Monday, 30 April 2012

Shared disappointment and regret. And some personal guilt. Just another day in the life of a Blade.

Hey-up. How’s tha doin?

Personally, not great. Actually, let me clarify that. Personally, as an individual person, I’m doing fine. Also, the kids are fine, the wife’s fine, work’s fine, and on and on within my little ecosphere. In fact, our eldest, Roberto, started an after-school “football club” today. Football has always been a major part of my life: I’m not too fussed as to whether it will be for my boys (no, seriously) but I do hope that they will pick up some of the most salubrious values associated with it and other team sports. It would also help if they understood some of the game’s principles, if only so that they are not asking me whether Sheffield United are winning when we’re watching them on Sky and they’re two-nil down at home to Stevenage in a must-win game. That was just Roberto, to be fair: Daniel wasn’t saying anything. Sometimes there’s something to be said about the fact that he’s a bit behind with his speech.

So yes, as an individual I am fine. As part of a broader community, less so.
Community, as defined by, is "a
social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the ): the business community; the community of scholars”. We all belong to a variety of communities. In this case, I am looking at the community of “Unitedites”, “Blades”, call us what you will, to which I belong. Some of you will turn up your noses at the concept of football supporters representing a community: and that is fine, if unfortunate for you. You have obviously never enjoyed shared elation or disappointment in the stands or engaged in conversation with a perfect stranger in the original social network, a beer-stained pub, or any of their modern would-be counterparts. You have never hugged a complete stranger as the net bulged or gasped in unison as Dave Seaman pulled off the “best save of all time” (not my words – well, not only mine!) as you stood in line with the very goal-line along which he dived (before Jagielka tried to see if he could kick a ball all the way to the moon)…

OK, that one may be a bit too specific. But you know what I mean. Or not, as the case may be. And, if you don’t, that’s fair enough: there’s nowt as queer as folk and I’m sure you enjoy something which I don’t ‘get’. Just trust me (and thousands of others): Unitedites / Blades are a community. With sub-communities, dependent on preferred refreshment establishment or social network (e.g. #twitterblades!).
How else do you explain the instantaneous connection between people who have never met before yet who share such vast common ground that even some of the closest friendships cannot boast?
And it is as part of the community of Sheffield United fans that I am not doing greatFor the uninitiated, Saturday started with the Blades a single point ahead of local rivals Wednesday (yes, it is a daft name) in the race for the second automatic promotion spot out of League One (the third level, as the name does not suggest) behind Charlton. With only one round of fixtures to follow, two wins would seal promotion. We could even have secured it on Saturday if Wednesday failed to win earlier in the day. As it happens, they played at the standard kick-off time of 3pm and won 2-1 at Brentford (in the press’ unbiased opinion, somewhat undeservingly) to overtake us ahead of our 17:20 (Sky Sports time) start. At two-nil down against Stevenage, things were not going to plan at the Lane (Bramall, of course). A 2-2, after a spirited fightback (not devoid of some technique, either), they were slowly but surely well, slowly looking up. But the last grain of salt in the hourglass slid through the gap before we could score a third, and our control over the promotion race, our self-determination over our status, with it. Win the last game of the season at Exeter and if Wednesday fail to win, job’s still a good’un; and, taking into account goal difference, a draw would suffice if Wycombe Wanderers were to win at Hillsborough (a.k.a. The Sty). Trouble is, Wycombe were relegated last Saturday and the odds of them taking anything from S6 (a.k.a. The Sty) are somewhat remote. In fact, forget ‘somewhat’, they are just remote. We may well win at Exeter (who were also relegated on Saturday) and there will be plenty of Blades there to lend their support, including my good self. However, experts of varying degrees of knowingwhattheyaretalkingaboutdom would suggest that both Sheffield teams are likely to win (indeed, them more so than us), thereby leaving the Blades lying third, a single point behind their esteemed rivals, and therefore heading for the playoffs rather than The Championship.

So this looks like another “oh so nearly” moment in the history of Sheffield United F.C., the club that could have signed Maradona in the 70s but for the fact that £200,000 sounded a bit steep for an unproven kid from Argentina… the club to which Alex Ferguson agreed to move before returning to Aberdeen and changing his mind* (he would then move to a club called Manchester United, you might have heard of them)… the club whose play-off final history is littered with 50-yard screamers into the top corner but always from the (winning) opposition side (20, 50… what’s a few yards?)… And yes, we may well emerge victorious and promoted from Saturday’s fixtures. Indeed, we must believe! Till the bitter/sweet end, till the last drops of sweat and blood have hit the ground, we must believe. Regardless of Saturday, we may of course still rise to the purgatory of the Championship via the play-offs. But, right now, we’re all a bit deflated. Something was in our control and we let it slip.
Yes, “we”: players, club, supporters, we are one, “we are United”
. Now we’re relying on someone else messing up as well as on our own players getting their part of the job done. And lack of control is never a comfortable situation to be in. We can but enjoy the camaraderie and prepare to share once more in either elation or disappointment. Don’t knock this: these are some of the values I hope Roberto will learn from team sports.

From a personal training perspective (I can’t stand running, but this blog has some connection with it), I am also in a phase where I need to make sure I stay in control and maintain momentum. Haven’t run for a few days now, although I did row for 30’ last night – my first session on the old (and squeaky) rowing machine since pre-surgery. I feel fine but also know that I need to get out running and maintain that momentum, that discipline before it becomes all the harder to reverse back into it. Fortunately there is no reason whatsoever why I shouldn’t get out there tonight once Karen gets in from Guides (she’s a leader, before you call the Police) around 21:15. Well, apart from the heavy rain forecast around that time. And the fact that the second half of the Premier League title-deciding (potentially) Manchester derby will be kicking off around that point. So yes, what could ever possibly stand between me and a 30’ session tonight?
One final thought, one that has been on my mind for some time. You could argue that I don’t deserve to go to Exeter, because I am not a regular at Bramall Lane or indeed on the many away day coaches that have clocked up thousands of miles across England’s finest roads. Trust me, I do feel some guilt. But, well before the fixtures were announced, I had my eyes on two away matches: Yeovil and Exeter. Living where I do and not being able to drive (and that’s before you throw two young kids into the equation), these were the two I could realistically make. Bristol (Rovers) and Swindon would have been easier, but both those teams unhelpfully saw fit to get themselves relegated out of this division last season at the same time as we saw fit to enter it. Anyway, I couldn’t make Yeovil due to a calendar clash (i.e., Karen probably had something on), so it was all about Exeter. It so happens that it’s the final match of the season and, for some time, has been likely to decide our fate. But I would have sought to go regardless: so please don’t blame me, fellow Blades, rather the computer for scheduling it as it did. You probably do deserve a chance to go more than I do and I openly admit so. That said, if you want to go but haven’t got a ticket (or two), send me a direct message on Twitter. You never know, I may be able to help (and still go myself).

That’s it for me today… I’ll shut up now, and move on to establishing whether I would really lose that much momentum if I put off my run till tomorrow. I have a niggly feeling I know which way this one’s going to go. In the meantime, thanks to all the Twitterblades with whom I, for one, share in elation and despair. Even if Ive never even met you. Not knowingly, anyroad.

* I don't have a link to corroborate this story. But Tony Pritchett told me once (yes, personally) and I believe him.
p.s.: I was born (in fact, conceived) a Blade and I enjoy writing… by syllogism (of sorts, anyway), I will write about the Blades in this blog. But this is NOT a blog about Unite. Two reasons, principally: a) being in exile and only getting to a handful of games a season, I am not qualified to write one; b) why write my own blog when I can read “A United View”?

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