Comes soon after Ched Evans case
7 October ~ Sheffield United's September signing of Marlon King – who was jailed for a year in 2009 for sexual assault – has caused high emotion and a split among fans. A recent "do you approve" poll on one forum (Blades Reunited) is currently running at a 70:30 ratio against the signing. As a Sheffield United fan I voted my lack of approval. I try to be fair and open-minded about people being able to sell their labour after serving a criminal sentence. There can be riders – the customer has the right not to buy the product and some labourers are more equal than others.
If you have a popular skill, returning to your chosen work may be easier than the average person seeking reintegration into the workplace.
Rehabilitation is also often inextricably linked with those affected by the crime – I think of the emotions surrounding the return to football of Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick, who was jailed for four years for causing death by dangerous driving in 2008. Fans can't be blamed for being affected by those emotions even as they try to remain objective.
I am sure most sports people do not ask to be regarded as role models. But this is offset by the fact that they use their status to sell a lifestyle or support campaigns and causes. Clubs may expect their stars to promote charity and community activities which, however altruistic in intent, have their own benefits in shaping the club’s profile. And I am mindful of the dilemmas of fans who are parents – their offspring will also want to find heroes and heroines. You may have mixed or negative feelings about a player with whom your young ones identify.
The principle reason for feeling angry and let down by King's arrival at my club is that we have been through something similar recently. Without detracting from the experience of those directly affected by the case, knowing Ched Evans had been charged and was awaiting trial was a deeply uncomfortable time as a United supporter. There was the question of whether it was OK to cheer him when he continued to play for us before his trial and how we would feel for celebrating his goals if he was found guilty.
Plus there was a chance that his performances might play a crucial role in our promotion – would that mar the triumph if was sent convicted? In the event, he was jailed for five years and our season ended in failure to go up either automatically or through the play-offs, all of which made his pre-conviction form irrelevant and memories of those goals immaterial. It was a sordid and depressing affair but one which I think the club and fans dealt with largely in a dignified fashion. I think we deserve a break.
To bring in another convicted sex offender (among other offences) now feels like the worst decision the club could make. There is not one single player or formation that is going to solve our current drop in form – despite King scoring his first goal for us on Friday – so why was it worth signing him with all the controversy, rancour and splitting of the fanbase that came with the decision?
King is a free agent and because of his baggage will have been considering clubs below his playing standard, but the price and availability of a player should not be the only consideration. The actions of the club suggest that those two factors are more important than the feelings of many Sheffield United fans. While I'm not surprised that business has been seen to override everything else, the club's lack of judgement and care for its fans has left me feeling bewildered about what forthcoming Saturdays will feel like at Bramall Lane. Sarah Choonara