IT SEEMS Sheffield United can never escape the demons or injustices of the past in the name of points-scoring (excuse the pun) or entertainment.
Martin Samuel, the Daily Mail’s award-winning sports columnist and West Ham fan, has rarely missed an opportunity to punish the Blades with his pen ever since the ‘Carlos Tevez affair’ in 2007.
He was at it again this week when he chose to use Chris Morgan as his first point of reference to the lead story in his column entitled ‘If diving is fair game for trial by video, why aren’t elbows’.
To be fair Samuel, or Fat Sam as he is known in the trade, is a great writer and deserves the many plaudits he has received. Again, on this occasion he makes a good argument. Morgan, whose elbow into the head of Barnsley’s Iain Hulme in 2008 resulted in the Canadian, who now plays for Indian Super League champions Atlético de Kolkata, with a life-threatening fractured skull. Shattered bone fragments caused bleeding in the brain which was potentially fatal.
No fair-minded person would deny it was a poor challenge with horrific consequences. But it wasn’t deliberate. Unlike someone like Marianna Fellani of Manchester United who uses the flying elbow as a regular part of his game, Morgan was backing in towards Hulme as the ball approached.
As he prepared to rise to meet it he tried to get leverage with an arm, which is a natural action seen time and time again. Hulme, in the air and trying to connect with ball met with Morgan’s elbow instead. It was the individual force of the two sudden movements that caused the damage. The extent of that damage, only discovered after Hulme had returned home, was the motive behind the outcry at the time.
My only beef with Samuel is his wording. “When Chris Morgan of Sheffield United sized up Barnsley striker Iain Hulme before throwing an elbow into his skull…” That clearly implies that Morgan’s intention was premeditated and targeted to specifically damage his opponent.
The United Under-21 coach, who recently staged his testimonial at Bramall Lane against Newcastle, ended his career with a a hard-man reputation intact and a United club record of six dismissals. But Morgan is also fair as well as uncompromising, which is why he has so many friends in the game and is so well respected.
Referee Andy D’Urso issued Morgan with a yellow card and a subsequent FA statement said "We can only bring additional charges in the most exceptional cases and only if it can be proved beyond doubt that the actions were a deliberate attempt to injure."
So neither the referee, nor the FA after studying video replays of the incident, felt that further action was necessary because it wasn’t clear that there was a deliberate attempt to injure. That doesn’t seem to concur with Samuel’s personal view.
Only Morgan, whose playing days ended prematurely three seasons ago after injury, knows the truth but in all the years that I have watched him I’ve never seen him commit an act of thuggery. Hard, yes. Uncompromising, yes. But also an honest player and man. If Morgan had truly set out to damage a fellow professional I honestly believe he would have been mortified.
THREATENED CIVIL ACTION
Interestingly too, Barnsley subsequently threatened Barnsley-born Morgan who made his Premier League debut for the Reds, with a civil action which came to nothing. As for Hulme, he recalled to a national newspaper this year: “There were worries, but it was mostly my wife and parents who were concerned.
“I knew I wanted to get back, not least because Barnsley had paid £1.2m for me. I was out for nine months, then in my first game back, pre-season for Barnsley against Gainsborough, my first touch of the ball was a header. It had to be, didn’t it? After that I was fine. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not the type to shirk out of a challenge.
“Sky tried to organise the next season’s fixture against Sheffield United to be literally a year after the event, almost on the anniversary, but they didn’t quite get what they wanted. I was injured, he [Morgan] was suspended. I try not to hold grudges, you have to get on with your life, I don’t have any feelings towards the player either way now.”
Samuel’s sports writing is top drawer but he does seem to lower his high standards when it comes to the Blades. In the interests of fairness, however, he did recently take the unprecedented step of giving United some credit. The club won the unaccustomed accolade for withdrawing Jose Baxter from last season’s League One play-off semi-finals after he was found to have failed a random drugs test.
Sky Sports got in on the act of Blades baiting when they positioned a giant Premier League promotional poster on Bramall Lane of Tevez, who was ineligible to play, scoring West Ham’s winner at Manchester United in 2007. The goal effectively relegated the Blades from the Premier League and saved the Hammers.
Again Samuel starts blowing bubbles when it comes to defending his beloved West Ham. Quite simply, the East London club had been playing an ineligible player. They broke the rules but were not given a points deduction. Instead they were ordered to pay a relatively small fine of £5m to the Premier League.
That in itself was bizarre. United fail to see justice being done, West Ham escape with only a fine which they only too willingly paid, and the Premier League profit by £5m. West Ham were later discovered to have deliberately tried to cover up Tevez’s ineligibility and eventually agreed to pay a reported £24million out-of-court settlement to United.
UNABLE TO FATHOM
You don’t pay millions in compensation if you haven’t done wrong. Something Samuel seems unable to fathom. Had United remained in the Premier League for the following season and had banked a huge cash reward for doing so, history might now tell a very different story to the serial decline, mostly self-inflicted, which the Blades have since suffered. Who knows?
As for that poster, after a storm of complaints from United fans, Sky hastily replaced the offending advert with a picture of David Beckham in his Manchester United kit.
A Sky Sports spokesperson claimed the offending advert was “unfortunate and unintentional”. Yeah, right. I wonder if Fat Sam has got a brother who works at Sky?