NEVER popular I know but someone has to say it. A football match described as a ‘friendly’ brought fear and a certain amount of chaos to an English seaside town.
So-called fans who must have very empty lives, goaded and fought each other in the streets. Bottles were thrown and broken glass showered pavements. Running battles on the seafront. Thugs even scrapped on a railway level crossing and had to be forced back for their own safety by police officers. Arrests were made. Holiday attractions were closed and worried parents ushered frightened children away as foul-mouthed yobs behaved like, well…foul-mouthed yobs do. The level of violence was described by the Grimsby Evening Telegraph as the worst football-related trouble seen in the area since 1982.
The match itself passed off without problem and saw a workmanlike performance from the visiting side who won 3-1. But Grimsby Town versus Sheffield United wasn’t a pleasant experience if you were unfortunate enough to be an innocent bystander in Cleethorpes on Saturday afternoon. The problem was not with United supporters who arrived by coach, but with those amongst about 500 fans who travelled by train and the ambush awaiting them.
Five days after the event watched by 3,760 of which 1,808 were Blades, United have failed to comment. Indeed, it is as though it never happened. Some may argue that abhorrent behaviour such as this is nothing to do with the football club. Indirectly it is. Without United's presence in North East Lincolnshire it wouldn't have happened. Like it or not the club have a responsibility. Letting the small minority of Blades supporters who behave this way know that they are reviled and not wanted.
United had an opportunity to take the lead and condemn the moronic behaviour of so-called football fans. We’ve all seen the like. A fat-headed minority who played their part, along with an equally brainless contingent of neanderthals from Grimsby, in bringing fear and intimidation whilst pledging fatuous allegiance to their clubs. United could have stood up for decency, promised to help weed out the culprits and if identified ban them from Bramall Lane. Instead what we are often reminded is a family club just looked the other way.
Their opponents, however, did issue a statement which frankly puts United’s PR operation, such as it is, to shame. “Grimsby Town Football Club,” it read, “is firmly committed to the assistance in identifying all involved in the shambolic incidents on Saturday and rely on the court system to apply the appropriate punishment to those involved.
“Clearly there is no room in the family game of football for these people that use football as an excuse for their disorder fix. Let's work together to stamp this out once and for all."
The good citizens of Cleethorpes will have fingers crossed it’s not Groundhog Day when United are back in town in November (date and venue still to be confirmed) after being drawn against Grimsby in the group stage of the newly-named and formatted EFL [English Football League] Trophy, formerly the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
United supporters are by and large good humoured. You have to be to survive being a Blade. Occasionally a few can be an embarrassment. “We’re Sheffield United, we do what we want” has never been the most enlightened of chants. It sounded pathetic and faintly disturbing on Saturday as fans made their way from Cleethorpes railway station to Blundell Park and back again via bars and startled kiddies’ play areas.
As far as the club is concerned it would seem that on this occasion those stupid enough to believe it appear to be right.