Sixer’s Sheffield United Soapbox: death by a thousand cuts as the Blades take the spoils

Malcolm Dawson writes…….there were several reasons why I decided not to renew my season card over the summer.

1) The number of home games I wouldn’t get to because of other commitments.

2) The painful walk to the ground and back to the car owing to my arthritic knees.

3) The fact that after my surgery in January when I couldn’t get to the Spurs game even if I’d wanted to, I realised that I didn’t really miss the disappointment and frustration of yet another inept display.

4) The negativity of a sizeable minority of the home crowd, booing the manager and the team then walking out early en masse. (I could never boo my team or leave early no matter what and I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable every time that happened.)

5) But most of all my firm belief that whilst Ellis Short controls the purse strings this club is only going one way and that I no longer wished to contribute any of my meagre pension to that part of the beautiful game that has become as corrupt and decadent as the dying days of the Roman Empire.

I wasn’t enjoying the Sunderland experience and decided that I needed a break from a relationship in which the love was becoming decidely one sided. So it was Esh Winning v Penrith for me yesterday.

Pete Sixsmith on the other hand is still suffering and as he almost always is, was there to witness another disappointing afternoon at the “fortress” that is the Sunderland Stadium of Light. A fortress that hasn’t witnessed a home win in the whole of 2017. His report of yesterday’s game arrived by pigeon post this morning with the return address of Sixsmith Towers, Slough of Despond, Shildon, County Durham. It’s content might not make for pleasant reading but as always Sixer’s prose style does.


On a day when Henry Bloefeld’s last “dear old thing” rattled around the Test Match Special commentary box, I was reminded of the late Fred Trueman’s stock phrase, used whenever he was confused by a bowling change or some odd field placings. He would incant into the microphone the words “I don’t know what’s going on out there” and the public school boys he shared the space with would giggle in the background. Fred’s phrase came to me when I heard the team news, when I saw the line-up, when United scored the first goal, when Kone failed to appear for the second half, when the Blades easily snuffed out our feeble second half attempts to get back into the game, when Donaldson waltzed through to settle the game and finally, mercifully, when the game ended.

The immediate cause of this defeat was the team selection and the tactics (or lack of) and for this the fickle finger of fate points clearly at Simon Grayson. A man who, on his appointment and after his first few games, was identified as “a man who knew this league,” he showed worrying signs of not having a clue what his best team was or having any idea of how to play with the admittedly poor hand of cards he has been dealt.

Only he knows why he decided to split up a reasonably competent central defensive partnership and bring in Marc Wilson, a player who has had zero first team minutes this season.

Only he knows why he opted to expose Brendan Galloway to yet another public humiliation.

Only he knows what he saw in the last two weeks that prompted him to recall Jack Rodwell.

Three new players were brought in before the deadline for the princely sum of nowt. Of those three, Wilson looked distinctly rusty and (hopefully) can only improve. He found Clayton Donaldson a handful all afternoon as the 33 year old Yorkshireman roasted the 30 year old Irishman on several occasions not least when scoring the opening goal.

Johnny Williams was busy in midfield and tried to push us forward but had no assistance from any of those around him. Didier Ndong had his poorest game of the season, lacking any kind of intensity or bite and looked like a player suffering from a bout of “What the hell am I doing still stuck at this bloody place, my agent is a tosser” syndrome.

Callum McManaman gave us a cameo when he came on for an increasingly ineffective James Vaughan and at least took on defenders. He may prove to be a useful acquisition – but we have no time for “may’s” we need “will’s”.

Like a magician’s assistant who walked into the cabinet and mysteriously vanished.

The rest of them were as uninspiring as they were at Barnsley. Grabban gave up and slouched around for much of the second half. Ruiter showed that, while he might do well in friendlies, he is struggling in league games and was beaten at his near post for the second game running.

Kone disappeared at half time, relinquishing the honour of following in the footsteps of Raich Carter, Stan Anderson, Charlie Hurley, Bobby Kerr and Kevin Ball as captain. He will not be remembered as fondly as that august list. Browning struggled in his third centre back role and his fellow Evertonian, Galloway was completely out of his depth and spent the first half looking around and wondering where he should be. A caller to BBC Newcastle’s summed him up perfectly – an athlete but not a footballer.

Vaughan’s lack of goals and worthwhile attempts at opening his account is becoming embarrassing and Honeyman ran around a lot without achieving anything. And as for Rodwell………

Here is a player who at one time had the world at his feet. A regular place at Goodison Park, in the England squad and playing for the team he had supported as a boy. Life must have looked great for the Southport born Rodwell. A big money move to Manchester City failed dismally as he made 16 appearances in two years partly due to injury. He pitched up here as Gus Poyet’s marquee signing as we sought to build on the League Cup/Great Escape season and he has failed dismally in his three years at Sunderland.

For many supporters, he is seen to personify all that is wrong with the club. Four managers have tried to get something out of him and all have failed. For people who may be “just about managing”, it is enormously frustrating to see a footballer being paid huge amounts of money and producing so little. I cannot remember coming away from any game thinking that Rodwell had made a difference to it other than in a negative way.

