- Read Blades fan's written reply below main story.
BLADES fans have sparked outrage among Coventry City followers who believe they let the side down during last Thursday night’s emotionally-charged events at the Ricoh Arena.
So much so that one supporter issued an open letter in which those in the away end were condemned for what he described as mocking the plight of Sky Blues supporters. They used the match, televised live, to protest at owner Sisu, a hedge fund which which has presided over a catastrophic period in the club’s history.
To be fair to lifelong Coventry fan Craig Brown, he made some valid points which many Unitedites wouldn't be quick to dismiss if a similar fate ever reared itself at Bramall Lane. He wrote:
'Congratulations on Thursday's win – you just shaded it – and good luck for the rest of the season.
By the on and off-field protests in front of the TV cameras, the football world saw the frustrations of the Coventry fans in our campaign to rid the club of owners Sisu who annually sell our best players and are apparently unwilling to invest in the team.
What they also heard was the appalling and unnecessary chanting of pro-Sisu slogans by a vociferous section of the travelling Blades fans which could have led to violence on the terraces.
Our clubs are similar in many ways, both regarded as 'sleeping giants'. Over the past 50 seasons the average United gate is 18,600 to City's 18,200, though the Blades have spent only 11 of those 50 seasons in the top flight compared to the Sky Blues' 34.
Don't mock our plight. Be grateful your present owners are currently prepared to invest in your club and beware any future takeovers with new owners promising the earth and delivering little or nothing.
Should you ever find yourselves in our perilous position, despite your fans' actions on Thursday, we will offer you support, for we've been there, done it and are wearing the uncomfortable T-shirt.'
It was certainly an uncomfortable night played out in front the crowd of 8,801 as United moved up to second in the League One table after a 2-1 win that had looked increasingly unlikely. Even Blades boss Chris Wilder said he didn't enjoy it. Coventry, 21st in League One and who slipped to 23rd after the weekend results, suffered a sixth straight defeat in what is their worst period for 43 years. The fixture was accompanied from start to finish by a barrage of non-stop whistles and interrupted by two pitch invasions. The first by a lone Sky Blues protester, the latter more serious as hundreds of home fans spilled onto the pitch forcing referee David Webb to order the teams back down the tunnel.
Fear of an abandonment quickly subsided as order was restored but Coventry are now facing disciplinary action pending an FA investigation. Shortly after the restart United rubbed salt into the wound when an irrepressible Billy Sharp struck his second of the night, his 14th goal of the season, to clinch three points.
The halt in play worked to the Blades advantage. Coventry had been growing in confidence after equalising and United, who by manager Wilder’s own admission had played poorly, were finishing on the back foot and looking to see out the match. “Coventry can consider themselves unfortunate to have lost,” said Wilder who nonetheless praised his out-of-sorts team for still managing to secure three points.
Football was a sideshow from the home fans’ point of view, however, and the result appeared to hardly matter. As a Unitedite it was all that mattered, especially as it propelled the club back into an automatic promotion spot.
Maybe it is reflection of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ times we live in or maybe just 'banter', but it was certainly uncomfortable listening to those fellow Blades who were just having a laugh and showed no empathy with supporters driven to despair and loathing of what their club’s owner is doing to it. Let’s be honest it’s a good bet most of the United fans chanting provocatively in support of Sisu, only had a vague notion of what Sisu is or what it is accused of.
Pitch invasions clearly cannot be condoned but Coventry fans who have witnessed a decline of epic proportions, are not known for their volatility, just a hard core acceptance that things will probably get worse before they get better. A sentiment which United followers have been made all too aware of in the last six years and beyond.
City's famous Highfield Road home was sold by previous owners. Renting the purpose-built 32,600 capacity Ricoh Arena, then run 50-50 by Coventry City Council and a local charity, they were forced to leave after a payment dispute and ground-shared at Northampton Town for a season. The Ricoh is now owned wholly by Wasps Rugby Union Club and the Sky Blues, expecting to be homeless again at the end of the season, plan to bunk down at neighbouring Coventry Rugby Union Club's Butts Park Arena, capacity 3,000.
They first left the Ricoh after Sisu withheld rental payments during a cat-and-mouse game of financial high jinks in a failed strategy to buy a 50 percent share of the ground on the cheap. An attempt for which it was condemned in the High Court. Under the stewardship since 2008 of the London-based hedge fund the club had at the last count lost almost £50million.
What has any of this got to do with a trip from South Yorkshire to the Midlands on a Thursday night? Well, nothing if you live in a bubble. But remember there is always someone out there ready to burst it.
BLADE HITS BACK
UNITED FAN Ian Rands has publically returned fire at criticism of visiting supporters' behaviour during last week's match at Coventry City.
Rands wrote: "No one can dispute that some Blades fans did chant their support towards Coventry's maligned hedge fund owners SISU, but there needs to be acknowledgement of the circumstances that led to them doing it.
"Blades fans had paid at least £45 to travel to and watch the game, some will have taken time off work to get down there. They were left watching a farcical game in trying circumstances which seemed to negatively impact on their team, more so than the subject of the Sky Blues' supporters' ire.
"In fact towards the end, when the players were taken off they must have wondered when the match might finish, if it would at all. All that way and expense on a Thursday night potentially for nothing.
"Whilst some blame can be placed at the door of Sky for choosing this game and giving the Coventry fans the opportunity of creating a public spectacle to highlight their frustrations, the way in which the fans went about it alienated both Blades fans there and those watching back in Sheffield."
Rands went on to accuse Coventry fans of blowing whistles "incessantly", adding that the "constant shrill was punctuated by sharp blasts very similar to a referee's whistle".
He said: "To my ears and many other Blades fans watching, this seemed to be when the Blades were attacking. A cynical view or misperception? Maybe not when you note how it all died down for a while after City equalised and had a promising spell of possession.
"Balls were thrown on the pitch with the aim seemingly more at black shirts than the acres of green and play was stopped with the Blades in a good position down the Coventry left so a balloon could be burst. The restart saw the ball sent back downfield to Simon Moore. Then came the on the pitch protest as Sky Blues fans, aided and abetted by the police and stewards, walked on to the pitch, having had free reign to move around the stadium before that.
"It was fortunate that the clearly angry fans didn't do anything rash towards the Blades players who were still on the pitch, but how were the police and stewards to know that wouldn't happen? Ask Clint Hill what happens when pitch invasions turn ugly."
Rands also said that he felt the pitch invasion, which saw the players briefly leave the field, was orchestrated at a time when Sheffield United appeared to be in the ascendancy.
He said: "It was clearly premeditated and maybe the timing of it was planned beforehand, but it came at a time when Blades fans were seeing signs of a vital winning goal; Caolan Lavery had hit the post twice and City had desperately scrambled the ball clear of the box a couple of times. The fact that Sharp scored after the re-start was a relief, but it could have been very different and could have left the mood after the game even uglier."
Rands concluded: "Football fans will always aim their barbs at the perceived weakness of the opposition and this was no exception at a time when frustrations were understandably high.
"United have previously stood in alliance with Coventry fans, supporting their campaign, even displaying our own banners of support, but when your actions are perceived to be detrimental to your opponents then sympathy will be in short supply.
"Some will aim their jibes in a sharper manner. Mr Brown - I genuinely hope you overcome the huge challenges in displacing SISU, finding a stadium solution and that you continue to have a club to support, but to find unity with fans of other clubs, you need to show a bit more forethought and a little less partisanship in your methods and recognise that they have spent time, money and effort to see a football match. We are all football supporters after all."