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Muslim Blade
Corner Flags and Corner Shops
An extract from the book 'Corner Flags and Corner Shops: the Asian football experience' by Jas Bains and Sanjiev Johal (1998).
Looking distinctly conspicuous in this otherwise all-white environ (a Sheffield pub) is Ramon Mohammed, aka the Muslim Blade. With a pint of Wards in one hand, and the deployment of the other to periodically gesticulate to all concerns of this crowded pub, he could be just ‘one of the lads’, something he, like his fellow Asian male community, is destined never to be. For fear of stating the obvious, this is no ordinary Muslim and definitely no ordinary Blade: ‘A few seasons ago I was in a pub after a game with other Sheffield United fans, who had spent half the night ridiculing Asians; somewhat semi-seriously. My response was to start singing "Muslim Blade". It was my way of saying that we, the Asian community, were also part of the Sheffield United family. I know people who think some of my actions (pointing to a pint of beer and non-halal cooked-meat sandwich) do not conform to Islamic traditions and values. However, as far as I am concerned, it’s what’s in the heart that counts. I have read the Koran, my father was a Pakistani, and I am proud to be a Muslim.’

It was a combination of where he grew up as a youngster and a fondness for the underdog that initially attracted Ramon Mohammed to Sheffield United: ‘This may sound like an over-simplification but United have tended to draw their support from the working-class areas, like Darnall and Attercliffe, where I grew up. Whereas Wednesday have drawn their support from a wider section of the population, including middle-class areas. Secondly, as a kid, United were enjoying a bit of a heyday period, with players like Mick Jones, Trevor Hockey and Tony Currie.’

Ramon’s thesis about the base of Sheffield’s football support is endorsed by the report Sheffield Divided or United? (Sheffield Hallam University 1997): ‘Sheffield Wednesday is seen as a club for the whole family, and Sheffield United as a club which appeals more to white young males.’ The report, an extensive survey of fans, local residents and young people, also highlighted the extent to which racism continues to be a factor in preventing the local ethnic minority population from connecting with Sheffield United Football Club. Encouragingly, over 70 per cent of fans interviewed said that they found racist abuse to be offensive, a view most strongly expressed by female and older supporters. However, what the report also highlighted was that almost one in five fans (18 per cent), mainly young white males, did not think that racist chanting was harmful or were bothered by it. Harassment of local ethnic minority residents by football supporters was considered to contain a racial element, and the report cites these incidents as being ‘commonplace’ rather than ‘exceptional’. Perhaps even more revealing was the finding that young ethnic minority people did not feel that, in general, attending football matches was part of their lives and saw Sheffield United as a club with an appeal to young white males rather than to them. Some of these perceptions and experiences have been founded by past clashes between football supporters, walking from the local pubs towards the ground, and local residents. On occasions the clashes were known to have been particularly violent, resulting in the hospitalisation of non-white supporters.

Such ideas, however, have always been far removed from Ramon Mohammed’s mind. At primary school Ramon would spend endless hours talking about football with his teacher, Mr Howard, and, in particular, his obsession for Sheffield United. It became apparent to Mr Howard that, unlike his fellow (white) football-loving pupils, Ramon had never seen a live match. Although a Huddersfield Town fan himself, Mr Howard took pity and offered to take Ramon to a Sheffield United game. That game against Tottenham Hotspur in 1971 began what has become an undying love affair. The combined ingredients of being raised in a family of seven children and possessing parents who were largely disinterested in the game made the growing allure to Bramall Lane somewhat pointless, almost cruel. Circumstances were not helped by white peer group influences, who, supported by willing parents, would regularly make the two-bus-ride pilgrimage to the ground. To satisfy his newly found passion, Ramon undertook a paper round, overcoming the obstacle of the Saturday afternoon stint by subcontracting that particular round to a friend. Unbeknown to Ramon, little did he realise the magnitude of the world to which he was being exposed, memories of which haunt him to this day: ‘Rather than lose what I considered to be my friends, I decided to go with the flow. These were my friends in the street, and at school, and I desperately wanted to be with them in another common interest. I am ashamed to say that I copied their actions by taking part in the racist name-calling. It was pathetic; I was looked upon as a "good" Paki, a token white man. I cannot express how low I felt.’

On leaving school Ramon found himself in a company of a notoriously petty-minded group of building-site workers, where he found there to be no escape from the discrimination and prejudice that had thus far engulfed his life. Life on the sites was difficult - at times almost intolerable - as Ramon resigned himself to accepting the standard daily racist and sexist comments of his co-workers. It was a case of either confronting someone and face the prospect of hospital and bleak future job prospects, or get your head down by being seemingly prepared to tolerate the excesses, interspersed with the odd contribution, so as not to become too isolated and alienated. He does, though, recall with some amusement his first away match, against Luton Town: ‘Working on a building site meant that I had to wear these steel toe-capped boots. I had no time to change before getting on the coach to Luton. As I went through the turnstile I was told by a policeman that I could only get in if I took off my boots. You can imagine the mickey-taking I took off United fans: things like, "I forgot your lot don’t wear shoes".’

Following a period of soul searching, a process he underwent to re-examine his outlook on life, and in particular a search for his ‘true’ identity, Ramon took the decision to pursue a degree course at Hull University. He decided that the search for his true self was being hampered by a lack of intellectual stimulus, and the only way to overcome this situation was to acquire the necessary academic training. The three years at Hull University, notwithstanding the anguish brought about by an enforced detachment from Bramall Lane, were to bring him very close to what he had set out to find. In doing so Ramon came to the realisation that he had to effectively make a choice between his ‘friends’ and his freshly discovered cultural and racial identity: ‘I had grown up on a white working-class estate, gone to school with the same crowd, and was now working with the same people. Over the years, by not challenging racist ideologies, I had allowed myself to become sucked into almost believing something I knew to be wrong, but was previously too weak to ever do anything about.’

Having since qualified as a teacher Ramon is now able to observe racism from a more considered as well as challenging perspective. These experiences have helped him not only recognise the extent of the problem in the game, but also demonstrate his, almost foolhardy, loyalty to Sheffield United: ‘Last season (1996) at Southend, one of their players was receiving medical attention when a small but very vocal group of Blades fans repeatedly chanted, "You black bastard, you black bastard." I shouted back at the morons, challenging their racism. I was joined by one, just one out of 1500 away fans. Sadly, on that night at Southend, the small but vociferous racist louts were the winners. Why? Because the majority stayed silent.’

Although the number of ethnic minority fans attending Sheffield United’s home games is still very small (estimated to be around 1 per cent) there is some evidence to suggest that the Bramall Lane environment may slowly be becoming a less hostile place. In circumstances not dissimilar to that incident at Southend, only twelve months previously, Ramon detected there to be a shifting of attitudes amongst even some of the more notoriously bigoted Blades following: ‘At the home game against Charlton Athletic this very large Sheffield United fan, who was standing not far behind me, was dishing out the racist abuse. Just as I was about to turn around and tell him to belt up (fingers crossed for my personal safety), I was beaten to it by other Blades fans. The amazing thing was that this big fellow apologised, saying he was "out of order". For the first time, I felt that I could truly be at one with my fellow Blades. I no longer feel like a lone voice in the wilderness.’
Bains, Jas; Johal, Sanjiev 1 January 1998
(Muslim Blade (right) with Charlton player Paul Mortimer) Click to view/downloadMuslim Blade (right) with Charlton player Paul Mortimer
muslimblade.jpg (9kb)

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