would if it wasn’t going to cost them a few dollars and eat into the board’s share options.

Make no mistake, just because these companies like to create a soft and cuddly image, behind the dress down policies, hot-desking and ‘meet the boss for a latte’ mornings, rabid money making machines lurk.

They’re only interested in us because we help them make it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Italy fans celebrate in Piccadilly Circus in central London after their team won the UEFA Euro 2020 Final against England, Sunday July 11, 2021. (Victoria Jones/PA Via AP)

So the next time we feel compelled to call out the saddos who make judgements based on the colour of someone’s skin, let’s not be hypocritical and do it on the very same platforms that are publishing this content. Let’s do it outside their HQ’s - both global and regional - instead. The only trouble is, Silicon Valley has managed to convince a generation that you can properly campaign in 140 characters or less.