After Donaldson’s second goal, he became the target for terrace anger and was booed every time he touched the ball. He took his goal well but nobody cared by that stage and it would probably be in his best interests and that of the support if he tore up his contract and looked elsewhere. A fresh start at a club that is not as riven as Sunderland appears to be may well be what he needs.

A word about the Blades: they were very well organised and knew exactly what their roles were. Chris Wilder has built a good side here and he has 100% backing from the support. Clayton Donaldson, signed from Birmingham City for a ”nominal” fee, will get them through the autumn months and I was impressed with Chris Basham at the back but what impressed me the most was the collective spirit that they showed. We had none.

An increasingly familiar site

This was a thoroughly wretched afternoon which leaves me desperately worried about the next few weeks. No home win since December, a crowd who are close to giving up, a managerial team who must be wondering why they left the safety and security of Deepdale for the snake pit of the Stadium of Light and players who are struggling for form and confidence.

Simon Grayson likened this to Groundhog Day, a film where the leading character commits suicide several times. After sitting through ninety minutes of this rubbish, I know how Phil Connor (played by Bill Murray) feels as he tries to break the cycle of endless repetition which leaves him angry and frustrated and with no chance of getting what he wants. For Bill Murray it was the heart and body of Andie McDowell.

I’ll settle for a home win on Tuesday night and then I might have some idea of what on earth is going on out there.

12 thoughts on “Sixer’s Sheffield United Soapbox: death by a thousand cuts as the Blades take the spoils”

  1. Supporters buyout anyone?

    Fans boycott?

    Pressure group?

    Public inquiry?

    Seen all of this with others, Leeds, Blackburn etc.

    This is what you get with somebody who has all the money, but non of the football sense!

    Maybe Nial sold ES a dream which didn’t actually exist, Es thought he could make money and mix with the rich but wanted a big degree of control over Club matters.

    Result, we have what we have now!

  2. Can’t remember ever being as depressed by football. Morons running the club, bigger morons in the stands. By all means choose not to come. I really wouldn’t judge anyone for that but nobody who boos their own players during a game can call themselves a ‘supporter’. Saturday’s performance was dire but do they really expect booing individuals to make it better? And let’s be clear, the ONLY thing we should be looking for is for things to improve. Short leaving is needed but can you possibly see anyone wanting to spend money to get involved with a club whose ‘supporters’ behave like that?
    As for the manager, I am starting to think he is even more clueless than his predecessor. I know he has a very weak squad and will have to try things and he is bound to make mistakes but he cannot repeat mistakes if we are to have any chance and he does exactly that:
    Repeated mistakes
    1) Galloway. As far as out of his depth as anyone I have ever seen (and I saw Paul Williams get destroyed by Lee Sharpe at Old Trafford in the only 45 minutes he ever played). Anyone who looked at our side’s performances, realised that there was a problem at full back and took out the right back has not been watching at all. If there is a clause in Galloway’s loan deal saying he has to start then at least tell us, as that is the only possible reason I can give for Grayson’s selection
    2) Believing that Grabban has professional pride. Anyone who watched the Leeds game knows he hasn’t. The cowardice he showed when Vaughan was taken off then was disgraceful, yet on Saturday Vaughan gets hooked again and yet we continue to fire balls in the air to watch them getting headed back completely unchallenged.
    New mistakes (never to be repeated)
    1) Browning at right back. How to turn an asset into a liability.
    2) Rodwell. He has come out and said that he did ok. If trotting around for an entire game and contributing absolutely nothing is ok then fine. The only time he broke out of a trot was when he accidentally lost his marker and so was free to be given the ball. The speed with which he then ran to his marker to become unavailable again was embarrassing.

    If any of these mistakes are repeated, it will become clear that he either doesn’t watch the game or has no clue whatsoever.

  3. A friendship is never one way traffic, this is. To paraphrase the saying, ‘with friends like SAFC, who needs enemies.’ To continue to attend would be, in my opinion, giving tacit approval to the condition of the club. If a friend was in dire straights I would do what needed to be done to help, in this case it’s to say to a faceless organisation that they have done nothing but mock and and manipulate my devotion over the majority of 40 years, and the mismanagement of the last 6 seasons has been the final insult. Rather than thinking of the club as a friend in need, I’m now inclined to think of them as the person who has pretended to be a friend, but has actually simply been an imposter who has used my friendship for their own selfish ends, with no thought for me, whatsoever. To walk away is the only sane response to such behaviour.

    • Well said. I’ve been going since the late sixties, I remember Joe Baker, John Hughes, Bobby Park and all who followed. I’ve travelled far and wide as a supporter.

      My devotion has been complete. But my virtual lifetime’s commitment is mocked and utilised not only by the Premier League, the FA and Rupert Murdoch but also by the club itself who relieve me of my money at every opportunity whilst most recently serving dross, season after season.

      It can’t go on. The sickness and demise of our beloved club will continue until Short sells and a new regime instills a healthy ethos. Sadly for we sufferers, that, hopefully, will be for a new cohort of supporters in the future.

