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Raging Against the Dying of the Light

Grampa: I used to be “with it.” But then they changed what “it” was. Now what I’m “with” isn’t “it” and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!

Homer: No way, man! We’re gonna keep on rockin’ forever!

[The Simpsons, Season 7, Episode 24: Homerpalooza (1996)]

Jack White and Jay-Z

The 55th Grammy Awards took place on the evening of Sunday 10th February, and while these ceremonies no longer hold a huge amount of interest for me (for reasons which will become clear as we go along), for some reason I decided to tune in this year. In the end, the show wasn’t actually that bad, or at least not as bad as I thought it would be. Jack White (in particular) and the Black Keys entered a couple of powerful performances on the night, and there was also a touching tribute to Levon Helm. White’s effort was probably the most memorable of the three, a largely stunning performance which provided a timely reminder to the watching millions of the power of rock n roll. He also gave us a tantalising, if perhaps ultimately insignificant, glimpse into a past where rock music wasn’t quite so bland by possibly, maybe, allegedly dropping the ‘f’ bomb during ‘Love Interruption,’ made all the more provocative (if true) by its context – joining with a female counterpart to sing “grab a hold of me and fuck me.” The suggestion has since been denied by broadcaster CBS, who claim that they actually sang “grab a hold of me and fight me.” Hmmm, well it sure sounded like “fuck” to me, but then perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my part seeing as how the rock n roll that I love has never been afraid to spark controversy or start a fight, an attitude which has been sorely missing from music in general for so long now that I’m beginning to think I’ll never see it again.

Another potentially memorable moment came after the show had ended as the limousines were pulling away en masse from the Staples Center. And while it ultimately turned out to be just another irrelevance on a night of them, for a few brief moments after I read the “story” it appeared as though Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney may have said the magic words and actually criticised Justin Bieber. This got my attention on a couple of levels. Aside from the fact that it’s always great to see people you respect defending their art against such cynical creations, this was coming hot on the heels of Beatles legend Paul McCartney allegedly refusing to sing a duet with Bieber, momentarily sparking the hope that rock music was beginning to find a voice again after spending much of the past two decades saying very little. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I saw the video and witnessed nothing more than a flustered-looking Carney being harangued by a reporter and saying nothing particularly insulting towards Bieber, initially responding “I dunno” to whether the singer should have won a Grammy (a stupid question to ask a rock musician – Liam Gallagher would have surely head-butted the fucker) and then merely suggesting that, as a rich young man whose primary motivation appears to be money, he has already won his most coveted award. Bieber, of course, then responded by unleashing his army of hormonal female fans (and a worrying amount of male ones) on Carney via Twitter, but to be fair, the drummer has been sardonically brilliant in how he has been handling it (check his Twitter feed). Maybe there’s hope for this new generation of rock stars yet.

Overall, then, it was those three aforementioned moments served up by White (and his two backing bands, The Peacocks and The Buzzards), the Black Keys, and the collective efforts of Zac Brown, Brittany Howard, Elton John, Mumford & Sons and Mavis Staples on ‘The Weight’ that made viewing the three-hour-plus programme at least somewhat worthwhile for me (the appearance of Prince lifted my spirits too, as did the reverence with which he was greeted). If I looked at or felt music in a different way, of course, then I might have given a shit about Rihanna’s love-life or her new/old boyfriend Chris Brown’s alleged spat with Adele or J-Lo’s dress and had plenty more points of interest as a result, but I simply can’t bring myself to do it (on a different level, however, I did admittedly appreciate Katy Perry’s cleavage).

And that’s why I generally don’t watch the Grammys. When I was younger, I used to define these awards shows by moments of personal relevance. There was Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic basically knocking himself out onstage at the 1992 MTV video music awards before Kurt Cobain attempted to trash the drum kit as Dave Grohl yoo-hooed at Axl Rose; there was the late, great Adam Yauch interrupting Michael Stipe’s acceptance speech for the ‘Best Direction’ award in 1994; and there was Oasis at the 1996 Brits saying of INXS singer Michael Hutchence that “has-beens shouldn’t be presenting awards to gonna-bes” (at the time I felt genuinely sorry for Hutchence whose music I’ve always enjoyed and immediately felt that the Gallaghers had stooped a little low, but it was still exciting to have a brash, exciting young rock band telling the world of music how it was going to be – who could have known then that they had already reached their artistic peak?) Over the years, however, whether it’s been the Grammys or the VMAs or the Brits or whatever else, these moments of personal relevance have become fewer and fewer, and on Sunday the 10th I realised that I have now reached the point where three groups of musicians doing what they do has become sweet relief. It is, of course, debatable whether something as fundamentally mundane as musicians playing music at a music show should be seen as especially “relevant” or exciting, but it’s about all that’s left. And just like the famous Buddhist proverb about the tiger and the strawberry, nothing ever tastes as sweet as it does when it’s about to be snatched away forever.

The Blueprint

Rock and rap had come full circle: Nearly 20 years earlier, Aerosmith had helped Run-D.M.C. cross over to a new audience by appearing on the rap group’s remake of “Walk This Way.” Now it was a rock band asking a rapper for a shot of credibility.” So says writer Steven Hyden in reference to Linkin Park’s 2004 collaboration with Jay-Z on the EP ‘Collision Course’ (a better example of rock going cap-in-hand to hip-hop is undoubtedly Soundgarden’s iconic frontman Chris Cornell horrifying his fans by collaborating with Timbaland on 2009’s ‘Scream’ for reasons known only to himself). Over the past few weeks, Hyden has been exploring modern music through the prism of rock in a superb and prescient series of articles titled ‘The Winners’ History of Rock and Roll’ on the Grantland website. A primary theme of the series has been the displacement of rock as the chief constituent of popular music, with Hyden correctly identifying that “in its prime, rock had been used interchangeably with “pop.” It was a catchall term for music intended to be appreciated by millions” but that as “rap strengthened its hold on pop and R&B in the ‘00s,” rock has struggled to regain “its lost share of the pop audience.”

Let us never forget the origins of that word ‘pop’ – it means ‘popular,’ as in music to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. The kind of music we all grew up listening to before our tastes gradually became more defined, the kind your kids will be most exposed to as they grow older. And while the meaning of ‘pop’ has evolved over the years, that’s essentially what it remains. Unfortunately, popular music has now changed and mutated into something ugly. No rose-tinted spectacles here, I’m well aware that there has always been plenty of the ridiculous to go with whatever sublime has been served up at any particular time in the modern history of music, but the relatively recent ascendancy of hip-hop and its marriage of convenience with other musical forms (in particular RnB and, more recently, dance) has not only shifted the goalposts, we are now witnessing a different sport altogether. Maybe this is just an extension of what went before, and people will no doubt argue that record companies have always cared solely about the bottom line and been prepared to be as cynical as possible in maximising it. Perhaps, but to me this feels different. It feels like creating actual art is, to a large extent, no longer deemed to be worth the time or effort involved. This is not a brave new world, it’s a gutless one, a soulless one, a place where money should be made in as effortless a manner as possible, a place where shows like ‘X-Factor,’ ‘American Idol,’ ‘The Voice’ and the overuse of auto-tuning virulently abound.

Here’s the thing: if fillet steak is as popular and fetches the same price as a big steaming turd, then why would your favourite restaurant slave and obsess over the preparation of vegetables, sauces, side dishes and the perfect cooking of the meat itself when the chef (or the dishwasher, or even a hobo off the street) could just drop their trousers and squat over the plate? Why should they give a fuck about the taste or the impression it leaves on the customer when the alternative raw materials are so cheap, the same amount of money is on offer either way, and you’ll be back for more next week either way? Similarly, who gives a fuck about the quality and timelessness of music when there’s easy money to be made right now, when you can apply a simple, fool-proof blueprint that involves creating a piece of music in a studio with what can often only be described as sound effects, have a rapper who generally has absolutely nothing meaningful to say about his life or the world in general rapping (in some cases talking) over the top, draft in some bland RnB singer or group of singers (ideally female and pretty) to sing the chorus, and then promote the absolute shit out of it on every two-bit talent show you can find? Very little fuss, very little expense and very little time consumed.

Furthermore, why deal with people who have a rigid artistic vision and who may be rendered even more difficult to handle by drugs, alcohol and who-knows-what-else when you can produce One Direction-type automatons who can be controlled and milked for every penny possible from audiences which are far less fickle and high-maintenance than your average rock fan (who often gets turned off by something as fundamental to record company executives as chart success and profits)? All you have to do is get someone pretty (not handsome, let’s get this straight – pretty, like a girl) such as Harry Styles or Justin Bieber, and you’re laughing. Bieber, for example, has 34 million followers on Twitter. If every one of those followers bought his next album, it would immediately lie 12th on the list of all-time best-selling albums, situated just behind the seminal ‘Led Zeppelin IV.’  By contrast, the official Twitter account of the ‘MusiCares Person of the Year’ Bruce Springsteen has just over 350,000 followers. There is simply no question about which of these men is the more talented, but nor is there any question as to which one is the more attractive proposition for a record company in 2013.

In other words, the blueprint generates plenty of publicity and cash, but that’s about all it does. There is very little good about it in an artistic sense. Jack White summed this up when he stated that “technology is a big destroyer of emotion and truth. Auto-tuning doesn’t do anything for creativity. Yeah, it makes it easier and you can get home sooner; but it doesn’t make you a more creative person. That’s the disease we have to fight in any creative field: ease of use.” Naturally I agree, but the truth is that entities such as emotion, truth and creativity are virtually the last thing on the minds of these people and, regrettably, “ease of use” has become one of the defining hallmarks of modern music to the extent that it’s virtually impossible to rectify it now. Bands and singers once had to graft for years and come up with something special (or at least original) before they had success, and once they had it, they tended to jealously guard it from outside interference, be it from executives, producers, managers, etc. These days, people just walk up to their local ‘X-Factor’ auditions or post videos on Youtube, then gladly allow the corporate machine to do the work for them. Anyone can make it to the top without being particularly talented or worthy, and that’s exactly what Patrick Carney was talking about last week when he said of Justin Bieber that “Grammys are for music, not for money…and he’s making a lot of money. He should be happy.”

Music in the Time of Kanye

There were two other telling moments for me on Sunday night, both of which speak volumes about what popular music has become. Firstly, I noticed a category called ‘Best Rap/Sung Collaboration,’ one which has apparently been around since 2002 (as I said, I don’t usually watch these awards ceremonies anymore). Even the name of it seems awkward and contrived to me (what’s wrong with just letting such difficult-to-categorise songs duke it out in the more generic ‘Song of the Year’ category?) Clearly there’s nothing inherently wrong with two artists working together (‘Under Pressure,’ for example, is one of my favourite songs), it’s the artificial nature of it that rankles in this case. With that being said, it certainly fits well in a modern music industry where that blueprint of sound effects/rapper/RnB singer is so widespread. It also allows effective cross-pollination/promotion of different acts, like this year’s winners Jay-Z, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and The-Dream (the blueprint has even crossed media at this stage – there is more than a hint of ‘elaborate promotional exercise’ about the “Kimye” relationship). What was once a rare enough occurrence, the duet, is now pretty much an expectation in music, particularly when it comes to single releases, no doubt at least partly motivated by the need to tick every demographic box possible. Hey, that’s what record companies do, I get it: profits, turnover, revenue, etc. It just gets boring when none of the parties involved bother to even try and hide it behind the music anymore.

The second moment was the award of ‘Best Rap Performance’ and ‘Best Rap Song’ to Jay-Z and Kanye West for ‘Ni**az in Paris.’ This is a song which I have only been unfortunate enough to encounter twice, both times while idly flicking through the music channels on my TV. On the first occasion I only caught the tail-end, but this was still ample time for me to hear West repeat the line “don’t let me get in my zone” six times in about twenty seconds before joining Jay to confirm that he was, in fact, now “definitely in my zone” (we can only assume that Kanye thoroughly checked his position relative to said zone before providing this confirmation and also that the person or people charged with the task of not letting him get into it were fired the next day, so insistent did he seem). My immediate impression of the song, way more than the backing track which sounded like it comprised no actual musical instrumentation and instead resembled something that might have been coded into a mid-nineties Sega Mega Drive game (that blueprint again), way more than the actual delivery of either man or even the video, was that line about Kanye’s ‘zone’: not the fact that it was repeated seven times in twenty seconds, hell, plenty of songs I love contain certain lines sung over and over again (e.g. keeping the hip-hop flavour going, the song ‘Over and Over’ by Nelly and Tim McGraw where, in fact, that very line “over and over again” is repeated over and over again), but just how fucking dumb it was, another classic Kanye lyric to go with all those ones about him being something called a “Louis Vuitton don,” doing anything for a blonde dyke, etc…

By the second time I heard it, I had more cause to be interested since I had just taken to playing a new game that I invented to make modern (commercial, at least) hip-hop slightly more bearable. Basically you have to predict how long it’s going to take the performer to mention material wealth. This can be in the form of cars, houses, fur coats, jewellery, designer clothes, anything that has an implied expensive price-tag. Women may also be included, for two reasons: (a) because they are usually defined as possessions in these songs (Kanye certainly didn’t let me down on that score with ‘Ni**az in Paris,’ asking at one point “you know how many hot bitches I own?” – we can take it he’s not talking about the canine variety here, folks) and (b) because I can’t imagine a “bitch” like Kim Kardashian comes cheap…but I digress. So that’s the game, and while no money has been wagered on it to date, it’s still a good bit of fun. When it came to ‘Ni**az in Paris,’ I figured that the first reference to wealth would come quite early given the two individuals involved, so I picked the fifth line. Even then, I thought I was being a little harsh. It turns out that I was actually being kind – it only takes Jay until the third line to ask “what’s 50 grand to a muhfuka like me?” (FYI, that’s about two years’ wages to a “muhfuka” like me, Jay, but then I suppose the question was rhetorical). My girlfriend, on the other hand, got it spot-on, so it’s a good thing that I didn’t have money riding on it…then again, what’s a fiver to a muhfuka like me?

