James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Why the most important email I received this week wasn't about Monday's High Court ruling

Two days ago, after returning to the office following a short break away, I noticed an email which had pinged into my inbox around 24 hours earlier.

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 14:40 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th September 2019, 18:54 pm
An Iranian fan prepares to support his team: AP Photo/Sergei Grits

It turned out, amid the avalanche of junk, spam and promises of untold riches if I hand over my bank details, to be the most important one of the week. Even when it was confirmed, having spent nearly three months deliberating, that Mr Justice Fancourt will deliver his ruling on Sheffield United's ownership dispute soon after Saturday's Premier League fixture against Southampton.

On the face of it, the FA's announcement that November will stage the inaugural Women's Football Weekend would usually warrant no more than a mention. Before, admittedly, publishing a series of interviews with key figures involved closer to the actual date. But given events in Iran, where a female football fan recently died after deliberately setting fire to herself, it has suddenly assumed huge significance.

Sahar Khodayan, aged 29, passed away in hospital after reportedly suffering 90 per cent burns to her body during a brave act of protest. It occurred as she left a Revolutionary Court, which had just adjourned her case after Khodoyan had been charged with "openly committing a sinful act...by appearing in public without a hijab" and "insulting officials". Or, to put it another way, being discovered trying to enter the national stadium disguised as a man in a bid to circumnavigate the republic's ban on female supporters attending matches. In this instance, one involving her favourite team Esteghal and Al-Ain from the UAE, in the AFC Asian Cup.

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Khodoyan, for those unfamiliar with the story, spent two days being held in the notorious Shahr-e Rey prison when her attempt was foiled by security guards. Opposition polticians, celebrities and footballers have all protested against the ruling, while a leading human rights organisation has publishing its own damning indictment.

"Amnesty International believes that Sahar Khodoyan would still be alive if it were not for the draconian ban and the subsequent trauma of her arrest, destention and prosecution for attempting to circumvent it," Philip Luther, their Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, said. Unfortunately, his statement is far more damning than the one issued by FIFA when Khodoyan's passing was confirmed.

Although the FA's campaign is apolitical - designed to promote the sport in this country rather than hammer home a wider point - it does present an opportunity to show solidarity with Khodoyan's friends and family.

Unfortunately, from a Bramall Lane perspective, Carla Ward's side are competing away from home on the weekend in question; November 16/17. Scheduled to face Lewes, the distance involved means all but their most devoted of followers are likely to attend. But Khodoyan's fate, her determination to become more closely involved with the game she loved, serves to underline how passionately many women feel about it. And illustrates why those tasked with expanding their participation levels should be encouraged, rather than looked down upon or criticised by some.

Katie Wilkinson in action for Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
Sheffield United Women celebrate a goal: Harry Marshall/Sportimage