The Robson Report: let Doncaster’s Billy Sharp personify football’s soul

Jeremy Robson


Did John Terry mouth a racist insult in “conversation” with Anton Ferdinand, or was he merely enquiring as to whether Anton erroneously thought he had done so? A number of players insist that Terry is not a racist; the facts have yet to be determined. Billy Sharp’s gesture, however, needed no interpretation. Jeremy Robson applauds Sharp, the bereaved father who scored a “goal from heaven”* (see clip below); you judge whether he is unduly harsh on JT …

Bill Shankly’s oft cited quotation about football being more important than life and death was mentioned again as recently as last week on Salut! Sunderland, in the title of the Rev Leo Osborn’s “Who are you?” article prior to the SAFC v Aston Villa game.

Leo, a staunch Villa fan but also a prominent churchman, said Shankly was wrong. I for one would not disagree. How can any sport, or game be considered more important than life itself?

But while football may be insignificant when it comes to sickness and disease, and the loss of a loved one, there is little doubt that the game can take the form of a stage on which emotions are played out, from the most sensitive and personal through to the most brutal and ignorant attitudes afflicting the human condition.

In that light, the words of the great Mr Shankly may be reinterpreted when reflecting on two of this week’s most talked about football stories, which more than any that I’ve encountered for some time say more about life and death.

On a Tuesday night at the beginning of early November a goal is scored in South Yorkshire by the home team who lie at the foot of the Championship.

The away side reply with three of their own and take home the three points. Those bare facts might suggest that a less significant goal will not be scored in the English league this season. In terms of relegation and promotion issues or places in the table you’d be right.

However, for the few thousand that witnessed Billy Sharp’s score for Doncaster Rovers against Middlesbrough, I doubt whether anyone will forget it. After he had scored, Billy Sharp pulled up his shirt to reveal a t-shirt underneath on which the slogan read: “That’s for you son.”

Louie Jacob Sharp was Billy and his wife Jade’s newborn son who, sadly, had died three days earlier. The loss of a child is the worst kind of suffering that can torment any person. How does a parent grieve for the loss of their baby; their little bundle of joy, the embodiment of every hope and aspiration for the future, suddenly and so tragically taken away?

Thankfully, I don’t know and I hope I never do. Billy Sharp did what he could. He phoned his manager, Dean Saunders and told him he wanted to play. By all accounts the goal he scored was something rather special in football terms. The fact that it was a wonder goal is fitting but irrelevant compared to what it symbolised. As Tony Mowbray, the Middlesbrough manager, said to reporters after the game: “A goal from heaven.”

At the other end
of the spectrum are the allegations of racism that have engulfed the Chelsea captain and England stalwart John Terry following an alleged remark aimed at QPR’s former Sunderland defender Anton Ferdinand. Nobody should prejudge the issue of course, although the layman is perfectly entitled to compare the relative characters of Ferdinand and Terry when reflecting on who should be believed ahead of some conclusion to the investigations that are proceeding.

Without diminishing the seriousness of these allegations but putting them for a moment to one side, it would be fair to say John Terry is a man of let’s say uncertain morality and integrity with history littered with quite enough incidents and events to cause concern to any parent whose daughter might bring him home.

Terry’s talent (highly questionable in any case if you ask me) has caused his various indiscretions and behaviour to be swept aside and ignored.

A complete lack of any moral fibre or sense of decency is apparently no kind of impediment to holding the captaincy of Chelsea or England.

He is, in my view, a vulgar and unpleasant individual who personifies everything that a role model should not. Sadly, Terry is a product of world that cares not one iota about anyone other than Number One. Life is full of people like him. They are the individuals that decent people avoid and shun, for the harm that they do to those who come into contact with them.

Ignorance and yobbish behaviour, and indeed worse, are also part of life and therefore part of death. The worlds of Billy Sharp and John Terry are a million miles apart in football terms but are a whole lot further in everything else.

* The referee deserves a spot of praise, too, for his reaction to Sharp’s celebration, which could have brought a booking. Darren Deadman has an unfortunate name, especially in the circumstances, but showed commendable discretion in keeping the yellow card in his pocket …

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13 thoughts on “The Robson Report: let Doncaster’s Billy Sharp personify football’s soul”

  1. Comradeship in adversity is exactly what it is. Where were we? LOL! We were there watching it and complaining about how sh*t it was, and here we are decades later looking back on the good old days.

    The only thing that gets better as you get older is nostalgia.

  2. I have only recently started posting on this site, it is one of the best for SAFC Ive found,oldies or not.

    The song when “Where you when you were sh**?” springs to mind.I guess it is all about comradeship in adversity : ).

  3. I’ve always had the impression that we were all of a similar age. The posts above this prove beyond question that Salut is a refuge for the oldies.

    Football isn’t the same as it was. It has well and truly lost it’s magic as others have already said. The FA Cup used to be a treat but the disrespect that the competition has been treated with has turned a cup tie into an ordeal. Overpaid medoicre players are killing it. I am getting old for sure.

    It’s a small circle of posters to this site, apart from visitors from elsewhere occasionally, but we are all of a similar vintage with some fond memories of how good it was when we were bad. I didn’t realise it at the time either!

  4. “I know there’s no point pining for a step back in values, its not gonna happen but it feels the soul has been sucked out of the beautiful game.I think we just like to keep the illusion going and pretend it hasn’t. OR maybe we are just getting old.”