So no, I’m not a fan of the song. Nonetheless, it has now gone down in history (depending on how much stock you place in the opinion of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) as the best that hip-hop had to offer in 2012. Clearly someone had to win these awards, and Jay-Z and Kanye West are arguably the two biggest stars in hip-hop today (which also means that they’re two of the biggest stars in music generally) and, as such, would always be heavy favourites in any category for which one of their records is nominated. Still, it did made me shake my head ever so slightly on a couple of levels, first and foremost at what hip-hop has become, and secondly at where music in general and society as a whole are headed. Let’s start with hip-hop itself. I used to love hip-hop. It comprised a significant part of my musical apprenticeship as a teenager in the nineties. I still revisit those Beastie Boys, Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop, Tupac and (to a lesser extent) Eminem records on a fairly regular basis (and going further back to Grandmaster Flash, LL Cool J, NWA, Public Enemy and Run DMC). And this is coming from someone who would primarily define himself as a rock fan (Springsteen, Zeppelin, The Stones, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Chili Peppers, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, The Stooges, The Clash…you get the idea). It was simply way too creative, enjoyable, exciting and dripping with attitude to ignore. In other words, I am the last person who would ever dismiss hip-hop out of hand as a musical art form because, simply put, I’ve long been a fan.

Modern hip-hop, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether. It simply does not stack up in comparison. For me, it’s lost far too much of its musicality and, lyrically, has gone way too far up its own arse. Do I need serious lyrics in every song? No. Do I need rappers learning how to play their own instruments or creating their own music? No. But would a bit of variety be nice? Absolutely. The content of eighties and nineties commercial hip-hop, for example, varied from the essentially harmless tales of everyday life on the streets of LA as told by Warren G (‘Regulate’) or Snoop (‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang,’ ‘What’s My Name?’ ‘Gin and Juice’), the latter often including references to getting in trouble with his mother, to the social commentary of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (‘The Message’), Public Enemy (take your pick) and Tupac (‘I Just Don’t Give A Fuck,’ ‘Changes,’ ‘Keep Your Head Up’), to party tunes like ‘Fight For Your Right,’  ‘California Love’ or ‘This Is How We Do It’. You could identify with it, even as a spotty white kid from the arsehole of Ireland. Take ‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang,’ which is where it all began for many kids of my age. I was clearly nothing even approaching a ‘G’ but I certainly appreciated the everyday resonance of your buddy calling to your front door as Dre does at the start of the video. I also appreciated the fact that they were rapping, for the most part, about their music and their respective neighbourhoods. Even the self-aggrandising, self-mythologising statements present in this and other songs of the era tended to be done with oodles more swagger and playfulness, and infinitely less conceit, than modern hip-hop, while revenge or ‘diss’ raps (‘No Vaseline,’ ‘Hit ‘Em Up’) seem to have disappeared from sight completely these days and aren’t even that memorable when attempted (see: 50 Cent and The Game). It’s like nobody gives a shit about anything anymore but money, power and fame.

And while Jack White has drawn a few raised eyebrows from certain quarters for his aforementioned (alleged) utterance of the ‘f’ word, and Patrick Carney is being terrorised by hundreds of ‘tweens’ on Twitter for daring to criticise Justin Bieber, the real cause for outrage is the fact that ordinary people can respond positively to a lyric like “what’s 50 grand to a muhfuka like me?” in the middle of a worldwide economic crisis. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Speaking about ‘Watch the Throne’ (the album which spawned the aforementioned ‘Ni**az in Paris’), Public Enemy’s Chuck D said the following: “Hip-hop celebrates those who wanna make a killing instead of a living. I like those guys, but they make me laugh sometimes because I don’t get who they’re here for, other than themselves.” Well if Jay’s “what’s 50 grand to a muhfuka like me?” question was rhetorical, the answer is also implied in Chuck D’s statement: Jay-Z and Kanye West are here for nobody but themselves. And while that’s absolutely their own business (they can rap about raindrops and honey for all I care), it is distinctly unsettling to see the rampant narcissism, arrogance and flaunting of wealth exhibited on the album being so readily lapped up by so many. Who the fuck do these people actually speak to? Genuine question. Certainly not kids from Brooklyn or Chicago where the two men grew up, kids who have no doubt been dumped on even harder since Lehman Brothers went belly-up and the economic house of cards began to topple, burying the global welfare state in its rubble. No, I doubt that ‘Watch the Throne’ was aimed at those kids, in fact it’s every bit as likely to speak to rich kids living in Californian mansions whose lives have remained virtually untouched. Just like J-Lo once sang about still being Jenny from the block even as she flaunted her wealth in the video, these two are utterly and sickeningly out of touch with reality. Yet that’s what hip-hop is generally offering up these days.

No band or genre or ‘scene’ in the history of popular music has ever been what you could call ‘pure,’ but I can never remember one as soulless as this. It calls to mind the famous Oscar Wilde quote about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Of course, none of this is unique to hip-hop, it’s a problem for 21st century society in general with its ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ and ‘The Only Way Is Essex’. The world has become obsessed with wealth and fame. Under these circumstances, it’s probably somewhat fitting that the hip-hop of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Timbaland, Will.I.Am and others has become the defining sound of popular music, but for the likes of me there remains very little to identify with in hip-hop, and that’s before you begin to consider the musicality issue. Anyone who is aware of the history of hip-hop knows that it began with DJ’s, b-boys and b-girls, subsequently evolving into words being spoken or ‘rapped’ over whatever records the DJ was spinning, many of which may not have been well-known and were thereby given a new lease of life. This later evolved into sampling, and I never had an issue with that. That’s what hip-hop was. ‘Express Yourself’ by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band was given a memorable facelift by NWA; the aforementioned ‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang’ sampled Leon Haywood’s ‘I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You’; ‘I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)’ by Michael McDonald became ‘Regulate’ by Warren G; ‘Woman to Woman’ by Joe Cocker became ‘California Love,’ and so on. This was quality music, reconstituted into something that still felt original even though it wasn’t. Today, hip-hop performers and (perhaps more pertinently) producers take a different route. The tunes are generally original but invariably lack any substance whatsoever and rigidly follow that same hollow, monotonous (though admittedly successful) blueprint, while the soulful, melodic delivery of Tupac, Biggie and others is also long gone, replaced in most cases by slow, deliberate, boring drawls that are easily replicated and often auto-tuned.

Maybe I care too much about the wrong sort of things, but this is a fundamental problem that I have with modern hip-hop. The aforementioned Hyden, in his preview of the Grammys, suggested that “the institutional bias against hip-hop is beyond ridiculous at this point – given how much money the genre has made for the industry, kicking an Eminem or a Kanye West an award in a major category is long overdue.” This is perhaps an accurate assessment if money and success are truly the primary consideration here (although by that logic, Adam Sandler is long-overdue an Oscar since his movies always gross well at the box office). I, of course, have a somewhat different outlook. Whatever about Eminem, who generally has something original and meaningful to say in his work (whether that meaning is to be gleaned from his observations on music, life or simply his wicked sense of humour), I fundamentally question whether someone like Kanye West deserves recognition in a major category such as ‘Record of the Year’ or ‘Album of the Year,’ regardless of units sold, when much of what he raps about is self-absorbed nonsense and many of his song lyrics seem like they were written in about two minutes on the back of a toilet roll while he sat on the bog. If hip-hop wants to be defined by this arrogant, vain individual who raps about fashion designers and has such knowledge of and affinity with the history of music that he thinks Chris Martin is at John Lennon’s level and that Coldplay will eventually be deemed to have been better than the Beatles, then no problem; good luck with that. Music as a whole, however, does not have to be.

If, for example, ‘Watch the Throne’ was to have been nominated for the ‘Album of the Year’ award, it would have been up against the likes of The Black Keys (‘El Camino’) and Jack White (‘Blunderbuss’), neither of whom won by the way (that honour went to Mumford & Sons) but both of whom were responsible for the conception and realisation, from start to finish including musical and lyrical content, of two superb albums and who underlined their credentials with scintillating live performances on the night. Does someone like West really belong in that sort of company? Eminem? Perhaps. Kanye? I don’t think so. Then again, maybe I need to just get with the times. In these days of Twitter, Facebook, reality TV and instant fame, maybe profile really is all that matters. Tellingly, almost every response to Patrick Carney over Twitter in the last week which have sought to defend Justin Bieber (i.e. leaving aside the abusive ones which often arrived in badly-mutilated English) mentioned how successful he is and, conversely, how irrelevant the Black Keys are in comparison. Of course – if we’re measuring this in terms of fame, Twitter followers, website hits and sales of records (and the all-important merchandise), then Patrick Carney does fall behind. If we compare apples with apples, oranges with oranges, and professional musicians with professional musicians rather than professional celebrities, however, then the picture changes.

The Dying of the Light

So if popular music is truly now dominated by hip-hop, then what of rock? The latest entry in Hyden’s ‘The Winners’ History of Rock and Roll’ contains some particularly keen observations regarding the “fragmentation of tastes” which has come to define modern rock music, a follow-on from a point he made in the previous one suggesting that “the average rock fan tends to burrow deep into subgenres and sub-subgenres, feasting on refinements of stuff they already like. Rock now caters in specificity, not broadness; most rock records these days are geared toward aging collectors already buried in rock records. The prevailing attitude is, “If I’m in a corner, I like my corner. It’s the coolest corner I’ve ever been in.”” So as Rome has burned, rock fans have sat around in front of computer monitors firing insults at other people’s favourite musicians (and each other) while smugly proclaiming their love for bands that two other people know of (I believe such people are often called ‘hipsters,’ but clearly I’m not ‘hip’ enough to know for sure). This would explain why the likes of Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are so reviled by some, or why my lament on a forum some time ago that rock music is dying was met by someone cheerfully suggesting that I listen to Radiohead (who disappeared up their own arses about a decade-and-a-half ago). I’ve heard the arguments plenty of times that, whether it’s rock or rap, there’s plenty of quality music out there – it’s just ‘under the radar’. That spectacularly misses the point as far as I’m concerned, namely that rock, and indeed guitar-based music in general, is increasingly a niche genre, a blast from the past, no longer “music intended to be appreciated by millions,” not quite an oddity or the red-headed stepchild of the music business just yet but on its way in that general direction. By extension, rock fans as an audience are in a similar boat. 

The truth is that it’s now nine years since I last heard a new band that might have conceivably gotten near my top ten favourite artists of all-time eventually (Arctic Monkeys, and they never did); before that, it was The Strokes in 2000 (they faded away too). Why is that? Is it me? Or is music simply not as good anymore? I mean, I’ve got an open mind and an open heart, but nobody new has even remotely moved me since ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ hit the shelves in 2004. And I’m clearly not the only one. Somewhere along the line, all links to the past were broken. Returning briefly to hip-hop, Eminem has never hidden his affection for Tupac, Biggie and others; who are Jay-Z and Kanye influenced by, other than Benjamin Franklin (if that seems harsh, I’m just going by their lyrical content)? It’s the same with rock. Hyden identifies nu-metal as a turning point, arguing that bands such as Limp Bizkit and Korn “wanted no part of the rock continuum” and were instead intent on essentially “dismantling rock music.” They succeeded; in their aftermath, we were left with a veritable rock nuclear wasteland where acts like Rihanna, Demi Lovato and Avril Lavigne can stick a guitar in the back of a song or wear a t-shirt from Forever 21 with some band logo on the front and suddenly be termed ‘rock,’ or where Harry Styles can wear a Pink Floyd t-shirt (oh do fuck off) with a straight face and not be met with a barrage of derision, where nobody appears to have either the talent or the balls to try and be as big as the Stones or Zeppelin, and where rock fans sit around on message boards belittling bands like Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who both released their debut albums in 1983, or thirty years ago) for allegedly ‘selling out,’ their crime apparently nothing more than maintaining a visible presence in an industry that is sorely lacking those younger versions of themselves that simply aren’t coming. We may as well be waiting for Godot.

What I wouldn’t give for an Oasis circa-1996 to crash this party, but the truth is that Oasis might not even be able to make it in today’s musical reality. Rock music has been put in a corner and told to be quiet, and with one or two notable exceptions (The Strokes, The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Leon, the Black Keys), it’s been mostly doing just that for the past 15 years with no new voices riding in to act as the cavalry. Green Day, as much as 2004’s ‘American Idiot’ may have seemed like an exciting new departure, were formed in 1987 (before Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Rage Against The Machine had even released a record); Coldplay’s music merged so well with Rihanna’s on ‘Princess of China’ that I simply will never be able to bring myself to acknowledge them as a rock band; Linkin Park could have contended for the aforementioned ‘Best Rap/Sung Collaboration’ Grammy with every record they’ve ever released, and Mike Shinoda’s “rapping” (“talking” might be a better term) enhances neither rock nor hip-hop. Who else has there been in this post-apocalyptic nightmare? Mumford & Sons aren’t what I’m talking about, nor are Arcade Fire. Muse? No, not for me. Ditto The Killers. Queens of the Stone Age? Absolutely. Foo Fighters? Maybe. Is that it? Hyden points out that “according to Billboard, one rock band – Nickelback – ranks among the Top 10 artists of the first decade of the 21st century” in terms of record sales. Jesus wept. “Only six rock acts appear in the Top 50, and they’re hardly considered top-flight examples of the form: Creed, Linkin Park, Three Doors Down, Santana, and Matchbox Twenty.” In other words, no new bands or singers are breaking out and grabbing listeners by the balls, forcing them to reach into their wallets and buy their music. In terms of live revenue this century, on the other hand, rock “captured seven out of the first 10 spots. But nearly all of them – The Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Bon Jovi, and Billy Joel – are many years past their commercial peaks as recording artists. Only one group, Dave Matthews Band, has been around for less than 20 years.” So there is a rock audience out there, but it’s ageing, and that’s the problem. There are no new bands making the same impact, and so that rock audience will inevitably shrink, making it easy for record companies to go in other, more lucrative and decidedly easier directions. 

