Could Careless Talk Have Counted Tragically Towards the Loss of a Life? – by Rob Atkinson


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It was a very mixed weekend for Leeds United fans.  On the Saturday, the team beat Middlesbrough 2-1 to enter the play-off zone and maintain their recent good run.  But on Sunday, we awoke to news that one of our number, in a coma for over a year since being attacked on a night out in Sheffield on the 11th November 2012, had sadly died without ever regaining consciousness.  And at that point I have to say “Rest In Peace” to Richard Ismail, 45 years old, known to his friends as “Moody”.  The thoughts of so many are with his family at this awful time.  All of those who will be looking for justice to be done will be relieved to hear that, since a change of law in 1996, there is no longer a year-and-a-day cut off point for a charge of murder to be brought.  There will therefore now be a murder investigation even though Mr Ismail’s death occurred over the old time limit after the attack.  It’s understood that three individuals, widely believed to be fans of Sheffield Wednesday FC, are currently out on bail pending further possible action.

Under a month before the attack on Moody, Sheffield Wednesday had met Leeds United in a Championship fixture at Hillsborough Stadium.  It was not an edifying spectacle. There were scenes of violence on the field as Wednesday’s scrum-capped central defender Miguel Llera charged around, putting in tackles that resembled various degrees of common assault.  Leeds defenders, as is their wont, gave as good as their team-mates got. In the second half, just after United’s equalising goal, a lone Leeds fan ran onto the pitch and pushed a startled Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland in the face causing him to fall and remain, shocked, on the ground.  The moron responsible went back into the crowd, but was subsequently identified and prosecuted.  Throughout the evening, both sets of fans breached the boundaries of good taste, Leeds fans taunting Wednesday manager David Jones over charges relating to alleged child abuse, of which he had been cleared years earlier.  Wednesday fans for their part gleefully mocked the Leeds support over the deaths of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in the year 2000.  It was a bad and disgusting day at the office and, sadly, it didn’t end at the final whistle.

After the match, the highly emotional Wednesday manager Jones, plainly trembling with anger and resentment, was asked about the condition of his goalkeeper Kirkland. Somewhat surprisingly, Jones paid little heed to this enquiry beyond acknowledging that the boy was shaken and claiming it had hindered his team from seeking a winning goal. He seemed far more concerned by the verbal abuse he had suffered, than by the physical attack on his goalkeeper.  In an unrestrained on-camera performance, he castigated the Leeds fans, comparing their behaviour to “racism”, taking Leeds manager Neil Warnock to task for praising the fans’ support of the United team and ending by saying that the Leeds fans were “vile animals.  All of them.”  Warnock seemed bemused by such an outburst, shrugging it off, doubtless aware from experience that immediately after a match is not an ideal time for rational thought and reflection.  Jones was quite specific, not to say selective in his attentions; he did not refer to the taunting of the Leeds fans by the Sheffield crowd over the Istanbul murders.

Because of the short time lapse between these shoddy events and the subsequent attack in Sheffield on Mr Ismail, the question has to arise: how much of what was said may have been in the minds of the protagonists on that fateful and ultimately tragic night?  It is understood that Richard Ismail was out for the evening with his partner, and that his clothing identified him as a Leeds United fan.  Or, let us not forget, as a “vile animal” in the minds of any Sheffield Wednesday fans daft enough, bone-headedly crazy enough, to have taken seriously what their club’s manager had said only a matter of weeks before.

Did those intemperate words still ring in the attackers’ heads?  Were they, in their own warped minds, taking action against a “vile animal”?  Did they, just possibly, feel that they were meting out some summary rough justice to a person identifiable with the fans who had taunted their own Mr Jones just the previous month?  Who knows what goes through a thug’s head as he swings into action with like-minded accomplices, encouraged at outnumbering a lone target who is on a night out with his partner?  But the question has to arise: if Mr Jones had been more circumspect in his remarks – or if, perhaps, a more decent interval had been allowed to elapse before any interview, to allow emotions to subside a little – might things not, just possibly, have turned out differently? Might this tragic episode possibly have been avoided?

It is, of course, impossible to say.  But the factors are all there for anyone looking for any kind of cause and effect scenario – just as the lesson is there to be learned about thinking before you speak, and refraining at all costs from going on camera, to an audience of millions, and saying things that are unwise; things that are far too inclusive; not, in short, the kind of things a level-headed professional really wants to be caught on the spot saying.  I remember being taken aback and more than a little shocked at the emotional vehemence of Jones’ performance in the post-match interview.  It just seemed so disproportionate, so incongruous in someone who had been a professional in football and in the sphere of social care for many years; fair enough, he’d taken dog’s abuse over a matter that should have had a line drawn under it years before. But sadly, these things happen – whenever crowds gather and alcohol has been consumed.  Sets of fans will go all out to bait each other, and they will raise the stakes in retaliation.  It’s not nice, but it’s far from unknown – and it’s part of the cross a football manager, or indeed many other professionals in different areas of public life, just have to bear.  That’s part of the reason they’re lavishly paid, part of the reason that it’s the tougher personalities that take these kind of jobs.  And really – wasn’t there some sort of support for Jones, from within the Sheffield Wednesday club?  He looked in need of it.

