James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: A simple ‘sorry’ would be nice

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Bear with me a moment because, as strange as it might seem, this is relevant.

Imagine booking a trip to some faraway land for the holiday of a lifetime. Your luggage is packed, your tickets are paid for and, after avoiding any of those ‘Acts of God’ insurance companies love en route to the airport, you arrive in plenty of time to check-in, pass through security and enjoy a few civilised snifters before boarding the plane.

However, upon alighting the courtesy bus from the off-site car park, a scene of absolute chaos awaits. The computer systems have crashed meaning no suitcases can be processed. Only one of the 30 people tasked with ensuring nothing unlawful is brought onto an aircraft have turned-up for work. With the travel company unwilling to delay take-off and queues snaking way out of the terminal building, it is impossible to make the flight.

Having been left stranded through no fault of your own, some compensation would almost certainly be offered. Okay, it might not make-up for missing a chunk of the holiday but it is the gesture, the recognition that something has gone wrong, that counts. Indeed, when new European Union border rules caused huge delays earlier this year, a spokesperson for British Airways told folk affected by the holy mess: “we will of course rebook them for free.”

So it is disappointing that, nearly four weeks after around a thousand Sheffield United supporters were forced to miss nearly half of the Steel City derby at Hillsborough, they have yet to receive any public acknowledgement of their plight. Or even, for that matter, a simple sorry.

Although the circumstances which led to this situation are pretty clear - “To ensure the safety of everyone; fans, the general public and local businesses, we had to keep both home and away supporters separated to prevent any potential disorder,” a statement by South Yorkshire Police explained - a number of important questions have yet to be answered. Why was it, for example, seemingly impossible to open enough turnstiles to let said fans in when it became clear they were being held back? If, as it has since been argued, this was not the case, then why does footage exist of folk being denied access to the stadium on social media? One video, filmed from inside the ground, shows a steward blocking the way to an unmanned gate. At this point it is worth noting that Sheffield Wednesday described the conduct of United followers caught-up in the incident as “excellent.”

Unless their £42 tickets were time-stamped, those left kicking their heels outside are unlikely to receive any sort of recompense. But an apology, which none of the officials who have commented on this matter have yet felt compelled to offer, would be nice. Football likes to call itself a business. But the same standards of customer service apparently do not apply.

Too many Sheffield United fans were forced to miss this goal from Leon Clarke at Hillsborough: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Too many Sheffield United fans were forced to miss this goal from Leon Clarke at Hillsborough: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Sheffield United fans celebrate at Hillsborough.

Sheffield United fans celebrate at Hillsborough.

Nobody has said 'sorry' for the delays which caused many supporters to miss a large part of the game: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Nobody has said 'sorry' for the delays which caused many supporters to miss a large part of the game: Simon Bellis/Sportimage