That’s why it’s not as simple as going looking for bands that are ‘under the radar.’ I like The Vaccines, for example, but they’re not likely to challenge the new musical hegemony, are they? Bands like that have always existed but rock music, at least the rock music that I have long known and loved, was always about being seen and heard in the loudest, brashest way possible. Whether a band was motivated primarily by filling stadiums, doing drugs, screwing willing women and making money, or simply by the opportunity to make something meaningful and have their voices heard, it didn’t particularly matter. There were a lot of unknown bands but there were also quite a few that ruled the world and resonated with the next generation (e.g. for every handful of talented indie bands, there was a Guns N Roses; for every little-known singer-songwriter, there was a larger-than-life rock star like Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger or Joe Strummer). There was so much variety and vibrance that you couldn’t really lose. Now all of a sudden we’re talking about “the extinction of rock radio” and, in the case of New York, how it is now “virtually impossible to hear bands under the age of 40 over the airwaves in the nation’s largest media market.” That’s a massive problem which, I’m sorry, ‘under the radar’ bands will never solve by themselves. I have no problem looking for them, but does it not say everything about how rock music has gone that we’re compelled to actually seek it out? Maybe that other dreaded ‘f’ word (file-sharing) has played a part in this process (as Hyden identifies, “communities now gather around the Internet, not around bands”), although it certainly doesn’t seem to have affected hip-hop and RnB, or perhaps it’s simply a cycle, but I suspect that the problem runs far deeper than that.  

So many see commercial success as being akin to artistic death, yet surely what rock music needs now is someone to break out (like Nirvana did with ‘Nevermind’ in 1991, perhaps – ironically Kurt Cobain came to hate his success) and reenergise the masses, to tell the whole world that, you know what, fuck all this ‘X-Factor,’ ‘American Idol,’ hip-hop, RnB, David Guetta-sounding trash, rock music is back on the map. If the record companies and MTV aren’t listening, then fine, head for the internet, head for Youtube or Twitter or Facebook. Regardless of the medium, we need someone to piss all over that record company blueprint and make their mark, to rage against the dying of the light, against the end of rock n roll. We need some fucking attitude. There has rarely been a time that has given us so much to be angry about; there isn’t a person amongst us (that isn’t rich) who hasn’t been robbed by bankers and politicians, yet instead we lap up lyrics like “what’s 50 grand to a muhfuka like me?” Where’s the rage? The angriest album that’s had any profile of late has been Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Wrecking Ball,’ but that’s a 63 year-old man. Where’s the new blood? Wolfgang Van Halen calling One Direction “that shitty boy band” is great, but Van Halen’s profile is low these days; what rock needs is someone with the profile and the balls to mark them out as the utter garbage they are. Patrick Carney’s altercation with Bieber is a good start on that front, but there’s a long way to go. Back in 2008, Noel Gallagher reacted with incredulity at the idea of Jay-Z headlining Glastonbury. The rapper subsequently walked onstage nonchalantly strumming ‘Wonderwall’ to a rapturous reception. Hip-hop 1, Rock 0. Back in 1996, however, when Oasis were conquering music and playing to 300,000 people over two nights at Knebworth, you couldn’t have countenanced such a thing. It’s a long road back from here.

I find myself listening more and more to old punk records these days just to get that feeling of adrenaline going. I find myself listening to Kurt Cobain literally scream his way through ‘Scentless Apprentice’ and immediately connect more with that than a million words from the mouths of today’s singers and bands. What is this fascination with millionaires singing about being millionaires? We need someone to provide a counterpoint, badly. We need that because, if it doesn’t happen soon, our kids are going to continue growing up listening to the likes of Kanye West singing about conceits like money and designer labels and think “wow, I want to be just like him.” They’re going to grow up wanting to be vain, vacuous and stupid, just like Amy Childs, Kim Kardashian, Katie Price, Heidi Montag, Snooki, Jedward, Bieber and the rest instead of actually doing something real, something vital and something worthwhile (the usual counter-argument – that because these people are rich they’re somehow worthy of respect – merely proves my point). By then, rock (and music as we’ve known it for as long as I can remember) will truly be dead. And maybe that’s not all.

© 2013

Filed under rock music Grammys

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Justice For Kevin & Anne Williams

Since then, the ugly truth of the Hillsborough disaster has finally been shown to the world and accepted by the vast majority. As a result, justice for the 96 victims of this awful tragedy has become a very real possibility, albeit 23 years after the fact. Even the Prime Minister stood up in Parliament and apologised, and new inquests into the deaths are now likely to take place at some point in the future.

Anne Williams, however, without whose tireless work this would not have been possible, may never see justice for her son Kevin because she is dying from terminal cancer. A petition has been started requesting a speedy inquest into Kevin’s death so that this courageous mother can finally see justice for the son she lost when he went to see a simple game of football.

If you are a UK citizen, please sign, and if you know anyone else who can, please pass this along to them: epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/40925

Thank you.

Filed under liverpool football justice for the 96 hillsborough premier league

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Necessity Vs. Desperation

Some thought that Liverpool should have signed Michael Owen this week, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

For a while there last week, when opportunity and necessity appeared to be colliding head-on, it suddenly seemed possible that Michael Owen, available as a free-agent after his release by Manchester United and looking for employment, might be making a shock return to Anfield and the club with which he began his career before leaving for pastures new just over eight years ago. Why this was ever deemed a real possibility in the first place is a good question considering Liverpool ostensibly made no approach to the player and the majority of the club’s supporters wanted no part of him whatsoever. Yet there it was all the same, splashed across websites and twitter feeds right up until the moment he signed for Stoke City: Liverpool are looking at Michael Owen, or at least they should be. It seemed that his very availability was all that mattered, that and the fact that with only two senior strikers at the club, it would be remiss of Liverpool not to try and sign him, right? Naturally, when Stoke nabbed his signature amidst what appears to have been utter disinterest emanating from Anfield, some people were miffed, none more so, going by a recent article on this subject, than the Independent’s James Lawton.

As a Liverpool supporter, I have my own feelings on Michael Owen, which I will explore in a bit more detail later. At the outset, however, I have to wonder where objectivity and factual analysis figure into the job description of your average 21st century football journalist. I honestly don’t know anymore. It was all I could do not to immediately stop reading after the third sentence of Lawton’s piece, which reads: “Rafa Benitez packed him off to Real Madrid virtually sight-unseen.” Of course, any Liverpool supporter (or impartial observer of football) with a halfway-decent memory will be able to tell you that it was a slightly more complicated matter than a mere manager’s whim. Owen had less than a year left on his contract at this point and the club were, therefore, left in a very tricky position, especially with the Steve McManaman situation still relatively fresh in the memory (he left on a free transfer in 1999). Do you sell him now for a paltry £8m (£7m + Antonio Nunez) or keep him, spend the entire season trying to tie him to a new contract for which he has hitherto shown little appetite and risk losing him for nothing the following summer? Did he even give the impression, I wonder, that he would be willing to stay beyond the duration of his current contract? Maybe James Lawton knows?

In any case, with £14m of the club’s transfer budget already spent by the previous manager on Djibril Cissé and only the £2m arrival of Josemi to show for his first summer in the job so far, Benitez decided to get what he could while he still had the opportunity. It cannot have been a decision which he took lightly; Owen had borne the majority of the goal-scoring responsibility at Anfield for some time and his exit left only Cissé, Milan Baros (two players who would swiftly be moved along by the manager over the next two seasons) and the inexperienced duo of Floerent Sinama Pongolle and Neil Mellor as the club’s senior strikers. Money, however, was clearly tight, and if the £7m received from the Owen deal went towards the fees paid for either Xabi Alonso (£10.75m) or Luis Garcia (£6m), two players who made a monumental contribution to Liverpool’s European Cup win that season, then I fail to see how it can be argued that the decision did not pay dividends, particularly considering the course which Owen’s career took after he left Anfield. In any case, to suggest that Benitez was solely responsible for the player’s departure is disingenuous at best – having allowed his contract to run down, Owen had already effectively pointed a gun at the club’s head even before the Spaniard’s arrival. 

All of which is in the past now, as are the days when Michael Owen was able to terrorise Premier League and Champions League defences in a Liverpool jersey and then do similar in World Cups and European Championships for England, picking up a Ballon d’Or and a myriad of other awards along the way. This is the crucial point, really, isn’t it? That player is long gone but Lawton, from the tone of his article, seems either unable or unwilling to accept it. In a piece which was published in a major national newspaper and whose justification for existence appears, on the face of it, to be about making a case for what Michael Owen can bring to table in 2012, Lawton instead spends much of it detailing past triumphs like the player’s goals against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup (14 years ago) and against Brazil in 2002 (10 years ago). If that player was a free-agent, I think we can safely say that Liverpool would have been all over him. This one, not so much.

Lawton also bemoans the player’s treatment in the past by figures such as England bosses Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and Fabio Capello (what this has to do with Liverpool’s failure to make him an offer this past week is anybody’s guess) and criticises the former Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier who, he spits, “insisted he take his place in a rotation system which also included Emile Heskey.” Funny, then, that Owen outlasted Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey, Jari Litmanen and Nicolas Anelka during this time, not to mention the fact that he started a whopping 89% of the 216 Premier League appearances that he made for the club (compared to Heskey’s 79% and Fowler’s 84%.). In fact, the vast majority of games that Owen missed during his time at Liverpool were due to injury and the case can be made, and has been made, that perhaps the club did not rest him enough during those crucial formative years. Damn that Houllier for having the audacity to put him in a rotation system though, eh? 

Lawton comes across as nothing more than a hopelessly devoted fan in this article, which is all well and good except that as a well-paid football journalist, his job is to provide objective and factual analysis, not some kind of lament for the supposed hardships endured by one of his favourites to the point where he twists facts and figures to suit his own agenda. This is something we have seen him do before. Back in November 2011, for example, he wrote an article which used then-Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish as a means to defend the indefensible, namely Roy Hodgson’s record at Anfield: “The now unavoidable truth is that the records of Kenny Dalglish and Roy Hodgson are not exactly separated by a chasm that might readily explain the joy with which one was received and the contempt that went into the dispatching of the other,” he began, and then attempted to back this position up with some numbers. “Hodgson averaged 1.25 points over 20 Premier League games, Dalglish is running at 1.80 in 29. In all competitions, Hodgson won 13, drew 9, lost 9 with a winning percentage of 0.42. Dalglish emerges only a little to the good with figures of managed 37, won 19, drew 9, lost 9 and a percentage at 0.51.”

Needless to say, Lawton’s figures were very generous to Hodgson, including as they did five victories over Rabotnicki, Trabzonspor and Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League and gently skirting over a home “draw” against League Two side Northampton Town which embarrassed the club immensely and knocked his team out of the Carling Cup. Also, an average points differential of 1.80 as against 1.25 is something of a chasm, as Paul Tomkins explained on his website at the time. In addition, the bare numbers contained no context. For example, by November 2011 when the article was written, Liverpool had won 4 Premier League away games out of 6 so far that season (including victories at Arsenal, local rivals Everton and Chelsea). When Hodgson left in January 2011, on the other hand, his rather pathetic away record stood at 1 win out of 10, with 7 defeats and 2 draws, a 10% win ratio away from Anfield. Results would ultimately deteriorate under Dalglish, of course, but at the time of Lawton’s article he was running at a vastly-superior 66% for the season, and even if you included his 2010/11 results, his away win-ratio still held at over 50% (8 wins, a draw and 6 losses out of 15). I’m no expert, but if that isn’t a chasm then I don’t know what is.

Let me hit you with some other numbers too. In Hodgson’s time at Fulham (which is what largely earned him the Liverpool job), the Cottagers played 94 Premier League games. He guided them to the safety of 17th in his first season, then 7th and 12th respectively, an average final league position of 12th – Liverpool’s exact position upon his departure. West Brom, meanwhile, finished 11th and 10th under him, a point and goal difference respectively ahead of 12th. His Fulham side played 47 games away from home in his 3 and a half seasons there – they won 7 out of 47. His away record at Liverpool was similarly poor – 1 win from 10. In 94 games with Fulham, his team scored 97 goals – an average of roughly one per game (1.04). At Liverpool, he averaged a similar 1.2 (24 goals from 20 games). As a comparison, during the season for which Rafael Benítez was sacked at Liverpool, his side scored 61 Premier League goals – an average of 1.6 goals per game. Meanwhile, even with the goalscoring problems they endured last season, Dalglish’s team averaged 1.5 goals a game during his second reign as manager (82 in 56 games). By the way, I was not paid a penny to come up with these numbers – James Lawton, however, was. 

