Ollie Norwood is spot on - direct abuse of Sheffield United's players on social media simply has to stop
“What do you do?” asked Ollie Norwood, rhetorically, as he faced the press after a rare Sheffield United victory this season and spoke intelligently and passionately about the social media abuse he and his teammates have taken after their all-too often defeats.
“No-one wants to do anything about it. No-one wants to talk about it.”
So let’s do just that, in the most uncertain terms. Anyone who directly messages Norwood or any of his teammates – or anyone, come to think of it, but that’s a broader issue – abuse, for whatever reason, needs to have a long, hard look at themselves. They are a disgrace to the football club and, although they probably don’t have the self-awareness to realise it, a disgrace to themselves, too.
It has been a problem on the rise for years, but social media has now reached the point where prominent black footballers in this country are targeted with racist abuse weekly – David McGoldrick shared a shocking example of racism sent via Instagram last season - and United themselves have confirmed that they are working with police after an individual reported “an incident of malicious communications”.
Aaron Ramsdale another United player who has frequently been targeted with abuse or mockery for his displays this season, recently admitted that he lost belief in himself. He won’t be alone in that respect, simply by virtue of United’s perilous league position, but it is tempting to wander what these abusive fans think they are gaining by directly targeting their ire at players and staff. Criticism is fine – and, considering the season United have had so far, probably expected. These players won’t have got to where they are now without experiencing that before, and this is no sensitive (those on the right would probably say “snowflake-y”) appeal to simply accept what has been served up with polite applause, or maybe jazz-hands.
But although United’s performance levels in games this season has varied, their effort levels have not. Even in games they have been outclassed in, and there have been some, United have not chucked in the towel in terms of effort. Teams that do that – or managers that, to coin the ridiculous cliché, have lost the dressing room – would get well and truly pumped at this level.
United, as they showed against Villa in midweek, are a long way off that. It wasn’t just going ahead that proved it; rather the character they showed to preserve that lead, even after going down to 10 men. Villa piled on the pressure that their man advantage afforded them, but Ramsdale was protected superbly by those in front of him throwing their bodies in the way of shots as if their life depended on it. One of those was Norwood.
“We’ve took the plaudits in the past and when there’s a bit of stick flying about we’ve got to take it on the chin,” Norwood said.
“Sometimes it’s been deserved and sometimes it hasn’t. We’ve not been ourselves this season as we have the last couple of seasons, who knows why? We’re all asking that question but there’s a lot of pride still to play for and I think the Villa game showed that… we were all determined to keep the ball out of the net and win the game.
“There are plenty of excuses, let’s be honest, but we’re not a group who make them. We understand the standards haven’t been high enough and last season we’d maybe win or draw some of those tight games and build confidence from that.
“You could say some decisions have gone against us, poor goals, mistakes… I’ve made a few myself, I hold my hands up. There’s no hiding place for any of us, we all know that, and the top and bottom of it is that we haven’t been good enough.”
Norwood then appeared to confirm that he has received abusive messages on social media from people who call themselves United supporters.
“It’s difficult at times,” he admitted. “You get people feeling the need to message you and tell you how they feel. At the end of the day I’m a 30-year-old man with my own family so I’ve got other things to worry about than how people outside the club think about me, to be honest.
“It’s not nice, obviously. I think something needs to be done on the social media front. If my child ever spoke to people the way that people speak to us and think it’s acceptable… it’s not. It’s not acceptable at times but because we’re footballers people think you have to accept it and get on with it. What do you do? No-one wants to do anything about it, no-one wants to talk about it, but as I said I’ve got broad shoulders and I’ve had plenty of setbacks in my career. I think there’s got to be a respect element to it.
“If someone goes to the office and makes a mistake, I don’t jump on Twitter or Instagram and tell them how bad they are, that they’re the worst this and hope your family this and that. At the end of the day we’re doing a job and doing it to the best of our ability. I’m not saying it’s fine to make mistakes - it’s not - and we don’t mean to make them. But it’s going to happen.
"They all like to tell us we’re not Premier League players, so we’re going to make mistakes, aren’t we? On one hand it’s a backhanded compliment. But on the other, the abuse of people online – not just footballers – needs to stop.”