Still, Mr Jones didn’t appear inclined to withdraw his remarks even days later, although he did qualify them somewhat.  But by then, any possible damage had already been done. The internet was buzzing, you heard about “vile animals” everywhere. Some Leeds fans took it as a perverse badge of honour, others were more than a little annoyed and offended.  This latter group would post pictures of their cherubically cute 7 year old boy or girl in a mini Leeds shirt, asking “is this a vile animal, Mr Jones?”  Feelings ran very high for quite some time afterwards, and I can’t get out of my head the possibility that they might still have been running high enough, a few short weeks later, to have been a factor in turning what should have been a family night out into an ordeal of over a year, ending in the untimely death of a man who had done nothing wrong.

I don’t know if Mr Jones’ thoughts have run along these lines, or – if they have – whether he’s admitted to himself that he could have applied a little more self-control, been a little less all-embracingly condemnatory of ALL Leeds United fans – every one of them. Because, in saying something like that, you just never know what notion you might plant in the pea-brain of some self-righteous moron who wants then to take revenge. And from there, it’s impossible to say what might happen.  All we know is what did happen, and we know what was said – so publicly – just a short time before.  Whether there was a relationship between the one and the other will be impossible to prove – but the sad fact is that there could have been.  And if that doesn’t make the case for a bit more thought about the timing and content of these emotional post-match interviews, then I don’t know what does.   It is now being speculated that the forthcoming meeting of the two clubs at Hillsborough in January – a game that will also be live on Sky TV – will be played out in an atmosphere even uglier than last year’s malevolent brew – if such a thing were possible.  Given Jones’ currently-precarious position at Sheffield Wednesday, it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether he will still be in his job by then. Perhaps it really would be for the best if he’s gone.

What seems clear enough to me is that, when considering what led up to Mr Ismail’s tragic fate, it’s not possible to view David Jones’ heat-of-the-moment remarks purely in isolation.  You throw a stone, and out spread the ripples, inevitably, unstoppably. If you speak on camera to thousands or millions, it behoves you to keep a check on what you say, and to bear in mind that your words will be interpreted in a variety of different ways, by a variety of different people, some more literal-minded than others.  And, given that – when there’s a rabble out there eager to be roused – it’s just not worth the risk to let off steam to that extent.  An event like Moody’s death puts starkly into context issues such as name-calling and the temporary catharsis offered by a hasty rant on camera.  Maybe, in time, Mr Jones and others can reflect on the implications of what was said and what was done in Sheffield just over a year ago.

Richard Ismail “Moody” 1968-2013    RIP  MOT

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36 responses to “Could Careless Talk Have Counted Tragically Towards the Loss of a Life? – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Leeds Tuppa

    Did you go to one of the many charity do’s for his family ? Or have you just decided to grab some attention for your column again ?

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    • Clearly you’re judging me by your own degraded standards. You bring out the old attention-seeking barb that you use EVERY time I publish anything, even for this where the subject is so sensitive. Pathetic. You dismal, ridiculous, silly little person.

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  2. Thought provoking article,very well written,and i’m sure,very hard to put to paper. But regardless what Mr.Jones said or did,these 3 fans took it upon themselves to take such action,and for that,they must fall on the their own sword. RIP Moody,and i hope justice gets delivered for ya. MOT

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  3. A fair report but I have to say I certainly didn’t take the insults as a badge of honor, at first I felt shame at what happened to Kirkland and then that turned to anger at the leeds fan involved…….we need to police our own fans and make it clear to other fans that we wont tolerate that behaviour as it damages our club ! For me that event finished Warnocks season and demoralized both the fans and the team

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  4. No blame can be laid at Dave Jones, door. He took a load of stick and gave some back,fair enough. It’s wrong to speculate and play the blame game on a public forum when a murder investigation is underway though.

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  5. Put down the “wooden spoon” and pick up your pen…

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  6. A very thought provoking piece. I’m not looking forward to the upcoming fixture.