In the Owen article, Lawton similarly massages the figures in order to suit his agenda, suggesting that Owen left Madrid with “considerable vindication” having scored “La Liga’s highest ratio of goals to the number of minutes played.” This handily ignores some pertinent questions: why did Real so seldom start him? Why did they let him go after just one year even after such “vindication”? Had he started more games and not been entering them fresh from the bench, would his ratio have been quite so impressive? And considering how happy they were to move him along for a tidy profit of £9m in the summer of 2005, how much of a factor was his discounted value in their decision to sign him in the first place? These are the only numbers produced by Lawton to buttress his belief that Owen still has much to offer, these and his 40 goals in 89 games for England, but the Madrid example is taken from 7 years ago and Owen hasn’t played for England since 2008. Again I have to ask, what possible relevance do they have in terms of Liverpool’s decision not to pursue him in September 2012?

The only numbers that matter are the ones which show a sharp decline in Michael Owen’s output over the best part of a decade. His professional career can be roughly split into equal halves, 8 years at Liverpool and 8 years with other clubs. He made considerably more appearances in those first 8 years at Anfield (297) than he has since (176). The first figure gives an average of roughly 37 appearances per season across all competitions, a number which is skewed by the inclusion of the 1996/97 season, his first, where he only made two appearances at the end (without this, he made an average of 42 appearances per season during his time at Liverpool). In the 8 years since his departure, he has made an average of only 22 appearances per season, a massive reduction. Last season, he managed to play in just 4 games for Manchester United. His goals average has also dropped considerably since he left Anfield, from scoring in roughly 53% of the games in which he played at Liverpool (158 goals in 297 appearances) to a more modest 36% since (63 in 176). He unquestionably gave his best years to Liverpool, there’s no denying that, but he has been increasingly riddled with injuries since to the point of utter unreliability and lost much of the pace that once made him a Ballon d’Or winner. This is the reality that a prospective employer like Liverpool would be considering and all the crying in the world won’t change it. 

In other words, there were compelling reasons beyond owner John W. Henry’s “dull-witted communiqué” as to why Liverpool were not interested in bringing back Michael Owen. In fact, Lawton’s mention of the club’s owner and his “quick-fix” comments are way off the mark, in my view. This term was used in Henry’s letter to supporters as a justification regarding the apparent refusal of the club’s hierarchy to spend £6m on 29 year-old Clint Dempsey who, unlike Owen, remains a proven performer in the Premier League. I have my own views on that decision (I think it was wrong, personally), but the two situations are entirely unrelated. Signing Michael Owen on a free transfer and a pay-as-you-play basis would have represented little risk to the owners. Potential sell-on value would have mattered little since no fee would have been paid in the first place and, even if he did get injured, he wouldn’t become another drain on resources like Joe Cole because he would have only earned a wage if he was fit. No, this wasn’t a decree from John Henry, this was a football decision taken by the manager, Brendan Rodgers, who must have wondered how Owen, at his age, with his injury history, would have fit into his system of pressing, possession and patience, and whether Suarez and Borini represented better options anyway. 

Not that James Lawton is interested in such details. He calls Liverpool’s refusal to sign him a “failure of imagination.” Well Liverpool supporters have never been short on imagination. It’s something that we’re regularly mocked for, in fact, by people like Lawton, often dismissed as overly sentimental, mawkish and maudlin (for example, he once called our support for Rafael Benitez “quasi-religious”). We welcomed Robbie Fowler back with open arms in 2006, for example, when he was arguably as far past his best as Owen is today. And it was around this time, in fact, that Benitez, someone for whom Lawton appears to have little respect, stated that “we don’t have a lot of money, so we need to use our imagination.” There has always been, and will always be, plenty of imagination to be found in the stands and on the bench at Anfield. The trouble is that signing someone with Owen’s injury problems and dwindling abilities would have represented a leap of faith beyond even the ability of football supporters.

It’s a strange, schizophrenic relationship that exists between footballers and their fans. On the one hand, the loyalty of virtually every football player is a moveable feast, a hell of a lot more moveable today than it was twenty or thirty years ago. The variety of reasons for staying loyal to a particular club have gradually eroded over time to be replaced by the glory and riches that always seem to be on offer somewhere else. The modern game is awash with vast amounts of unevenly-distributed wealth with only a relatively small number of clubs able to pay the increasingly exorbitant transfer fees and wages required to be successful. Meanwhile, the Champions League has become some kind of all-consuming promised land that is similarly open only to the relative few. In 21st century football, the grass is always greener and players have never had such power to hop the fence to the other side, whether by allowing their contracts to run down until they can walk out of a club as a free-agent or by simply flexing their muscles until their employers relent. Exceptions do exist (Gerrard, Carragher, Giggs, Scholes, Maldini, etc), but the days of one-club players may soon be numbered for good.

There are some who wonder whether we can blame them. It’s a short career, they say (then again, it was always short). You’ve got to earn as much as you can while you can. You’ve got to win medals, end your career with something to show for it. You don’t want to end up like Alan Shearer, choosing his hometown club over Manchester United and winning precisely zero trophies during his time on Tyneside while all manner of silverware was arriving at Old Trafford. Or Steven Gerrard, spurning Chelsea and still waiting for that first Premier League title at the age of 32. And there is much more for a player to be concerned with today than there was in the past: European football, imaging rights, biographies in their early twenties, the number of zeroes in their wage-packets, assurances of playing time, these are all questions that would surely not have overly taxed anyone playing under Bill Shankly or Matt Busby. Today, they are key factors in determining a player’s loyalty – are we in the Champions League? Am I playing in my favourite position? Are we winning games, challenging for trophies? Am I earning enough? Is he earning more than me? Is the club showing sufficient ambition? It’s difficult to imagine such questions keeping Kenny Dalglish or Denis Law awake at night back when they were at their respective peaks.

Can we blame them? Supporters certainly do, but then we’re hypocrites whose only loyalty is to our club. We generally only love a player if, in the first instance, he performs well and enables our club to win games and compete for trophies and, in the second, shows some level of loyalty and respect towards the entity which we spend our lives supporting. These are the key expectations. A fan can usually find some way to ignore bad behaviour both on and off the pitch, be it foul play, diving, sexual misadventures or disorderly conduct, if only by uttering some variant of the phrase “well, everyone else is doing it.” Such matters can usually be forgiven as long as the two aforementioned criteria are met. We’ve all done it. We’ve all looked the other way at one time or another and ignored the uglier side of a player as long as he’s performing on the pitch. That’s all part of being a football supporter. 

However, sentiment can erode pretty quickly if it is perceived that a player isn’t good enough, or else used to be good enough but is now losing what he once had and is adversely affecting the team as a result. Lucas Leiva once found himself falling victim to the former, for example, while Jamie Carragher is currently grappling with the latter. At times like that, our loyalty wavers and we can walk away from a player every bit as easily as he can walk away from us. It’s kind of like the two-way relationship that exists between a player and a club. So what’s the difference? Players come and go, isn’t that so? It’s the club that we love, and those who have represented the club with the greatest distinction are the ones we celebrate. On the other hand, if someone doesn’t represent the club with quite so much distinction, the best they can hope for is to be quietly forgotten. These are natural characteristics of the relationship between supporter and player. Legend has it that Bill Shankly once said the following to Tommy Smith regarding an injury he had suffered: “It’s not your leg son. It’s Liverpool’s leg.” If we’re being honest, we supporters (regardless of affiliation) have a similar attitude. 

We are, in the main, hypocrites; so are players, for the most part. Understanding that is key to understanding the complex dynamic which exists between player and supporter. They tell us they love the club but what they generally value is the rewards, namely the money which will allow them to take care of their families into old age and, often, to maintain a lavish lifestyle, and also the medals which will allow them to retire with a sense of achievement and pride in their careers and, occasionally, satisfy their egos. If a club cannot guarantee them such rewards, then they will generally find one that will. Likewise, supporters pledge undying love to individuals but what we really value is success for our club and loyalty from its players, and if a player cannot give us both, then we harbour little affection for them. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but who are we to judge if a player places money and medals ahead of our club? We’ve got our priorities the same as they do, and when those priorities coincide it can be beautiful. On the other hand, when they don’t, things can get a little ugly. Harsh, but that’s just the way it is. 

It largely depends, of course, on profile. Players like Salif Diao or Josemi will always slip quietly out the door with little rancour. If it’s a big player, however, we supporters tend to be a little bit selfish. In the cold light of day, for example, the reaction to Fernando Torres leaving Anfield in January 2011 may have been slightly unfair (not helped by the player’s little dig at the club of “the target for every footballer is to play at one of the top level clubs in the world and I can do that now”). After all, the transfer fee received was generous and, despite rumours to the contrary at the time, he appeared to have made the club aware of his plans in good time. In addition, had he not given us some great goals and performances in those three and a half years? The truth is that we weren’t ready for him to leave and it pissed us off. Even Steven Gerrard received a harsh reaction when he appeared set to join Chelsea in June 2005, and we all know what he had achieved just one month earlier…

Both of these scenarios, however, were also complicated by the fact that they were joining a rival. To a supporter, it somehow feels akin to a spit in the face when that happens. Did they ever give a shit at all? Did they ever ‘get’ us in the slightest? And while some might consider such a reaction illogical, there is nothing logical about being a football supporter. Unlike Torres, Xabi Alonso managed to make the break with dignity and therefore retained a good relationship with his former supporters. Alonso, a vital player too for Liverpool at the time, was, however, helped by the fact that he was transferring abroad. Had he joined Chelsea or Manchester United, the reaction would no doubt have been different. Tottenham supporters still hold a grudge with Sol Campbell for joining Arsenal, Luis Figo had a pig’s head thrown at him the first time he returned to the Nou Camp with Real Madrid, and so on. Footballers may have their motivations and priorities that we must be aware of, even if we don’t understand them, but supporters also have theirs. It’s a complicated relationship.

Someone should explain all of this to Lawton, who suggested bewilderment that the club’s failure to sign Owen “was not universally condemned on Merseyside.” Meaning the supporters, right? Well, here’s the thing about the supporters, and I’ll return to the aforementioned example of Robbie Fowler to illustrate my point. Fowler is still called ‘God’ by a great many Liverpool fans. Like Owen, injuries caught up on him all too soon and he was a shadow of his former self during his second spell at the club, but you always got the impression from Fowler that Liverpool meant something to him and, as a result, you could pretty much overlook his drastically-reduced ability. You can never judge a book by its cover, of course, Fernando Torres certainly reminded us of that, but Fowler always wore his heart on his sleeve, from donning a t-shirt in support of sacked dock workers in 1997 to holding five fingers aloft at Manchester United supporters after scoring a goal in a Manchester derby in 2006 (not condoning it, by the way, just using it as an example). Like all footballers, Fowler no doubt had his own priorities in terms of remuneration, medals and the rest, but they seemed to intersect with our own to a sufficient extent that a bond was forged which, despite the fact that he went on to play for Leeds United and Manchester City, was never broken, either by him or us. 

The difference between Fowler and Owen from a supporter’s point of view is like night and day. Michael Owen’s motivations, from the moment he began allowing his contract to tick down throughout 2003 and 2004, were clearly the antithesis of our own. He wanted to leave, the grass was greener, and if he could get a few extra quid into the bargain without the pesky need for a transfer fee to be paid to Liverpool, then all the better. And you know what? Fair enough. Like Steve McManaman, like Sol Campbell, like others who have done the same, Michael Owen took care of himself and looked out for number one. As I outlined earlier, that’s just the way it goes and we need to accept that. But James Lawton, and Michael Owen too if he cares, need to equally understand that sentiment is not something which can be easily turned on and off on a whim. He chose to leave in 2004, he chose to return to Newcastle in 2005 and he chose to join Manchester United in 2009, a club whose supporters regularly sing songs about Hillsborough, Heysel and Scousers eating out of bins.

Well actions have consequences, in this case the fact that, no James, we can’t overlook the fact that he’s lost all his pace, is regularly injured and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the player that he was in 1998 or 2002, not like we could with Fowler, nor can we convince ourselves that, ah well, maybe he’ll be good. You can call it a “failure of imagination” if you like, but the truth is that any scope for imagination where Michael Owen is concerned was irreversibly damaged when he chose to walk out of the club for about a third of what he was worth in 2004 before being destroyed completely the day he signed for Manchester United. His choices, his priorities, his motivations. We understand that, we’re well aware that we’re fundamentally different from these Premier League footballers. Just please don’t insult our collective intelligence by playing the sentiment card now. Michael Owen may very well go on to be successful for Stoke while Liverpool struggle for goals, but on the surface, he’s every bit as likely to be spending the season with the physiotherapist. We won’t look past that fact.  He hasn’t earned the privilege.

© 2012

Filed under liverpool michael owen football premier league

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Suárez Pt. VI: The Aftermath

The aftermath of the whole affair has resembled a nuclear fallout – everywhere you look, all you see is what Tony Montana might have called “cock-a-roaches.” It all began, of course, with the announcement of the verdict on Tuesday 20 December. As most immediately prepared to head for the moral high ground, Liverpool F.C. released a strongly-worded statement in support of its player. “Liverpool Football Club is very surprised and disappointed with the decision of the Football Association Commission to find Luis Suárez guilty of the charges against him,” it began, going on to say that the Club takes extremely seriously the fight against all forms of discrimination and has a long and successful track record in work relating to anti-racist activity and social inclusion.  We remain committed to this ideal and equality for all, irrespective of a person’s background. LFC considers racism in any form to be unacceptable – without compromise.” Then the key issues: It is our strong held belief, having gone over the facts of the case, that Luis Suárez did not commit any racist act and Nothing we have heard in the course of the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suárez is innocent of the charges brought against him and we will provide Luis with whatever support he now needs to clear his name.” The adverse reaction which followed was borne of a fundamental failure (accidental or otherwise) to understand the points in bold above. Overall, the statement was a strongly-supportive one. At one or two points it does become a bit confrontational (e.g. making mention of Evra’s prior unfounded accusations and wondering when the FA were going to charge the Frenchman with making abusive remarks to an opponent), but on the whole it was nothing more than a reaction to what the club felt was unfair treatment of a player they considered innocent of the charges against him. Anybody who doesn’t understand that, quite frankly, isn’t worth listening to.

