Sheffield United vs Birmingham City

This tale concerns a pink-cheeked, badge-thumping fifty-year-old by the name of Chris.

They say that the Sheffield United manager, Chris Wilder, has passion in abundance. But Christopher Mackan, my eldest brother, has passion in Arbourthorne. That is until such a time when his animated fervour is relocated to Bramall Lane…a time such as today.

Cue apprehension.

You’ll know a fan like Chris. You may even know Chris and for that I can only apologise. He’s one of these Irritating Blades Supporters (IBS) whose attendance is rarer than a blue steak, although it doesn’t follow that they keep their lack of knowledge to themselves.

I didn’t want Chris to upset my evening with his motor-mouthed ramblings. After he text saying he fancied “going with me”, it took Dawn’s persuasion to get me out of the door and into the Cube to meet Chris outside the Copthorne at half seven.

If you’ve ever sat on the Kop when an ale-arsed IBS has made you stand up so that, in their raging, unpunctual haze, they can find their seat…then it probably wasn’t Chris you were irritated by. Unless the bloke looked like a fat Jesus and asked you to move with the politeness of a constipated guard dog chained on a short leash, in which case it was almost certainly was.

I didn’t leave anything to chance, pulling my brother out of the Copthorne at twenty-too, consequentially failing  to meet the first criterion of…

What makes an IBS? 

Criterion 1: an IBS is late and forces you to get up from your seated position to let them through; an apology or thank you can ameliorate this scoring

…as I say, we negotiated that hurdle. I sat down in my season ticket spot and Chris took the spare in front. We were greeted by ‘ey ups’ and nods from my regular congregation, a few of the nods seemed to ask that, ‘that your brother then?’,  to which I replied in kind.

Criterion 2: an IBS will slag off their seating position; harsher scoring is acceptable when remarks are made in ear shot of season ticket holders in the vicinity

“Christ,” said Chris with the self awareness of a desk lamp, “atmosphere’s flatter than an f______  pancake here, int it? You sit int Streetwise every week, Steve?”

Criterion 3: upon the announcement of the team an IBS will aggressively disagree with the the manager; for swearing and/or making reference to players who no longer play for United allow harsher marking

My brother reacted to the news of five changes like a man who’d just found out Jack O’Connell’s first name. “Who the bloody ‘ell is this Washington lad? Never even heard of him. Is he a young un? Academy? Eh? Do you know?” he asked Trudy sitting next to him, who bit hard on her eighty-something lip.

I came to her aid, knowing as I did that Trudy came to observe, “Chris,” I said, “Chris, he came in on a free from QPR…..”

“What about Ched, why can’t he get a game?”

Criterion 4: deferring to Ched Chat when other Blades-related knowledge fails
Criterion 5: distracted by ale or normative lack of concentration, an IBS marcates themselves by starting up a conversation about something in eye-shot that isn’t related to the game

Twenty minutes into the first half and we started brightly enough, though our normal fluency appeared stunted by the new personnel. It’s funny how football imitates life, isn’t it?

“‘Ow long we had them flashy boards?” Chris asked nobody in particular.

Then… A misplaced pass, badly misplaced; where a reactionary heavy sigh would suffice, Chris opted to punch the back of the seat in front. Jumping to his feet and spinning on his heels he cried, “awful this, awful. Not good enough, is it?” His question is received and dealt with like spam.

Criterion 6: an IBS hollers rhetorical questions then looks to nearby members of the crowd for support and/or to start a loud sweaty conversation; score harshly if the individual actually stands and turns around

Luckily for all at close quarters, Chris headed for a beer in the 35th minute. I can only be thankful that the game itself was sufficiently dull to remain unspoilt by my sibling’s merry twattery.

Criterion 7: leaving before the first half ends to sup expensive beer, alone, in the concourse; score harshly if the individual is late for the start of the second half

I didn’t see Chris for a good half hour. Instead I chatted to my neighbours at half time, ate a Twix and debated the merits of an unfit John Fleck with Trudy who was kind enough not to mention my brother.

Of course, Chris resumed normal service when, a couple of minutes into the second half, he raised the row so that he could get to his seat….one hand in his pocket, the other hiding a beer in his jacket.

Cue peak apprehension;  a confrontation cometh.

Criterion 8: an IBS may argue with a) others around them b) the stewards; if both, mark down accordingly

Whether it was the beer or simply Chris’s personality that got him into trouble, I do not know. The beer didn’t help, let’s put it that way. First, Trudy, who was sick of Chris’s repetitive drivel….

…”do him…

…to him…

…don’t foul him…

…not there…

…owizeeinteam…”, decided that her neighbour was a painful bore. Moreover, he was a painful bore noisily supping a poorly concealed beer, the third he had bought at half time by the way.

“Chris, I am sorry but would you mind sitting elsewhere if you intend to chunter on like this for the rest of the game?” My brother was taken aback by Trudy’s words, simultaneously Leon Clarke was taken back by Chris Wilder and replaced by Billy Sharp.

The Blades’ downward-turning performance needed a Billy-shaped lift like my brother needed a good dressing down. He ignored Trudy. His mind focussed upon the steward who moved along the row in front to politely tell Chris, “you can’t drink that here sir, would you kindly take it down to the concourse or hand it over to me.”

I didn’t know how Chris would react. He’s a pain in the arse but he’s not always completely unreasonable. Then the words left his lips and I knew precisely which mood had taken him….

“Drink what?”. Chris’s reply to the steward was as unconfrontational as it was convincing.

…minutes passed, which is more than Norwood looked able to do…

The Lane was hot with boredom and negativity, my pocket of the Streetwise was a blue-bottle buzz of obstreperousness and beligerence.

Criterion 9: the IBS will defend their position in the face of a posteriori lines of argument to the contrary.

Despite the steward’s concrete reasonableness and my attempts to calm him down, Chris travelled a wild and irritating path to being thrown out.

First denial that he had a beer, then anger as he tried to sup the thing whilst myself and the steward stopped him, then bargaining; “If you let me finish it off, I’ll sit quietly, then depression as he cried discrimination and threatened to sue the steward for harassment and then…

Acceptance.

The steward departed before returning swiftly with three companions. A police officer at the bottom of the concourse signalled that he would climb the stairs to assist the effort. I bowed my head in embarrassment, Chris threw the beer to the floor and followed his ‘captors’ down the stairs.

Knowing he would need some looking after, I said my apology-punctuated goodbyes in the 74th minute.

Criterion 10: an IBS will always leave early; if this occurs for reasons of public safety the individual automatically qualifies as an IBS

The Passion of Chris…landing him in trouble once more. It was the first time I’d missed the final whistle for twenty-odd years, but I understand from texts exchanged with pals later, that I didn’t miss all that much…a decent point? Perhaps.

When we reached the car I pushed him into the passenger seat and, when I pushed him out again, I took the only solace from an IBS-interupted evening: the traffic wasn’t bad.

Man of the Match

Those on the pitch didn’t cover themselves in much glory, perhaps this was due to this bloke leeching it all…Paul Coutts gets the nod on a day where there were no winners.

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