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  7. well written rob,try not replying to these haters,that`s what they crave on after all,isn`t it??over next week for the watford game!!MOTleeds fan in holland

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  8. good article….and i think it is a question that has to be asked. not saying its right but many players and managers get awful stick from leeds fans…but jones knee jerk reaction was very unprofessional and did stoke up bsd feeling. i was at the game with my boy and was bemused to be called a vile animal rather than insulted. would things have been different had he not said that….probably not. sadly think it was all about wrong place at the wrong time. so sad for the lad and his family though and i hope the vermin involved get all thats coming to them..

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  9. Tim Renwick

    I think this is pushing it a bit far. Whilst not a fan of Jones I can understand he was upset. The people who did this should not be given the excuse of being influenced by what Leeds fans had sung a month earlier. If as suggested these three fans are guilty then there are no excuses.

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    • I’m not looking at excuses. I’m looking at causation – factors in play which may or may not have contributed to this tragedy. Reasons, not excuses.

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  10. Keith Hall

    perhaps you should give ALL the facts in your piece, namely Leeds fans ripping up seats & throwing them on the pitch & tearing off an advertising hoarding & throwing it on the heads of their own fans. What happened to Richard Ismail was disgusting & I feel for his family. The 3 morons responsible should go to prison for life.

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    • If you’ve read the article, how do you feel that bad behaviour towards seats is at all relevant? I could have itemised every bad thing that happened that night, but then the article might have been 15,000 words long.

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  11. Hi Rob
    I do not think any blame lies with Mr Jones. It would be like blaming the Burger King Chain for Elvis’s death. At some point people have to have responsibility for their actions. In this case the nutters who assaulted this poor chap. Dave Jones did not take away their free will.

    I also believe in freedom of speech, especially the right to be stupid!
    To lay any of this at Mr Jones door is quite irresponsible………so maybe it is a case of pot/kettle

    Keep on blogging mate, enjoy all you articles
    and your spats with Hammerhead…..
    Cheers

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    • Somebody mentioned excuses earlier and now you’ve mentioned blame. Neither is relevant to the point I was making, which was about contributory factors culminating in a needless and tragic event. I feel that Jones’ comments were wild, over-emotional, self-serving, unguarded and very unprofessional. None of that imputes any blame – blame is something to apportion when people have taken irresponsible actions with foreseeable consequences. The chain of causation here is visible only in retrospect – but I do think it’s there. To say that Jones’ outburst was definitely NOT a factor or an influence in what motivated three thugs three weeks later is, I would argue, hopelessly naive.

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  12. when you can not ware your teams badge while out in another town is a dark day for football seems to me these three thugs were only out to give a beating to some poor chap and like said before wrong place wrong time after all sheff united must hold a deeper hate than us in these 3 who are involved than leeds

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  13. I was shocked to hear that moody had died rob ,, I kid you not I was in sheffield that night , me and my better half walked past the cordend off incedent on our way back to our hotel after spending the evening with friends, I obviuosly didn’t know what had happened outside loyds bar but knew it looked serious ,, the next morning the police were still there , it was only when I read of his death yesterday that I realised it was him ,, shocked and saddened …

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  14. Rest in peace Richard Ismail – we all care about our teams and sometimes we all get carried away but at the end of the day it is a sport; a game, not something that people should lose their lives over. Thoughts are with his family and friends – march on in heaven.

    http://www.iamdaniellekent.wordpress.com

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  15. Well balanced article. RIP Moody from a lifelong Owl and all other right thinking Owls

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  16. Owl in Espana

    Whilst the article is well written, if not terribly objective ( LUFC bias isn’t shrouded – at all) it doesn’t mask the lack of credibility in the very far fetched theory the author has! The defensive tone of his replies to people who have bothered to offer feedback torpedoes his credibility even further.

    I could go into further detail but I don’t think its necessary.Dave Jones comments, whilst ill- judged and foolish, were really no more than that. And to talk about ’cause and effect’ based on his remarks is simply nonsense.

    What the author is ignoring/ is oblivious to is that violence has happened between these fans many times for many years, if he is indeed a lifelong fan of 50+ then he might recall the game at Hillsborough in 82, which outside the ground was sheer carnage before and after the game, ditto at Elland Rd in April 84 when Wednesday, who were top of division 2 and on their way to certain promotion, brought a very large following to ER, again carnage outside, or the Viaduct pub in Leeds in 99 before the game, or the televised game which Leeds won 6-1 in Jan 92 when some Leeds fans came in a Wednesday stand, more carnage. Or the group of SWFC fans jailed for attacking Leeds fans on a train after a day at York races a few years ago in the close season. This attack, whilst cowardly and tragic, had its roots in the same as the above clashes. DJ couldn’t have stoked matters even if he had wanted to.

    Where I also agree with the author, is regarding Jones likely sacking being for the best.