The following day, the Uruguayan’s teammates also released an unequivocal statement of support. Luis Suárez is our teammate and our friend and as a group of players we are shocked and angered that he has been found guilty by the FA. We totally support Luis and we want the world to know that. We know he is not racist. We are a squad of many different nationalities and backgrounds. All of us support the Club’s commitment to fighting racism. All of us accept there is no place in the game for any form of discrimination. As a group of players we totally support the Kick it Out Campaign. We have lived, trained and played with Luis for almost 12 months and we don’t recognise the way he has been portrayed. We will continue to support Luis through this difficult period, and as a popular and respected friend of all his teammates, he will not walk alone.” Once again, as with the club, there was an explicit condemnation of racism; once again, as with the club, there were valid reasons given for their support of the player; and once again, the detail of the statement was ignored by the vast majority in favour of casting them in a bad light for supporting him at all. The decision of the team to then wear t-shirts with a celebrating Suárez on the front and “Suárez 7” on the back during the warm-up for that night’s game away to Wigan Athletic was effectively an exclamation mark. Yes, it was provocative. I immediately suspected that all hell was going to break loose in the media over it, and so it came to pass. Already, as little as a day after the announcement of the verdict, the Uruguayan had been excoriated in virtually every newspaper and on every television and radio programme, so perspective was in short supply. Given this climate, it might have been better for the players not to wear the t-shirts, but the truth is that Liverpool were being criticised anyway for supporting Suárez. The t-shirt may have provided something of a lightning rod for much of the rancour which followed, but make no mistake, the only way that the club would have emerged from this situation with its integrity intact in the eyes of some was by categorically denouncing Luis Suárez just like everyone else did.

The inherent irony, of course, is that integrity is defined by being true to one’s own values and principles. If his club and his teammates truly believed Suárez to be innocent, then their integrity would have only been compromised had they gone along with the crowd and against their own beliefs by quietly accepting an unjust ruling. The club had no choice but to do what it did and the reaction of the players was an extension of that. Let me put it to you like this – if the Commission had come to the conclusion that Patrice Evra had lied (for the reasons outlined by Mr. McCormick in paragraphs 326 to 332 of the Commission’s report), that Luis Suárez never said the words attributed to him in the goalmouth and that on the balance of probabilities it never happened, should we then expect Manchester United and Alex Ferguson to publically lambaste their player for lying and making a terrible accusation against a fellow professional? Of course not, because nobody can prove that Evra conjured up his account of what happened in the goalmouth any more than it can be proved that Suárez did insult him five times prior to the corner being taken. And if it cannot be proved, then all a manager, a chairman, a teammate or a supporter can do is take his man’s word for it. Liverpool’s reaction, and that of the club’s players, was an utterly natural one. I’m truly baffled by the amount of people who have come out in the aftermath of the Commission’s verdict and basically adopted a kind of “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude of “well he was found guilty, so therefore he must be.” Anyone who reads the report with an open mind will see that Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish were completely justified in expressing grave misgivings about the Commission’s guilty verdict. They had supported their man from the start of this whole process and the report, quite simply, gave them no reason whatsoever to withdraw that support.

Not that many cared about that, at least outside of Liverpool. It’s funny, supporters of the club and the club itself have been accused by all and sundry over the past few weeks of either being too biased, too blinded by sheer loyalty to one of their own, too stubborn to admit that he’s done wrong, too tribal to realise that he should be vilified rather than supported, or all of the above. I mean, I can only speak for myself, I think I’m a perceptive person, intelligent enough and also fair. I think I can manage to read a 115-page report and then make up my own mind about its findings. What’s more, I’m not the only one – the club’s support contains plenty of people like me. If I had read through the Commission’s deliberations, discovered one or two clear, concrete pieces of evidence that implicated Suárez, then the rest of the season probably would have gone like this for me: numbed, I would have carried on supporting my team in the knowledge that our best player was a racist, dispassionately accepted any goals he scored between now and May as benefitting the club at least, felt a mixture of irritation and outright anger any time I saw him smiling, laughing or celebrating, looked upon any cup triumphs that may have come our way as welcome but nonetheless probably my least celebrated since the FA Cup win in 1992 (which kept Graeme Souness, a month or so after selling a story to The S*n on the third anniversary of Hillsborough, in the job that little bit longer), spent my summer hoping that one day I would log on to find that Real Madrid had offered in the region of £30m and the club had accepted it, then bid him good riddance and attempted to draw a line under one of the most unsavoury incidents in the club’s history. As we know, that didn’t happen. I found nothing of the sort when I read through the Commission’s findings. Those responsible for drafting Liverpool Football Club’s statements on this matter obviously didn’t either, and that’s the key issue. We’re not condoning racism – he’s not a racist as far as we know. Yet we have been met with nothing but condescending, patronising, moralistic nonsense for the past month. Apparently we’re not allowed to point out that Suárez could have just as easily been found innocent as guilty based on the evidence to hand. Instead, we’re being told why we remain supportive of him, namely because he’s our best player and we don’t want to lose him, we’re in denial, we’re delusional, we’re acting tribally, we’re all racists, etc. Hey, if I want to be psycho-analysed then I’ll see a qualified professional, but thanks all the same.

The Media

It always amazes me how much self-importance these people possess, how much weight they attach to their own opinions, how there can only be one possible answer and, naturally, they have it. It has been ridiculous, for example, the amount of times I have read a journalist on Twitter over the past few weeks holding court on Luis Suárez and simply dismissing any dissenter, usually by putting every opposing viewpoint down to tribalism, while those with a cogent, reasonable argument are simply ignored or demeaned. I didn’t want to say too much about the media reaction in this blog entry, I figured it was already long enough (5 parts already) and that any in-depth consideration would probably stretch me to breaking point, but I just couldn’t help myself. Even though I’ve had a piece in gestation for about two and a half months now (I just seem to keep adding to it) about the English football media in general which would probably have been the best place for a consideration of the reaction to the Suárez verdict, I simply have to consider the appalling media coverage of this whole case, even if it’s just by picking a handful of writers and breaking down some of the sheer bile they have been spewing over the past few weeks. Allow me to begin with an obvious point. The below headline appeared on the back page of the Daily Mirror following the announcement of the verdict. Nobody can condone this. The Commission’s report, remember, mentions that Patrice Evra does not believe Suárez to be a racist, specifically states that the FA does not make the contention that he is a racist and absolutely no finding is made that he is a racist. This point wasn’t even under investigation. Yet the Daily Mirror still went ahead and printed that headline? Coming up on four weeks after the fact, I am disappointed that no defamation action has been brought against that publication. Perhaps Suárez wants to simply get on with things now, but the club’s statement of 20 December explicitly stated that “we will provide Luis with whatever support he now needs to clear his name.” If Suárez has not been advised to take Trinity Mirror PLC to court, then he should be. That headline was an utter disgrace, and while it wasn’t the only article which intimated or stated this accusation as fact, it was certainly one of the more sensationalist examples. It was, however, only a flavour of what was to come.

 

Sticking with the Daily Mirror, three of their writers were particularly vocal in their condemnation of both Suárez and the club right from the moment the Commission’s verdict was announced, namely its Chief Sportswriter Oliver Holt, its “man in Merseyside” David Maddock and its Chief Football Writer Martin Lipton. As I said before, I won’t go into their reaction in minute detail here, that’s for another day. I do, however, want to zero in on Holt because I have found his pious, patronising attitude on Liverpool Football Club in particular and issues of racism in general of late to be particularly sickening. It began on the day that the FA announced Suárez’s ban and fine. He stated, in an article dripping with righteous indignation, that the FA decision to ban Suárez for eight matches was merely the upholding of the principle that any form of racial abuse is no longer acceptable in our game.” Right – and what if it wasn’t racial abuse, Oliver? What then? He went on to condescendingly assert that it may be acceptable in Uruguay. It may be acceptable in Spain. But that does not mean that it must be acceptable here.” Hmmm, just a wild guess here but maybe the word “negro” is acceptable in those countries because it’s a Spanish word? So once the panel investigating the incident between Suarez and Patrice Evra decided there was evidence Suárez had racially abused Evra, the FA had little choice.” Little choice about what? They’re the ones who pushed for an extended ban in the first place, even before the Commission made its final decision. And evidence? What evidence? Later he stated that one of the least edifying aspects of this whole sorry case has been the number of people who sought to exonerate Suarez even before they knew the facts.” Wrong. It was actually more a case of people considering him innocent until proven guilty. Besides which, here you had a man with little or no facts (the report would not be published for another eleven days) effectively assuming that the Commission must have had real evidence in order to have found Suárez guilty. Wrong again.

It is not enough for the defenders of Suárez to say that he did not realise that abusing Evra would be considered reprehensible in this country. I’m sorry but he spent several years playing in the Dutch league. It is not as if he arrived straight from Uruguay.” Oh right, the Netherlands, where they speak Dutch, yeah? In which he is apparently as fluent as he is limited in English. And why would he be fluent in Dutch? Probably because they speak Dutch in the fucking Netherlands! Not English, not as the primary language anyway. Besides which, you’re talking about two very different cultures there. By the same token, would Suárez get away with walking through Liverpool city centre smoking a joint based on the fact that he lived in Amsterdam for a few years (where cannabis is legal)? Different cultures, different languages, different norms. A Uruguayan living in Holland for a few years isn’t necessarily going to know much about England. How much do you think your average English Premier League footballer knows about German culture, or Italian, French or Dutch? I’m sorry but Britannia no longer rules the waves to the extent that the whole world should automatically be indoctrinated in the nuances of its language and traditions, despite what Oliver Holt might like to think. Just because other parts of the world turn a blind eye to casual racism or punish it lightly does not mean that we must meekly fall in step.” Oh yes, dear old Blighty would never meekly fall in step, would she? And her scribes would never turn a blind eye to racism, would they? Hmmm, compare the media coverage of the Chelsea supporters who chanted “Anton Ferdinand, you know what you are” for all the world to hear just a week and a half after John Terry’s alleged act of racism and that of the one Liverpool supporter alleged to have racially abused Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi. It’s been like night and day. A blind eye? More deaf, dumb and blind. He finished by saying that Liverpool will miss Suárez badly if the ban stands but this should not be a matter of club loyalties. This is bigger than allegiance to a club.” In other words, everyone connected with Liverpool F.C. (officials, management, players and supporters) were only outraged because of how it would affect them on the pitch, presumably because the club and its supporters are really so selfish and horrible that we would twist and mangle the truth in favour of supporting a racist. Thanks very much. The media narrative was so smoothly put in place and executed that you wondered whether it had been conceived well before the FA had even uttered a word. It has only escalated in the meantime. There is no vendetta here.” Not for the first time, I think we might have to agree to disagree on that one, Oliver.

Holt’s 20 December article was published under the headline “Right and Wrong.” Well let’s briefly talk about right and wrong because I was taught the difference from a very young age. I was taught that ganging up on someone was wrong; I was taught that every human being has the right to a fair trial, to be assumed innocent until proven guilty; whenever I was blamed in the wrong for something and felt the sense of loneliness and isolation that comes from being singled out, I stored it in the old memory bank for later so that I would never do the same to another person; I was taught to keep my mouth shut until I know my facts; I was taught to be fair, to be understanding wherever possible; I was taught never to treat someone differently because of the colour of their skin or their accent and I had that principle very firmly ingrained in me despite the fact that I grew up in a town that was 99% white and Irish up until a few years ago (I remember one Italian family and one Chinese family when I was a kid, that’s it); I was taught loyalty too; most of all, I was taught never to be a hypocrite. I wonder was Oliver Holt ever taught that last one? I only ask because he states in the above article that just because other parts of the world turn a blind eye to casual racism or punish it lightly does not mean that we must meekly fall in step.” And yet back in November, Holt was asking the following question on Twitter: Is calling someone a ‘black c***’ racist?” To which he answered “Don’t know.” To quote myself from Part IV of this piece, so I could go out on the street right now, call a black man a “black cunt” and, besides deservedly getting my head kicked in, I could claim with a straight face, in 2012, that I’m not a racist?! I mean, it’s utterly sickening to read Holt piously going about “the principle that any form of racial abuse is no longer acceptable in our game” as a means to justify the Suárez ban when he’s apparently not even clear whether the term “black cunt” falls under the umbrella of casual racism. And why is he not clear? Could it be because the man alleged to have used that term is England captain John Terry and not some cheating, untrustworthy South American? On 21 December, the day after he lambasted Suárez and Liverpool in print, he had the sheer audacity to state that Terry should benefit from the same rule that applied to the Liverpool striker. It is the most basic legal rule of all: that he is innocent until proven guilty.” Oh my GOD!!!!! I’m sorry, but that really is too much!! Firstly, nothing was proven against Suárez, nothing. Read back over my last 50,000 words or so on the subject if you need your memory refreshed. And secondly, he was never afforded the protection of being considered innocent until proven guilty, never. He was, in fact, innocent until assumed probably guilty on the balance of probabilities. This is in stark contrast to Terry whose case will be heard by a court of law. Holt reiterates that this was a week when many have already put club loyalty first and ignore what is right and wrong.” Ok, let’s talk about right and wrong again then. Is it right to seek temperance for one man even while you stick the knife into another? Is it right to talk of a man’s guilt when the mechanism used to convict him was utterly flawed? Is it right to wonder whether “black cunt” is a racist term even as you completely disregard the nuances of the term “negro,” which given a literal translation into English means simply “black”? As a matter of fact, how can “black” be racist and “black cunt” not be racist? I won’t even get into the fact that he has previously written two books about the Chelsea captain, John Terry: Captain Marvel, the Biography in 2006 and JT: Captain, Leader, Legend in 2010 (under the pen names “Oliver Derbyshire” and “Ollie Derbyshire”). How utterly nauseating it is to be lectured by someone like Holt.