    You’re spot on in both regards Vince. I was thinking about what you were saying in other posts last night and I came to a horrible conclusion. If I had been born in 2000 as opposed to 1960, I think that I would not have had this lifelong obsession with SAFC (and that is what it is; a complete obesession!). In fact I even began to wonder whether I’d be interested in football at all. It goes even further still because my boy is a very promising goalkeeper for his age. If he keeps on developing and doesn’t stop growing too soon then I would say that he has a real chance of getting somewhere with it. I now find myself half hoping that he doesn’t because of the types of characters that seem to fill the game. That’s the extent to which so much of my real love for it all has faded.

    I know that I’m a dinosaur but just wish that it was like it used to be. I miss Roker and have never been able to let those days go. I wish I was back in the Clock Stand Paddock in front of Mr Sixsmith and the rest of the lads. We can’t go back, I know, but the best of times are hard to forget. I never realised just how good it was watching the likes of Owers and Armstrong etc. They were crap but at least they were our crap and not pure mercenaries.

  5. Jeremy
    Gyan is a case in point.The higher you reach as a club the worse type of player you get.Ive met a few Man City fans who are almost embarrassed at the money they are now spending on players,after all those years struggling it now seem to have all come too easy……a rich buyout and you are the lottery winner.

    All you seem to get though, is a bunch of overpaid gunslingers with attitudes……though the technical quality of the player is undoubtedly better than of old.

    I know there’s no point pining for a step back in values, its not gonna happen but it feels the soul has been sucked out of the beautiful game.I think we just like to keep the illusion going and pretend it hasn’t.

    OR maybe we are just getting old.

  6. I must be honest Vince, and say that I don’t get that same buzz that I used to. Walking down the back streets to Roker for a night game I would get more of a buzz from seeing the floodlights cutting through the night sky than I do from seeing the players come out these days. The reasons for that go beyond what we are discussing here of course. It’s just not the same as it used to be.

    Following Sunderland is a bit like listening to Bruce Springsteen, or owning a Saab. There are no more “Born to Run” or “Darkness on the edge of town” type albums to come. Same as Saabs have never been the same since General Motors got their hands on the company, who have just been taken over by a Chinese company. Neither are the same as they were and never will be again, but still better than the various alternatives.

  7. Jeremy,
    I still go to football matches becuase….of the supporters and the thrill you still get when you see the players walk out onto that pitch.Its is pure emotion and I doubt any of us can explain it.Pity about the players though.

  8. Vince said

    “And I still go to football matches because……”

    Maybe it’s because we always have done. Habit created during our formative years. It continues because we haven’t realised that it has changed beyond anything we could have imagined.

  9. John Terry is the one of the worst examples of the footballer species,alongside Ashley Cole.Though top contender now must be Ryan Giggs.

    Wonder what |Shankley would have made of it?I think I know.

    That said I will leave the authorities to sort out the racist accusations.Though Id expect some form of a cover up if I am honest,I doubt they will throw the book at him they seem to intimidated by players these days.How else to we get the PFA getting a players fine reduced for refusing to play(sorry warm up).Where I came from that would have been a blatent withdrawal of your services.

    There is just no accountablity any more and even where there is it is rescinded within a few months when the usual”hasnt he paid the price” brigade start up.Its the same old babyfication of what should be a mans world.Players are surrounded by sycophants and agents telling them they are Gods gift to the planet,they have no responsiblity,no self discipline.These latter day football heros show no respect for anyone or anything.

    And I still go to football matches because……

  10. I completely agree with all of the comments so far on this thread. John Terry is an obnoxious, repulsive individual. Chat noir is completely correct in his assertion that Terry has got away with an easy time of it by the media. His indiscretions and those of the rabble that make up his family go back years and years,and yet he is not regarded in my mind by the media as a “bad boy” in the way that the likes of Bowyer and Barton have been at various times. His objectionable character and general unpleasantness don’t seem to count given his Chelsea and England connections.

  11. John Terry is a lucky little duck that he’s English. The red tops (in this country anyway) have given him a free ride his entire career. For a man with his laundry list of indiscretions, from the £10,000 training ground tours, to sleeping with Wayne Bridge’s partner and the forced termination, to his father’s coke dealing and his mother’s shoplifting (not his fault really, but the sins of the father and all that), to the constant bullying of referees, he really ought to be pilloried every week. But he isn’t. Yes he gets a bit of stick when each story breaks, but if a lower league player or a foreign player had this sort of baggage, he’d be a tabloid whipping boy.

    Terry’s the wrong side of 30 now, and I have to imagine that as his usefulness to England fades (though I’d agree I don’t think he’s as good as the hype suggests) his preferential treatment will fade as well.

    Remarkable dignity from Billy Sharp last night. Humbling. Hopefully playing and scoring gave to him a little bit of peace, in what must be the most difficult time in his life.

  12. I too was very moved by this story, and by the way in which everyone involved has behaved. The community of football standing together and showing such warmth and collective support, does both Doncaster and Middlesbrough proud. This is exactly what football should be about, partisan yes, but able to transcend rivalry in the context of such events in acknowledgement of our common humanity.
    I cannot agree more about Terry who has always seemed to me to be a bit of a bully, and as you say Jeremy, not a particularly gifted footballer. I was always uneasy about his England captaincy and not particularly surprised by this latest story.

  13. A well balanced and thoughtful article depicting clearly differing standards in our game.Might I just re-iterate the point I made in the Reverend’s Villa piece,that Shankly was not being serious.I wonder if there’s any concrete evidence to support my firm belief?

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