      But it it better come soon; despite the efforts of Bob Murray (much maligned, where would we be without him?) the stadium is becoming dated, the academy will become too expensive, the local kids are already wearing Manchester, Barcelona and Madrid shirts.

      As supporters we can only pay our money and turn up.
      The re-alignment has to start at the top.

  4. Of the last three defeats,all the opposition has needed to do is to play a simple passing game,show plenty of energy and take an early chance. That’s us finished and players start to hide and ambition is non-existent. To be fair I thought Williams worked well and didn’t give up despite having little support and McMamaman showed promise.
    As for being a supporter, I would not blame anyone for not going to the game or even for leaving early,but perhaps we need a new definition of ‘supporter’ because if it means being involved only when things are going well then probably 80% of my years watching Sunderland could have been put to different use. Clearly times are hard and images of McMenemy, Mick Buxton and the 19 and 15 point seasons loom large.We don’t need friends when life is easy but when times are tough.

  5. I’ve spent some of these last couple of weeks watching season videos of the Reid era.Therapeutic in the extreme.

  6. Can it get any worse? Probably. I am glad that I now reside a long way from the SOL and have a decent excuse not to attend. The sight of all those empty pink seats (get it sorted it looks terrible) really brings home the fact that our club is spiralling downhill faster than Franz Klammer (ask yer da) ever did. Clueless. Perhaps if they spent less time trying to flog tacky shirts with all that “heritage” bollocks and paid more attention to the playing side things might improve. But I doubt it.

    • Heritage bollocks indeed. Marketing ploy in fact. They’ll be telling us next that the green kit was a nod to the hill farmers of Weardale, the pink and purple to the bishopric of Durham, that yellow one to represent the sparks that flew from the welding torches in the shipyards and the moulton glass at the glassworks, the solid red back of the home shirt, the colour of Consett snow and the white kit representing the flag we fly once we’ve gone a goal down.

      Then they’ll be telling us that the word gullible has been taken out of the OED!

  7. Pete Sixsmith rightly identifies team selection and formation as the main cause of yesterday’s debacle and that is down to the manager.
    Yes, he can only select fit players who are on the club’s staff but the set-up yesterday was hopeless for a home game where fans are hoping their team will take the initiative.
    Too many players are simply not up to the task. Without wishing to destroy individuals who are simply trying to make their way, too many players are simply not good enough.
    The left back is obviously out of position and a liability. Honeyman is ineffective, Gooch is a stronger, more capable player at this level.
    There was zero impact up front, I can only remember one attempt in the first half and the goal in the 94th minute.
    At this stage in his career Vaughan looks exactly like where he came from – a burly, physical presence from the lower divisions but creating nothing.
    And yet we’re informed that we had a very successful transfer window. Depends on who you are hoping to compete with and your expectations of your club.
    If Ellis Short hopes to sell the club at some point the strategy seems very strange. It’s value must be spiralling downwards as rapidly as the league position.
    Losing paying customers seems a dangerous situation indeed.
    Finally, those who boo their own players while the game is in progress are a disgrace and should be ashamed of themselves. It’s simply the worst thing to do and they cannot consider themselves true supporters. Just get up and leave like the others who are losing the faith. Save your criticism for the pub or fans’ forums, the club will still get the message.

  8. I know that gone are the days when football clubs were run by a committee of aldermen in waistcoats and watchchains and games would be played on pitches clartier than that one when British and German troops famously played during a Boxing Day ceasefire in no man’s land, when your heroes would end up running your local pub or newsagents and Sunderland played in white shorts. I know the game has changed but whilst Niall Quinn was still involved at Sunderland, I at least felt there was still a connection between me and the club.

    Ellis Short is the new type of owner who bought the club for purely financial reasons and sees it as his own personal fiefdom. For me it is no longer possible to see it as “our club”.

    What Jermaine Defoe, Vito Mannone and others did for Bradley Lowery showed that there is still some humilty and compassion out there and almost made me forget the sleazier behaviour of those who get a thrill from using their wealth and power for an adult/adolescent fumble with an underage girl behind a Chinese takeaway in a former pit village.

    I feel I no longer wish to contribute to that culture and it’ll be non league for me until Short sells and we get new owners who show some passion for the club.

    Would I feel different if we were playing entertaining football and winning? More than likely (which makes me sound like a hypocrite) but I fear I will never find out.

  9. I have written responses to Sixer’s articles before, generally documenting my increasing disillusion with the club, yesterday was the final straw. Tactically no-one in the stadium knew what we were trying to do, and I mean no-one. The lack of commitment on the pitch was appalling, and for the players to run back after scoring an irrelevant and undeserved goal, as if to pretend they cared was just insulting to everyone who was left in the stadium.
    Then there was the conduct of some of the ‘supporters’ in the south stand: throwing an object at the injured blades player, fighting with stewards and themselves. There was always pride in our support, if nothing else, yesterday that also took a battering.
    I have been to 3 games this season: Leeds, Barnsley and Sheff Utd, maybe it’s my fault. I will not be returning until the regime which is rapidly destroying every single element of my club is gone. Enough is enough. The only way I can express my disgust is to stay away and stop giving the club my money. It lost my respect a long time ago. It may even be losing my love.

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