After a week and a half of such pious posturing and moralising all day every day on television, radio, in newspapers and on the internet, I was beginning to feel beaten down, tired and ready to throw in the towel. Christmas was a nice distraction but, in truth, it was always there in the back of my mind. I love the club, I think about it at some point every day and as the New Year approached, the Suárez case was overshadowing everything else. Honestly, part of me began to secretly hope that the FA had some bombshell piece of evidence up their sleeves that would prove the Uruguayan’s guilt conclusively. It was selfish and weak of me, but it would have at least put us out of our misery and allowed us to pull off the band-aid and begin the healing process. The storm which was swirling around the club would have begun to dissipate, the media could have packed up their wagons and we would have had the easy out of blaming everything on Suárez just like everybody else has. We could then presumably have been spared patronising, belittling statements like this from Matthew Syed in The Times: Grown men in the Greater Merseyside area spent hours, weeks, becoming expert in the cultural anthropology of South America, the linguistic nuances of Spanish as spoken in Uruguay, and sacrificed precious evenings to pore over a 115-page report to find something, anything, that might bolster a conclusion they had already prejudged. The more they looked, the more blinkered they became. Psychologists call it confirmation bias, but stupidity is, perhaps, a more appropriate word.” Wow, just…wow. How to respond to that without recourse to profanity? All I can say is that I am not stupid, blinkered or biased. I wish the same could be said for the vast majority of the media on this issue. How ironic it is to be accused of prejudging anything by a group of people (Syed isn’t the only one who has made that kind of comment) who must surely have done some serious damage to the R, the A, the C, the I, the S and the T keys on their laptops following the FA’s announcement on 20 December before one shred of “evidence” had been made public. Imagine actually reading a publically-available report that details the reasons why one of your club’s players has been given an unprecedented ban. How sad is that? And imagine spending weeks of your life becoming expert in the cultural anthropology of South America or the linguistic nuances of Spanish as spoken in Uruguay simply to defend a racist. How pathetic are we? Actually not that pathetic because it doesn’t actually take weeks to read two language experts state, in black and white, that “it is possible that the term was intended as an attempt at conciliation and/or to establish rapport” (paragraph 190) and that “we found that Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382). In fact, I would estimate that it took less than an hour for me to reach those two points. Matthew Syed either reads slowly or is given to exaggeration. Anyway, regardless of how long we spent poring over that 115-page report, the fact is that we apparently shouldn’t have. Even a second of our “precious evenings” sacrificed was too much. We should have been in bed making love to our partners, out on the lash with our friends or catching up on events in Albert Square or Weatherfield. And as for the curiosity that we were bound to feel about the case against Luis Suárez? We should have simply let the media handle that, the professionals. Then, instead of blindly following Dalglish’s word like lemmings,” we could have followed the Pied Pipers of The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Daily Mirror and others. It’s ok folks, it’s their job to inform, to investigate, to unearth the truth and present it to us. Nobody in the media could ever be wrong, about anything. We can trust them, can’t we? So put down that report, listen to Oliver Holt wonder if “black cunt” is a racist term and relax – you’re in good hands.

Believe me, I hate to compare a trifling football issue with infinitely more serious matters, I was as sickened as anyone to hear Gordon Taylor comparing this case to the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, but I nonetheless have to wonder how anyone can simply take a report like this as gospel, no matter how long or carefully-worded, in a country where the Birmingham Six (freed after 16 years) and Guilford Four (freed after 14 years) are just two examples of innocent people convicted in the wrong for crimes they did not commit, where one newspaper was able to print outright lies about Liverpool supporters pick-pocketing the dead and urinating on the police under a front page headline of “The Truth,” where the same man responsible for that headline is still allowed to work in the mainstream media, where Anne Williams still fights for justice for her son and the truth about how and why he died, where The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press is ongoing, and especially coming from an organisation that has been ordered by the Government to make huge reforms and completely restructure both its Board and Council. It was Thomas Jefferson who said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” So do we have the freedom to be vigilant regarding the FA then, or is English football’s governing body a dictatorship which is above any kind of oversight? Perhaps it doesn’t matter because it’s only football at the end of the day and “we’re not sending people to prison”? Where does it stop, though? Maybe opposition members of Parliament should just stop bothering to question new laws, after all the Government wouldn’t waste their time producing Bills running into hundreds of pages if they didn’t have intrinsic value, am I right? No Government could ever be wrong, correct? And the coroner who ruled that Kevin Williams was dead by 3.15p.m. on the afternoon of Hillsborough, he couldn’t have been mistaken in his view, no way. Forget the witnesses who tell a different story, it’s down on paper in black and white so it must be true. Who are any of us to question it?

And so it goes with Suárez. My allegiance to Liverpool only means that I have a motivation to seek out, study and question the investigation and report where normally I might not. If it was a Spurs or Chelsea player, for example, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered. Crucially, however, I wouldn’t have expressed an opinion on it either. The likes of Oliver Holt and Matthew Syed will always express an opinion regardless of the facts, that seems to be the sole job description of a football writer nowadays, but I would have thought that they would also have an intrinsic interest in doing their research and seeking out the truth simply because they are journalists. Clearly not. Apparently we are to stick our heads in the sand and accept that the FA is omnipotent, and anyone of a Red persuasion who would do otherwise and question the flawed outcome of a deeply flawed process is “stupid.” Oh the irony. To be told that you’re blind, blinkered and biased by people who take as gospel the word of an investigation which, through the selective use of largely weak and circumstantial evidence, found that something probably happened. Probably. So based on that, Luis Suárez is definitely guilty? Remind me, who are the stupid ones again? A word to the wise, lads: if there was nothing to question, then we would have had nothing to say about it. We didn’t have to pore over a 115-page report to find something, anything that would support a prejudged view that Suárez was innocent like a bunch of pathetic fools in tin-foil hats trying to prove that the government are stealing our thoughts. Everything is there, in black and white. All you have to do is be able to read. The contradictions, the selective judgements, the inconsistencies, they leap out at you from the page, ten, twenty, thirty, not just one or two. Don’t insult my intelligence by trying to tell me that they’re not there or that I’m only seeing what I want to see. Honestly? In many ways, life as a Liverpool supporter would be so much simpler if Suárez was clearly guilty. Sorry if that sounds selfish, but it would have been so much easier than having to put up with the ignorant, sensationalist attacks on the club and its supporters which have followed. Players come and go, after all, and I wouldn’t have had any problems letting go of a racist. We would have simply kept our heads down and our mouths shut until it all blew over. He’s not a racist, though, is he? If Luis Suárez had been tried in a court of law (as John Terry will be), I’m confident that any competent lawyer would have seen him leave with no punishment. None whatsoever, because real courts rely on real evidence. I’m entitled to point that out without being called stupid.

Quick point before I move on. In yet another ironic twist, I actually agree with Matthew Syed on one point – that many fans are more like lemmings than rational human beings with brains of their own.” It’s true, only not in the way that he suggests. I’m not talking about supporters who blindly follow their club’s manager or defend their players. In truth, Kenny Dalglish is only a few bad results away from the pressure building on him, just like any other manager. It will take longer in his case, naturally, but it will happen if the team stagnates. Already dissenting voices have been heard regarding the twin failures of Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing to set Anfield alight, the string of home draws this season, the team sent out to face Stoke City a couple of weeks ago, the performance at Bolton last weekend, etc. Believe it or not, the man is not seen as an infallible deity. He is greatly respected, loved and admired, but he is not above reproach. Neither are Luis Suárez, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher or any other player, certainly not by the majority anyway. What’s more, claiming that we simply hang on Dalglish’s every word underestimates just how much our support has changed over the years. Go back and listen to the boos which greeted a 0-0 draw with West Ham in December 2008 that sent Liverpool top of the table, or the derision which greeted Lucas Leiva when he came on as a substitute against Sunderland in March 2009, or the “shove your Gareth Barry up your arse” chants directed at manager Rafael Benítez in August 2008. The club’s fanbase has changed. The reasons for that could probably fill another 60 pages. Suffice it to say that for every member of the hardcore support which knows only too well what Kenny Dalglish means to Liverpool Football Club and what qualities he brings to the job, there will be another supporter demanding success now and if Kenny can’t do it, well, we’ll get someone else. That José Mourinho is brilliant, isn’t he?

No, those who are supporting the stance taken by Dalglish and the club over this are not mere lemmings. Do you want to know who the real lemmings are? The ones who buy a newspaper every day and sit in the canteen on morning break reading every single story as if it’s fact, who then repeat it all back to anyone who’ll listen (and quite a few who won’t). The ones who watch Sky Sports or listen to Talksport and then parrot everything they hear. The ones who think they’re intellectual football fans just because they watch Sunday Supplement or read The Guardian. The ones who cannot form an opinion of their own without recourse to some football writer or pundit. Those are the real lemmings, and how ironic that Matthew Syed should accuse Kenny Dalglish of being the puppet-master when it is, in fact, he and others of his ilk who are the only ones doing any psychological conditioning here. What’s more, I think Syed knows this only too well. This article, which basically insults the intelligence of supporters of every club, is possibly designed to take the initiative, to blame it all on the clubs and their managers and the supporters themselves rather than risk having any flak thrown in the direction of him and his colleagues. Point the finger at someone else before they point it at you, right? The media are just doing their job, not contributing manfully to the increasingly bitter mess that has evolved over the past few weeks, right?  Don’t worry, Matthew – your secret is safe. I’m sure that nobody who reads your articles on a regular basis is the type to question anything, otherwise they would give the likes of you a wide berth. I will, however, say this. If every football supporter in Britain partially took your advice and reacquainted themselves with the grey matter that they seem voluntarily to relinquish every time they open a newspaper or turn on the television or radio, then the game might well be the better for it. Unfortunately, you would be out of a job.

Moving swiftly along…the Commission’s report was finally released into the public domain on New Year’s Eve. That was superb timing, wasn’t it? The whole world planning to get absolutely paralytic with drink and the FA decides that this is a good time to release such a document. What’s more, Liverpool only received it hours before their Premier League game against Newcastle on the 30th. That’s a whole other level of incompetence right there. The club’s response to it, eventually issued on 3 January, was again strongly-worded. There was no apology or expression of shame or regret. Instead, it reiterated that it is our strongly held conviction that the Football Association and the panel it selected constructed a highly subjective case against Luis Suárez based on an accusation that was ultimately unsubstantiated. The FA and the panel chose to consistently and methodically accept and embrace arguments leading to a set of conclusions that found Mr. Suárez to “probably” be guilty while in the same manner deciding to completely dismiss the testimony that countered their overall suppositions.” I’m sorry if this is somehow “stupid” or even “racist” of me, but that hits the nail squarely on the head as far as I’m concerned. The statement went on to suggest that the FA panel has damaged the reputation of one of the Premier League’s best players.” This is an interesting point in and of itself. I do wonder what top foreign players allegedly in demand by English clubs like Wesley Sneijder or Neymar might make of the treatment meted out to Suárez, and whether this newfound template in which a club’s rival can bring about a significant ban for a top player without anything beyond an accusation would have any impact on their decision to pitch up in England. Probably not as much as the money on offer, in truth, but something to think about nonetheless. It was further stated that Liverpool F.C. has been a leader in taking a progressive stance on issues of race and inclusion and that the Luis Suárez case has to end so that the Premier League, the Football Association and the Club can continue the progress that has been made and will continue to be made and not risk a perception, at least by some, that would diminish our commitment on these issues.” It then reiterated the key point that Liverpool Football Club have supported Luis Suarez because we fundamentally do not believe that Luis on that day - or frankly any other - did or would engage in a racist act. Notably, his actions on and off the pitch with his teammates and in the community have demonstrated his belief that all athletes can play together and that the colour of a person’s skin is irrelevant.” It ended by stating that the club would not be appealing the eight-game ban handed out to Suárez because it would only obscure the fact that the Club wholeheartedly supports the efforts of the Football Association, the Football League and the Premier League to put an end to any form of racism in English football.”

