More Than a Game: Michael Shields is Innocent...
Sprawled across the living room sofa, the Missus asleep upstairs, Pebbles the dog on restless evening patrol, I watched the Chicago Fire give a more than credible performance in the so-called World Series of Football last night. But while there should have been shouts of pride and awe from my lips as the Fire set about their Euro-opponents, I instead watched the match with the taste of ashes in my mouth.
The Fire played Milan last night.
A little more than two months ago, in the Champions League Final, so did Liverpool FC.
An 18 year-old young man from Liverpool, Michael Shields, was at the Ataturk Stadium to watch his club pull of the most remarkable comeback in the history of that competition. On his way back home, Shields and some friends stopped for a few days holiday in the Bulgarian resort of Golden Sands. Early in the morning before his return home, Sands was pulled from his hotel room, placed in a police lineup, then imprisoned, initially without being charged with a crime.
A Bulgarian waiter had been attacked with a paving stone by, according to the Liverpool Echo, “a British person with fair hair and of large stature.”
On the strength of eyewitness testimony from several Bulgarians that he tallied with such a vague, general description, and little else, Shields was charged with attempted murder.
Never mind that the young man had been asleep in his hotel room when the waiter was set upon by a fair-haired British man with a paving stone, forget that his friends could place him at the hotel at the time of that attack, and most crucially, disregard the fact that another man from Liverpool confessed to the attack on the waiter after hearing of young Shields’s plight.
Bulgarian justice had to be served, the confession about the attack by one Graham Sankey was not accepted as evidence, and two days ago, Michael Shields was found guilty of an attack he did not commit and sentenced to fifteen years in a Bulgarian prison, along with a victim’s compensation bill for £71,000.
Pretty steep price to pay for a crime you did not commit...
18 years old, on a trip to watch your team play the biggest match in your lifetime, a thrilling, spell-binding, magical comeback against the side that Phil Schoen referred to as the “Best Team in the World” roughly every five minutes during last night’s broadcast, a short stop for a vacation on the way home...
lose fifteen years of your life because a perverse conception of justice must be served.
You’ll pardon me if I have a relatively low opinion of the course of Bulgarian justice.
Now Mr. Sankey’s lawyer is calling for the release of Shields before any decisions are made about his client, who has stated his refusal to be deported to Bulgaria to face trial, instead preferring to face a British court.
How comforting that must appear for young Shields, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit in a foreign country while the self-confessed attacker negotiates a trial that suits him and his legal representation.
The lawyers in both Bulgaria and Britain are involved, and the politicians have gotten involved as well, guaranteeing that the process will become even slower and more complicated while Shields sits shivering in his cell, an innocent man condemned by the corruption of Bulgarian justice and the cowardice of a British man and his lawyer.
I took a look around the living room last night at 11:00, after watching the Fire play so well, so far above themselves against Milan, against many of the same players that Liverpool had faced that triumphant night in Istanbul.
Pebbles was perched on the back of the green easy chair, on silent sentry duty, waiting for my stepson Dylan to come home.
Dylan is with his father this week. He won’t be coming home until the weekend.
I watched my wife’s dog stare at the front door through which she hoped to see one of owners walk and wondered what it must be like to be seated in a home in Wavertree, waiting for fifteen years for your son to come home.
The unbridled joy and passion from the Section 8 supporters in Soldier Field last night matched the emotions of the Liverpool support as their side won the Champions League title last May. MLS in general and the Fire in particular did themselves proud against Milan, and the hopes must be that the same will happen this evening when DC United play Chelsea.
Spare a thought for young Michael Shields amid the glory of a fine night for American soccer.
What happened to him is not a pathetic plot for a tired, B-movie screenplay.
Michael Shields went to watch his team play.
He ended up in jail.
Michael Shields is innocent...
Although he might find the experience of receiving letters from American soccer supporters to be a strange one, I imagine that any sort of comfort and human contact in Michael’s present condition would be welcomed.
If the spirit moves you, please take a few moments to write him a letter, at his parents address.
Michael Shields Jr
11 Towerlands Street
An online petition in support of Shields and with links to more information about him and the travesty of justice in Bulgaria can be found at the website Red and White Kop at this link: Michael Shields Innocent: Jailed for 15 years