Sheffield United signing Marlon King makes perfect footballing sense. The Blades have been lacking a cutting edge all season, so the addition of an experienced goal scorer with a good strike rate at a higher level is just what the doctor ordered.
Of course, King also comes with a little baggage. OK- he comes with a Kevin Bacon-esque shedload of bags- each oozing filth and slime. A section of the United support have expressed horror that a man with a record like King should be pulling on the red and white stripes. Initially, I was not keen- but I have come round thanks to the words of a Wednesday fan.
I was listening to Radio Sheffield’s Football Heaven, an unlikely name for a nightly show where fans of perennially unsuccessful clubs voice their dissatisfaction, when a kindly Owl called in to offer his opinion. He gave a performance somewhere pitched somewhere between Brian Blessed and Count Arthur Strong- urging us to think of the victims. The finale was a call for all Blades fans to imagine it was their daughter who had been the victim of King’s most notorious nightclub assault. How would you feel?
As a father of two lasses- this was powerful stuff. How would I feel if a drunken bully abused and assaulted my girls? I’d want him to suffer. I’d want him to be beaten to within an inch of his life- preferably by me. I’d want him to be locked up- allowed outside only for rock pile duty. If the authorities every released him, I’d want him to be in a state of perpetual misery: s*** job, crap flat, alone apart from unreasonable neighbours who pop round to slap him around now and then to keep him in a state of fear and loathing. This is also the treatment I would like for the person who left a dent in my car door while I was in ASDA last week.
Fortunately, we live in a country with a functioning criminal justice system. Rather than indulging the revenge fantasies of victims and right wing columnists- the courts listen then impose sentences that aim to balance retribution with rehabilitation. When you’ve done your time- you re-enter society and try to get on with it. Marlon King is a footballer. He needs to play football to earn for his family. Indeed, he has stressed that staying close to the family who stood by him was a key factor in him opting for Sheffield, rather than taking up offers to play abroad free from the sustained abuse from opposing fans he is guaranteed in League One.
Much has been made of the fact that footballers should be role models. I can see the argument that enjoying such a high profile career is a privilege and comes with responsibility. My concern is where do you draw the line and who draws it. Gazza was a hero for a generation of English football fans- yet his life is littered with unsavoury incidents. With such a likeable character, there was always a tendency to look for excuses for him. Even when he was beating ten shades of s*** out of his wife, people wanted him to receive help rather than to lock him up and throw away the key. Marlon King’s most obnoxious moments show him to be a man with issues. How will ending his right to make a living change that and make Britain a safer place? Also- at what age are we going to rule that people aren’t fit to play football and how many chances will they be given?
One argument I have heard repeatedly is the notion that Marlon King represents everything that is wrong with modern football. I reject this totally. For me- Wayne Rooney represents that: showing no loyalty, constantly trying to screw money out of the club and having contempt for the fans who pay his wages. Marlon King appears to want to get his head down and ply his trade. As for the people who say that footballers are arrogant and think they are above the law- the length of Marlon’s rap sheet suggests different. On the other hand, the England team features a number of people who have been allowed to get away with pretty despicable acts and we’re encouraged to get behind them by the press pack.
There are pragmatic reasons for not signing King. Whichever way you slice it- having a registered sex offender on the books is a public relations nightmare- particularly for a club with a recent centre forward doing time for rape. Also, his old knees may not stand up to third division clogging.
I respect the decision of the United fans who say they will not go while King is at the club, but I will be at the Lane as usual.
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