Once again, the adverse reaction which followed this statement stemmed from the fact that most people were entrenched in a certain position diametrically opposed to Liverpool’s and had no interest whatsoever in understanding where the club was coming from or meeting them halfway. I will do my best to explain this again – had Suárez been found guilty of racism based on real, concrete, indisputable evidence, then neither the club nor its fans would have supported him. Simple enough? Instead, we have one proven instance of Suárez using the Spanish word “negro” (his own admission) and two language experts agreeing that “it is possible that the term was intended as an attempt at conciliation and/or to establish rapport” (paragraph 190). Everyone just needs to accept that. It is not, as James Lawton erroneously reported in the Independent, a confirmed fact that Suárez made multiple references to Patrice Evra’s race,” nor was it in any way proved by video evidence and confirmed by linguistic expertise.” Did he even read the report? The five alleged instances in the goalmouth are unproven, unsubstantiated, uncertain. They may never have happened, for all the reasons outlined in Part II and Part III of this piece. If James Lawton or anybody else can find incontrovertible evidence to the contrary from that report, I will buy them a Ferrari. It simply isn’t there. In those circumstances, with one of its players apparently being found guilty of an offence he did not commit, what could anyone realistically expect the club to do? Just accept the Commission’s findings? Apologise? Apologise for what, exactly? Seriously, if Luis Suárez’s version of events is true (and the club obviously believe that it is), then how can you possibly expect them to fall on bended knees and beg forgiveness? Liverpool’s statement was followed up by one from the player himself in which he suggested that everything which has been said so far is totally false and that I will carry out the suspension with the resignation of someone who hasn’t done anything wrong and who feels extremely upset by the events.” This was met with utter disbelief and disdain in most quarters, as we will see, but once again I have to ask the question: if everything which has been said so far is totally false,” then what did anyone expect Suárez to say? Apologise for something he didn’t do? Say sorry to someone making false accusations against him? What, so his words could then be twisted into something else, into proof that he did abuse Evra seven times because why else would he be apologising? Is that it?

The sheer poison which followed from the media and other sources prompted the release of another Suárez statement two days later where he said that I admitted to the commission that I said a word in Spanish once, and only once. I never, ever used this word in a derogatory way and if it offends anyone then I want to apologise for that. I told the panel members that I will not use it again on a football pitch in England.” It is easy for us to say in hindsight that these three lines should have probably been included in his first statement. The truth is that people were offended by it (some genuinely, others perhaps less so), therefore a qualified apology of this type was probably in order. Yet anyone who read the report (no doubt only a small fraction of those who have expressed an opinion on it) would have already known that Mr. McCormick told the Commission during the hearing that Suárez “felt shame and embarrassment not only in terms of his family but also the Uruguayan people, whom he felt he had let down” (paragraph 424). The impression given by many, however, was that this was a racist monster completely lacking in either contrition or shame for what had happened. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but context was sorely lacking. If someone wrongly accused you of saying something racist (as Suárez maintains), then I think any apology you give might be a little tempered too in the knowledge that you are innocent. In fact, forget about “negro” for a moment – Suárez denies saying that he kicked Evra “because you are black,” denies saying “I don’t talk to blacks” and denies saying “okay, blackie, blackie, blackie.” Is he lying? Most seem to think so based solely on the Commission’s report, yet the Commission only found that it probably happened. And if it didn’t? If it didn’t and you were in Suárez’s position, would you feel like apologising to Patrice Evra? I mean, I can’t make the position of Liverpool F.C. or Luis Suárez any clearer than that. If you still don’t understand, I’m going to have to move on to drawings or puppet shows.

In the event, none of the above factors were taken into account and the reaction was predictably nasty. It’s funny, I have written pieces for this blog going back months in which I questioned the media coverage of both Luis Suárez and Kenny Dalglish. I really should have seen this coming. I lost count of the amount of times a journalist would ruefully mention Roy Hodgson as a means to criticise Dalglish (James Lawton and Patrick Barclay both wrote such articles at the start of November ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League trip to Stamford Bridge, for example). I also wondered why Suárez was so readily labelled a cheat by so many when the likes of Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani have received far less explicit condemnation during their respective times in England. Take this extract from Paul Wilson back in October. In what was presumably supposed to be a factual report on the allegations against the Uruguayan, Wilson nonetheless managed to work the following statements into his article: Suárez has seldom been out of the headlines since the World Cup in South Africa last year, when he famously handled on the line to prevent a Ghana winning goal in the quarter-final, was sent off, and then was caught laughing about it as his Uruguay side won on penalties to reach the semi-final.” From that description, you get the impression of a maniacal psychopath laughing at the pain of an entire nation rather than someone who was genuinely happy because his country had reached the World Cup semi-final. Back playing for Ajax in Holland the following season, Suárez picked up a seven-match ban after being found guilty of biting the PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal. The Dutch Federation quite reasonably deemed that a violent act, and though Suárez’s career in England has so far been free of acts of cannibalism, his undoubted skills have not been completely unblemished.” Hilarious. No cannibalism since his arrival in England, good to know. However, the red card that Everton’s Jack Rodwell received in last month’s Merseyside derby, widely disputed and subsequently rescinded, came about largely because of Suárez’s theatrical reaction to what was little more than a tap on the foot by Rodwell’s trailing knee.” A tap on the foot? Look at this picture. Look at Suárez’s right ankle. Does that look like it would hurt to you? Absolutely. His fucking ankle is turned inwards. So enough of this bullshit about his theatrical reaction – the man was hurt. Here we were, just a day after the initial incident, and the Uruguayan was already being painted as a dodgy, untrustworthy cheat. Neither Suárez nor his manager were ever going to get a fair shake out of the media, no matter what they did or said after the FA’s verdict. There had been a build-up of bad will against them for months, for whatever reason, and it wasn’t going to let up now.

Again, to consider all of the media reaction here would be difficult. Not only would Suárez’s ban be over before I was finished typing, the man would probably be retired and living back home in Uruguay. I will, however, consider just a couple of examples, starting with the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel. The Daily Mail is an interesting newspaper, although not in a particularly good way. I’m not even talking about its alleged historical links to fascism or anything like that (as Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown put it to a Daily Mail reporter, what’s it feel like to write for a newspaper that used to support Adolf Hitler?), more its general content. Take an article written in late October by Steve Doughty in the immediate aftermath of the Luis Suárez/Patrice Evra and John Terry/Anton Ferdinand incidents. The last paragraph of the piece reads like this: “So, Mr. Evra and Mr. Ferdinand, I know you feel insulted. But perhaps in this case you could just put up with it and get on with the game.” I hope your chin just hit the floor like mine did when I read it. I might not agree with how Luis Suárez has been treated, but if he did say what he is alleged to have said then Patrice Evra shouldn’t have to “just put up with it.” No man should. This is an amazing comment which may have been the opinion of one individual but was nonetheless published by the Daily Mail. However, just over a couple of months later in a piece titled King Kenny is out of step and out of touch over Suarez saga,” Ian Ladyman was saying that Kenny Dalglish has lost his way, hopelessly and that he has failed his sport with how he has handled the Suárez affair. Both articles are from the same publication! So what, if Kenny had invited Evra to “just put up with it and get on with the game,” that would have been ok? I’m not suggesting for one moment that Steve Doughty and Ian Ladyman should have the same outlook on the world, but it’s fascinating to see how one newspaper can flip-flop with its attitude on such a fundamental issue as racism. Like I said, the Daily Mail is an interesting newspaper. That it can get away with such nonsense, I think, says a lot about English journalism in 2012. And these are the people we’re supposed to depend on for the truth?

Martin Samuel, however, takes the proverbial biscuit. I’ve had plenty to say about Mr. Samuel in this blog before, in particular here and here. I have long wondered what his appeal could possibly be. Adrian Russell in the Irish Examiner once defined it like this: He can paint a scene, leave you laughing, build a convincing argument, break stories. Grit and the oyster, the complete package.” Ok, fine, Martin Samuel can write, he’d be a strange journalist if he couldn’t. He can also build an argument. It’s the substance of those arguments, however, that I regularly take issue with, particularly given how vitriolic and downright nasty they so often are. Click on this link, for example, and scroll to the bottom of the page. In response to a few harmless comments by Irish rugby player Andrew Trimble after his team’s 24-8 victory over England in Dublin last March, Samuel went for the jugular of the entire Irish people. He spoke of the European Union’s bailout for the Irish economy and how much it would end up costing the British taxpayer (erm, it’s an interest-accruing loan, Martin, no offence but I wish the British taxpayer was paying it for us), the Potato Famine and even the little kiddies abused by Ireland’s paedophile priests.” That’s right, like all the sub-human scum out there who regularly use the deaths of 39 innocent people at Heysel and 96 innocent people at Hillsborough for nothing more than to score points against Liverpool supporters (and that includes the Manchester United players who sang “without killing anyone we won it 3 times” on the pitch in Moscow after their 2008 Champions League triumph), calling us “murderers” and the likes, and the pathetic individuals (be it Liverpool, Manchester City, Leeds United or whoever) who sing songs about the Munich Air Disaster, Martin Samuel chose to plumb the depths and use the rape of God knows how many innocent children in order to prove a point. About rugby. About a fucking sport. Honestly, after that I couldn’t care less if Martin Samuel can “paint a scene” or “build a convincing argument.” Who cares about superficial things like that when the substance is so rotten to the core?

His take on the Suárez affair was predictably repugnant. The day after Liverpool’s second statement (and the Uruguayan’s first), Samuel wrote an article dripping with such poisonous vitriol that I felt light-headed just reading it (on the web, naturally – I would never pay a penny for any newspaper these days, let alone one that employs Martin Samuel). Not for him the high road, no, in fact his contentment with the gutter was confirmed inside the opening paragraph: There are larger issues at stake, apparently. Important points to be made. So Liverpool deigned to do the world a favour and will not appeal Luis Suárez’s eight-match ban. How decent of them. Maybe they’ll make a T-shirt telling us all about it; or a hat. Not a white, pointy one, obviously.” Boom! Klu Klux Klan joke right off the bat (incidentally, I was under the impression that the KKK are anti-immigrant too which suggests that they wouldn’t be a fan of Luis Suárez either). Bear in mind that Martin Samuel has won a host of awards for his writing. Ask yourself what that says about English football journalism and where values such as integrity, fairness and responsibility fit into the mix. Oh yes, Samuel can certainly “paint a scene,” that’s for sure – in this case Kenny Dalglish in a white hood burning a cross in the middle of the Anfield pitch. Sickening stuff from someone in Samuel’s position. He followed this up by calling the club’s statement the most misjudged public utterance since Tony Hayward, of British Petroleum, as good as told the oil-clogged inhabitants of America’s south to give him a break.” Non-offensive words can barely describe the contempt in which such lunacy should be held. So now Liverpool F.C. defending a mere football player it believes to have been found guilty of an offence which he did not commit equates to an incident which caused an estimated $42bn worth of damage, cost people their livelihoods and caused untold environmental damage? Really? The two incidents, and you can include the Stephen Lawrence murder trial in this, should not even be mentioned in the same sentence.

He goes on to suggest that an eight-match ban may have been avoided with greater contrition from the start.” Wrong. The entry point for the twin breach of rules E3(1) and E3(2) was four games. If Suárez said what he was alleged to have said, it simply had to be doubled to eight and was always going to be. Saying “sorry” for telling someone you kicked him because he’s black makes no odds whatsoever. The production of a 115-page report which metaphorically took Liverpool’s case out at the knee was the only possible response to the aggressive campaign mounted by the club following Suarez’s eight-game ban.” Wrong again. The report actually strengthened the club’s resolve in that it produced nothing of substance to show that Suárez referred to Evra’s skin colour seven times (the club’s decision not to appeal was borne of the issues listed in the final paragraph of Part V, not any lack of grievance), hence the continued vociferous report of its player and the continued blinkered protestations of some supporters.” Blinkered? Nah, just literate, Martin, just literate. And who cares whether it’s 115 pages or not? Does that necessarily mean that it’s worth the paper it’s printed on? I remember back in school one or two teachers used to get creative with punishments. Instead of getting you to write “I must not talk in class” two hundred times, they’d tell you to write ten foolscap pages on something ridiculous, like what’s inside a ping-pong ball. Me, I was quiet so I never copped that one, but I always wanted to because then, as now, I had a creative mind. I would have written ten pages and more, no problem. I would have made that teacher regret ever giving me that punishment because he would have had to read through fifteen, twenty, thirty pages of the weirdest, craziest stuff he had ever read (all in good taste, of course). And you know what? It would have all been complete bullshit. Yet because it would have been twenty pages of bullshit, would that have made it better or more valuable somehow? Does bullshit lose its potency the more you read or listen to it? Is 115 pages of it, therefore, more impressive or worthwhile than five pages or ten? Or is it like the old saying that the bigger the lie you tell the more people will believe it? Is it a case of more bullshit being better? Does it even intrinsically cease to be bullshit in the conventional sense once you get to a certain point? If so, what’s the cut-off? Twenty pages? Forty? Or perhaps 115? Everybody keeps talking about the fact that the Commission’s report is 115 pages long like that somehow makes it equivalent to the Bible. Nope, that just means that it’s a big crock of shit rather than just a little one.

Martin Samuel is apparently the best that English football journalism has to offer, a multi-time award-winner and current Sports Journalist of the Year according to the banner across the top of his column, yet he will apparently stoop to any level to grab his readers by the balls and drag them in. In just two articles about sport (and the first one hardly even qualifies as an “article,” it’s about ten sentences long), he manages to mention a famine, the systematic rape of children, the Klu Klux Klan and an environmental and economic catastrophe, all to prove a point. This is a sportswriter. It’s all about grabbing our attention, luring us in. Well how is that any different to the sensationalist garbage that the News of the World used to churn out every Sunday (Samuel used to write for them as well, incidentally) and which is amongst the matters currently under investigation by the Leveson Enquiry? To me, part of being “ethical” is recognising your responsibilities. For a journalist this should mean, amongst other things, seeking to uncover the truth without prejudice, meticulously researching any potential story, ensuring that you have your facts straight before you proceed, educating your audience and delivering the news in a calm, rational manner. I think we can all agree that it should be about more than simply selling papers. It certainly does not include leading witch hunts, rabble-rousing or engaging in populist posturing dressed up as the truth. It is one of the saddest ironies of this whole mess that the very failings being attributed to Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool are the exact ones being exhibited by the media who, instead of pouring cold water on what has become an increasingly volatile situation and reporting the facts neutrally, have inflamed and sensationalised with opinion and innuendo. Newspapers, television and radio reach more people than Kenny Dalglish does. They talk about his responsibilities and those of Liverpool – what about theirs?

