Like the rest of football, Sheffield United have a racism problem... now let's do something about it
As a white middle-class man, I recognise the limits of my experience of racism in football.
I cannot put myself in the shoes of David 'Didzy' McGoldrick, who suffered deplorable racist name-calling from an anonymous individual on social media yesterday. What I can do instead is call-out what I perceive to be the prevalence of 'everyday racism' among Sheffield United fans.
I run the social media for the DEM Blades fanzine and not a day goes by where I don't see something consciously or unconsciously racist. It is rarely the direct personal attack which McGoldrick suffered; instead, I see tropes and stereotypes thrown around as harmless as if they were a snowball.
If I am snowflake for taking offence, then I wear that badge proudly. The truth is that some Sheffield United fans are racist, and some who do not think of themselves as being racist sometimes perpetuate ugly narratives about with a different colour skin.
It's a cliche to say it, but admitting there is a problem is the first step to recovery. So let us admit it.
As Blades, we should strive together against racism. Some people say: "Racism is a society issue; it has nothing to do with football." And their point is not without some truth. However, I would contend that being a fan is bound up in the collective. Where the problems of the few are the problems of the many. From season ticket prices to falling into administration, to the cost of chip butties and racism in stadia and online.
Being a fan is to belong to something bigger than being an individual. With that comes responsibility. If you want to carry on regardless, then you are not taking your responsibility seriously, and you are not a good ancestor for future generations.
We all have to make small changes. I want to avoid as much as possible striking a tone of being holier than thou. No doubt about it, I have been guilty of saying things that make me cringe to think about. Things that fall into usage among football fans with uncomfortable ease. For instance, when he is white, the 'big black lad up front' is just the 'big lad up front'. Our language betrays an unconscious and inherent bias against people with a different colour skin.
We identify ourselves as the norm, and separate some people from us by otherness. We rarely mean to treat people differently, but we owe it to every other Sheffield United fan to be better than we are and to think before we speak.
There are a few unscientific case studies I can offer up to demonstrate my point. Firstly the number of social media followers the DEM Blades fanzine lost when posting a pro Black Lives Matter tweet. Secondly, an example of when the artist Luke Prest published an illustration of McGoldrick taking the knee with his fist raised in the air. Several fans criticised the work: "It's a no from me" or "A definite NO from me" or "No thanks" or simply: "No."
These were not run of the mill criticisms, and Luke responded by saying: "I'm used to critique [of his illustrations], but I've never had anyone question the subject before." That subject was Black Lives Matter, a topic which has elicited some of the worst examples of racism I have seen from Blades fans. And the hypocrisy is acute and depressing.
You cannot belittle the Black Lives Matters movement on social media on a Friday, only to cheer on McGoldrick on a Saturday. If you do that, you are no friend of Sheffield United. To those who respond to that assertion with: “We're not racist – we simply believe Black Lives Matters is an organisation linked to organised Marxism" - I say you are wrong. BLM has nothing to do with class conflict and state intervention or any other subject that could be plotted on a political compass.
If your criticism of an anti-racism movement is that you perceive it to be to the left or right or your politics, then you are missing the point. It's about racism, and it's about changing behaviour.
But how do you change behaviour when some people don't class their action as racist? And how do you confront racist fans - who are also long-standing, loyal Blades - without creating a witch-hunt? The answer for me is education. And I am not talking about A-levels and degrees. I mean approaching the fan base with material that demonstrates the pain, inequity and unjustness that racism fuels. I am talking about the club using their platform to engage with fans about everyday racism.
For me, we have the best social media team in the country. I think they should use all of their skills to expedite a programme of videos and resources that teach fans - me, you and anybody who wants to celebrate in these good times - about how we can make small changes to our behaviour.
I have been asking myself what I can do. And I know so many other Blades has been asking the same. For my part, I will produce badges, stickers and t-shirts with a Blades Against Racism logo. This will not be part of any official movement, and will instead seek to demonstrate through collective awareness-raising the thing we all know: the majority of Blades want to end racism in all its form.
After all, we are Sheffield United. Let us live up to our name.