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    • yada yada – the respondent alleges bias and defensiveness in his biased and defensive post. Football violence has always gone on, but murders are very rare. Emotional outbursts like Jones’ rant are likewise rare. Kevin Keegan made headlines in the 90’s for something of much more moderate tone. Put the two rare events within three weeks of each other – and then deny even the possibility of some causal link? You’re talking out of your arse, mate.

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  17. I really think you are way off the mark with what you are saying here. Jones reacted to some abuse (and “vile” is a reasonable description of that abuse) in an understandable way, given the highly charged emotional atmosphere of the game, and the personal hell he has been through because of the unfounded allegations against him. He was wrong to apportion the blame to all Leeds fans, but I think you are equally wrong to try and somehow link his comments to an attack in Sheffield city centre a few weeks later. There may be a football element to the attack, but even that is unproven until the police can find the culprits and we understand why it happened. You have written what, on the face of it, is a reasonably intelligent article on how emotions can spill over at football matches. But your attempt to find a very tenuous link from some comments by Dave Jones to the murder of someone undermines any point you tried to make.

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    • I find some of these denials to be overly defensive – still, everyone has an opinion. And yet anyone who finds Jones’ after-match performance that night “understandable” is in my opinion open to a charge of faulty judgement.

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  18. A thought provoking article, and I am certain that the Police will asking what incited the attack. The events at the match that day, and the post match comments, may have exacerbated the hatred that these man had for Leeds; alternatively it may be just pure coincidence. However, the point you make with regard to ‘heat of the moment’ comments is well made. It would have helped calm the situation if Mr Jones had stated that a small minority of leeds fans were vile animals rather than all and he acknowledged that the small number of SWFC fans that celebrated the Turkish attack were likewise out of order. Also, I was disappointed that he concentrated on the verbal attack on himself at the expense of the disgraceful physical attack on his keeper, surely part of his job is to represent his players. All football fans should be ashamed of this type of chanting!

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    • Thank you for such a sane and reasoned response – a stark contrast to much of the defensive, knee-jerk rubbish I’ve received, and some disappointing contributions also from some holier-than-thou Leeds fans who were clearly bending over backwards to miss my main point, so admirably summed up by yourself.

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  19. Moody was a known & active Service Crew member of long time standing & from Sheffield and clearly elements of the Wendy support didn’t like that. It was totally out of order to carry out such an vicious attack whilst he was out with his partner and I believe his in laws, stupid in a busy city centre on cctv that has subsequently lead to their identification, arrest, bail and no doubt manslaughter charges in due course, they will forever be looking over their shoulder that’s how the cookie crumbles. No-one, irrespective of team allegiance, lad or shirter, deserves such a dreadful outcome, lives ruined all ends up. RIP fella

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  20. Stratford owl

    RIP Moody

    As I recall both managers made stupid comments after the game as Warnock accused Kirkland of acting, although to be fair he later retracted it. Jones comments were also stupid and the fact his clarification was pretty feeble did him no credit. However I cannot believe that either Warnock or Jones comments had any influence on the scum involved in this tragic incident.

    If anything caused this the idiot who attacked Kirkland is more likely to blame as to a mindless thug this act could have led to a need for revenge? The fact that the club and the vast majority of it’s fans were ashamed is probably of little of consequence.

    I dearly hope that both sets of fans behave in January as on no level are taunts about child abuse, murder, Jimmy Saville etc etc acceptable as banter or humour. However as a season ticket holder I will be giving this as a miss as I refuse to risk my 11 year old son seeing or hearing the same things he heard last year.

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  21. Owl in Espana

    Oh and most importantly of all, RIP to the man in question. And condolences to his family.

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  22. out of country Leeds fan...

    Condolences to Moody’s family, sport or life, what’s more precious?…Rob, well written article, but the sort that could do what you are throwing at the I think it best to say “Mr Jones”, he may have said things that could play in some minds, and on that night those animals may have had thoughts running through their heads, but I don’t think what he said would have taken the fact that what a Leeds fan did to their keeper would have been playing an even bigger part, it could have been a “wrong place at wrong time thing”, or it could have been the fact that they were out looking for their idea of fun and any badge could have been on the end of it!..

    It boils down to the fact that these people showed how much animal there is in man, and maybe what happened or was said at that game played a part in it, but I think even if Moody hadn’t have been a Leeds fan the same sort of thing would have happened….

    You are bigging the next game up for a riot, that’s if it wasn’t already going to be one….

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  23. Pingback: Sack for Wednesday’s Jones Spares Him Date With Leeds’ “Vile Animals” – by Rob Atkinson | Life, Leeds United, The Universe and Everything

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