Today a four year legal battle that has dominated the national and international news has come to an end, Michael Shields has been pardoned by the British government following his conviction for attempted murder in a Bulgarian court. After serving time in both Bulgarian and British prisons Michael Shields will be freed in the coming days a thought that must have seemed a long way off following his conviction and 10 year sentence four years ago.
The events of the 30th of May 2005 and those that followed evoke great controversy and emotion, the sense of community on Merseyside has been immense following the conviction of Mr Shields. There has been a long standing campaign including marches, mass protests and letter writing designed to secure the release of a man who has always claimed his innocence.
In this article I do not want to re-examine the court cases or the morals ivolved, the events that transpired that night or in the following years will be covered infinitum by better educated fellows than myself. I like to write about football and the greatest question in my mind is not was this an injustice, but what has this to do with football?
Since 2005 much has been made of the fact that Michael Shields was a Liverpool fan, particularly as the alleged crime took place when the accused was on holiday after attending a major footballing event involving that club.
Headline after headline in media link the crime and football that the accused supports almost implying that the two are directly related. When breaking the news today the BBC used the headline ‘Pardon for Football fan Shields’. This headline is technically accurate however this crime was not committed at a football match, it was not committed in the aftermath of a match, nor was it committed in the name of football.
Therefore why is the fact that Michael Shields was a football fan relevant to the story, if I am to commit a crime tomorrow will the headline read ‘football fan robs bank’? or will this detail be omitted as an irrelevance? The crime that occurred in Bulgaria was a vicious attack regardless of who was responsible, an attack that severly injured the victim and was more likely caused by the consumption of too much alcohol or sheer vindicativeness than an affiliation with a football club.
Whilst I am sure that much of the emotion and interest in this story would have remained, would this have reached such a fever pitch had the connection between Michael Shields and Liverpool football club not been made?
I severely doubt that there would have been so much pressure on Jack Straw to make a decision on this issue had the link between football and the crime not been made. I also doubt that this story would have been deemed as newsworthy as it has been and it is unlikely that it would have been more than a footnote news story quickly passing into the annals of time.
Therefore my point is this at what point does the club that someone supports become a noteworthy item? Recent events have reminded us that some despicable acts do get perpetrated in the name of football including extreme violence on both a small and large scale and this is disgusting, but the Michael Shields incident took place in Bulgaria hundreds of miles from the sporting event referenced in reports.
There has also been no mention that football was a factor in this attack so to include this information is to miss the point of the Michael Shields case which has little if anything to do with which football club he supports. Surely the media would be better to focus on the valid points raised by the case such as the relationship between national legal systems, their individual merits and the actual guilt or innocence of a young man accused with the rest of his life ahead of him.
This case has ultimately brought out the best and the worst aspects of football supporters, the community spirit and support showing the best and the derogatory chanting of opposition supporters highlighting the worst.
Whatever your viewpoint on the case it ultimately has served to cast an undeserved shadow on the beautiful game.