One of the single most ridiculous incidents which has taken place in the aftermath of the Suárez judgement, in my view, involves BBC pundit Alan Hansen, who must have genuinely wondered what on earth he had done wrong after he was forced to apologise for saying that “there’s a lot of coloured players in all the major teams and there are lots of coloured players who are probably the best in the Premier League.” This statement, unbelievably, was immediately labelled as a “race gaffe.” Former Tottenham player Rohan Ricketts tweeted Is this Alan Hansen guy taking the fucking piss?? I’m not coloured??? He is part of the problem when using that word. We are BLACK Alan! Wtf.” Musician Example stated that I didn’t see MOTD but did Alan Hansen really say ‘coloured players’?? Wow. Hand him his P45.” And society blogger (whatever that is) Toby Young wrote that his ignorance is breathtaking. Is he really unaware that the word “coloured” has been verboten since the mid-70s? Well I’ll have to hold my hands up on that one too and say sorry, because I genuinely had no idea. If referring to a black person I will always use the word “black,” but I honestly had no idea that the term “coloured” was offensive in the slightest. Why? Well maybe because one of the most prominent civil rights organisations in the English-speaking world is called the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. What’s more, their website has an interactive timeline of the organisation’s history in which it is stated that the mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] is to ensure the political, social, and economic equality of rights for all, and to eliminate radical hatred and racial discrimination. The NAACP strives for a society where all individuals are treated fairly and equally.” So please forgive both myself and Alan Hansen if we were unaware that the term “coloured” is offensive to black people in 2012. Incidentally, black actor Lawrence Fishburne actually introduces that interactive timeline on the NAACP website – someone should probably tell him that the NAACP is a racially insensitive organisation then? Sarcasm aside, the Hansen incident raises all sorts of questions. Nobody needs to tell me that terms like “n*gger” and “coon” are racist. I know that, I would never use them. The term “coloured” is less obvious. If you tell me that it’s offensive, fine, I’ll never use it, but isn’t it a bit unfair to expect me to know that when a major civil rights organisation like the NAACP which is dedicated to, amongst other things, fighting racism uses the term in its very name? So now tell me, is the term “coloured” only offensive to British black people? If an American (of any colour) came to London and started to throw the word “coloured” around, would he be forced to apologise? Would the fact that it’s perfectly accepted in his culture, another English-speaking one at that, matter at all? Or would Example nonetheless urge the man’s employer to hand him his P45”? And aren’t there parallels with the Spanish word “negro” there?

The Peacemakers?

Nobody, regardless of race, colour, nationality or creed, has appeared willing to take a diplomatic stance on this issue and it has veered out of control as a result. I’ll include Liverpool Football Club in that for the sake of fairness, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the club at least has what it considers a genuine grievance here. Rather than batter them from pillar to post (a method which was guaranteed only to result in deeper entrenchment and resentment), a responsible, conciliatory approach should have been taken by all concerned. Why did Liverpool F.C. feel this way? Surely a club with such a strong record of fighting against racism and discrimination in their community would not have risked tarnishing it just to protect one player? If you know anything about this club, you’ll realise that it’s bigger than any one personality. Dig a little. Ask questions. Go to Anfield, if needs be. Express your concerns that unyielding support for a player who has been found guilty of racist abuse is bad for the anti-racism movement in general, but do so in a calm and rational manner. Listen to the feedback. Discuss the issue, exchange views, search for a solution acceptable to both parties. This is how the peacemaker works. Instead, the reaction has more closely resembled a bunch of small-town hicks chasing city folk out of town with pitchforks at the ready, undoubtedly more Cletus from The Simpsons than Kofi Annan, mob justice dressed up as a social conscience. I’m sorry if I’m spreading the metaphors a bit thick here (at least they don’t involve the KKK), but the popular approach to Liverpool over the past few weeks has been like something from the 1950’s with the club playing the role of a stubborn child who won’t apologise for breaking the neighbour’s window. So you shout, but the kid still maintains his innocence. What do you do? You shout louder. Then maybe you give the child a few lashes with the belt. If that doesn’t work, you hit the kid harder. And so on. Next thing you know you’re packing him off to an industrial school or maybe sending him for some of that new-fangled electric shock treatment, all because you won’t believe him that he didn’t do it, that the neighbour didn’t even see who it was and just blamed him because he saw him first. Nah, why would the neighbour say something like that if he wasn’t sure? Why would he blame your kid based on the notion that he probably did it? Who would do that? Who indeed…

If Liverpool got shouted at over their statement of 20 December and spanked for their follow-up on 3 January, then the electrodes were attached and the switch thrown three days later when Oldham Athletic’s Tom Adeyemi was allegedly racially abused during Liverpool’s 5-1 FA Cup win at Anfield on 6 January. I say “allegedly” because, unlike some, I wouldn’t presume to know the full facts. A man was arrested by police for a racially aggravated public order offence after a brief investigation, subsequently bailed and will have his day in court, that’s all we know for sure. Words cannot describe how irresponsible it was of PFA chief Gordon Taylor to publically state that we can confirm that he was the victim of racist abuse towards the end of the Liverpool v Oldham FA Cup tie last Friday evening,” potentially prejudicing a criminal investigation in the process (funnily enough, Taylor hasn’t yet publically acknowledged Anton Ferdinand’s claims against John Terry to my knowledge). Nah, forget that, Liverpool F.C. are the only ones who have any responsibilities now, remember? Well let’s see what Oldham Athletic think of the club’s response to the incident, shall we? In a statement released on 10 January, the Latics stated that we would like to thank Liverpool F.C. and Merseyside Police for their concerns and efforts in investigating the incident involving Tom Adeyemi. Excellent communication has been maintained and the club and player have been notified of every detail during the progress of the investigation. The professional standards applied throughout have been praiseworthy.” The statement went on to point out that the club would also like to thank the numerous fans from Liverpool and Oldham, and also those from around the country, who have sent letters of support to Tom. This type of incident is contained within a minority and should not deflect from a superb match that was enjoyed by both sets of club officials and fans.” Remember that last point for later.

So with the club involved praising Liverpool for their response to this unfortunate and deeply regrettable incident, you might have thought that the media would follow suit, right? You should know better than that by now. Unfortunately Oldham’s statement didn’t arrive until four days after the fact. I have no issue with that. All involved (both clubs, the police) had to keep their lips sealed while the initial investigation took place, that’s a given in any criminal matter. It was just a pity it didn’t come sooner because if Liverpool F.C. was under siege, that statement represented something of a brief respite (if not quite a full-on cavalry riding in to save the day). By the time it arrived, the phony-moralists and cheapshot-artists had done such a number on the club that I barely recognised it anymore. The portrayal was so grotesque, so contrary to what I have come to know over a period of almost 25 years that I had to check if I was still reading about Liverpool or some other club. Events over the following days, between the incident itself on the Friday and Oldham’s statement on the Tuesday, were actually worse than anything which had happened during Suárez’s twin trials (the actual hearing itself and the public one which followed). Now it was the club itself that was under attack and everyone was lining up to have a go. It began almost immediately with the Daily Mirror’s David Maddock reporting (just 24 minutes after the final whistle) that fans were accused of racially abusing Oldham player Tom Adeyemi.” More than one then, yeah? Funny how only one was arrested in the end, isn’t it? It was also stated that it came from two fans wearing Luis Suárez t-shirts.” The subtext was pretty clear: Liverpool fans (plural, not one) supporting a racist hurl racial abuse at a black player. It all fits, right? This narrative would only be amplified over the coming days.

Maddock’s colleague Oliver “Is calling someone a ‘black cunt’ racist?” Holt quickly warmed to the theme. In reference to the Tom Adeyemi later that night, Holt suggested that when you defend racist language, when you enter into angry denial and summon the full forces of tribalism, this is what you get.” In other words, the club had whipped its supporters into such a tribal frenzy that the normal rules of civilised society no longer applied around the Fields of Anfield Road. To quote from Part I of this piece, the club’s defence of language which linguistic experts have agreed may not even have been racist has presumably either unleashed the dormant racism within all Liverpool supporters or invited otherwise decent people to suddenly become racist.” Suddenly the very act of wearing a Luis Suárez t-shirt or singing his song (incidentally, just in case there is any lingering confusion, Liverpool supporters did not begin singing the Suárez song as some kind of taunt to Adeyemi, it was already in full flow before the incident in question as it had been for much of the evening) had become akin to donning the same white pointy hat referenced by Martin Samuel. Suddenly Liverpool F.C. had become a cult rather than a football club. The aggression with which Liverpool defended Luis Suárez over the last few weeks spread a paranoia and an anger among their fans that always threatened to lead to something like this,” he continued. “Maybe now the Liverpool board will realise that their stance on Suárez has empowered people like whoever screamed vile insults at Adeyemi. Maybe now they will realise it has empowered other so-called Liverpool fans to send messages to a blameless FA executive, saying they hoped his wife is raped. Maybe now they will realise it has empowered people to shower black footballers and ex-footballers such as Stan Collymore with the most disgusting racist abuse on Twitter.” 

So now Liverpool F.C. is responsible for the behaviour of every single one of its supporters? Quick, get on the phone to Old Trafford! Manchester United supporter Andy Mitten, a writer for Eurosport, recently penned an article on racism in football in which he recalled his team’s humiliating 1-6 defeat to local rivals City in October (less than three months ago). Thankfully you don’t hear it these days and you see lots more black faces at English football grounds,” he wrote, “but it hasn’t been completely eradicated on or off the pitch. As if watching the 1-6 wasn’t bad enough for this Manchester United fan, hearing “Balotelli you black b******” four or five times from someone sitting a few rows behind made it even worse.” By Holt’s rationale, United should have been publically berated for allowing one of its fans to utter the exact same racial slur against Balotelli as Adeyemi is alleged to have suffered at Anfield, especially since it wasn’t merely shouted once but four or five timesaccording to Mitten. Oh no, you see Manchester United hadn’t whipped their supporters into the kind of tribal frenzy that made such an incident inevitable. That was just one ignorant supporter on that occasion. So the racist abuse allegedly thrown at Tom Adeyemi was only uttered because of the club’s stance on Suárez, right? I mean, it must have been, the alleged perpetrator was even wearing a Suárez t-shirt. Coincidence? Oliver Holt certainly didn’t reckon so. Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe this would have been, I don’t know, the same kind of thick, ignorant idiot that abused Balotelli at Old Trafford? No? I mean, does a racist ever need an excuse or permission? Would any ordinary, decent person ever have it in them to racially abuse someone like that, even in anger, even if the Lord himself appeared and gave them written consent? My own mother could ask me to racially abuse someone and I couldn’t (not that she ever would, of course). Jessica Alba could sketch out a Penthouse-letter-type scenario of everything she would do to me if I threw a few racist insults around and I still wouldn’t be able to bring myself to do it. Why? Well because I have a set of values that acts like a chain around my neck. It lets me go close to the line at times on certain issues (never race, of course) but never across it. That’s the way it is for any decent person, which makes this individual (if he did it) something less than decent.

Besides which, with Liverpool still stuck in the middle of the Suárez quagmire, what true fan of the club would compound matters by doing something like that? A stupid one? A racist one? The key word here is “one.” It was one man, whatever he said (let the courts decide), just like it was one man at Old Trafford in October. The Adeyemi incident does not speak to the values of either the club or its support any more than the Balotelli incident speaks to Manchester United’s. The two incidents are identical in all but the fact that because Balotelli didn’t hear it, the incident passed off without any coverage (incidentally, what were the stewards doing?), but it is proof positive that racist abuse is still uttered at football games in England. As John Barnes has correctly stated, it never completely went away. As recently as three months ago, a Manchester United supporter called Mario Balotelli a black bastard “four or five times.” The Adeyemi incident, while an isolated one, is therefore not unique. It didn’t need a situation like the Suárez one to act as some kind of catalyst. Seeking to place all the blame on Liverpool was crass, even for Holt. If someone sent those vile comments to an FA executive or racially abused Stan Collymore via Twitter, then that is clearly deplorable and unacceptable. So by the same token, will I then go and tar all United supporters with the same brush for the Hillsborough chants? Will I develop a deep-seated hatred for all-things Manchester every time I see one of their fans on Youtube or Facebook making sick comments about 96 innocent men, women and children having their limbs broken and the life crushed out of them? Is that not what Oliver Holt is basically telling me, that we can define a club’s support (and indeed the club itself) by the actions of a few or even one? How utterly irresponsible. He could have taken the high road, tried to defuse the situation, kept his counsel until the police investigation was completed, but I suppose that wouldn’t generate hits or sell newspapers. In the process, all he did was fuel the anger and the outrage on both sides and kept the thing going longer. You know what the biggest joke of all is? He says of Liverpool (presumably with a straight face) that most people have only respect for such a great club.” Some have a funny way of showing it.

The media weren’t the only ones acting in an irresponsible manner over the past few weeks. I have been hugely disappointed, for example, with both Lord Herman Ouseley (chairperson of Kick It Out) and Piara Powar (executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe). Don’t get me wrong, these two individuals have no doubt done great work for the anti-racism cause, that’s not under discussion here. Furthermore, I have no problem whatsoever with a zero-tolerance attitude towards authentic racism – that is as it should be. There is, however, a fine line between zero-tolerance and intolerance. Oliver Holt suggested that “when you defend racist language, when you enter into angry denial and summon the full forces of tribalism, this is what you get.” Well I would argue similarly that when you summon the fury of unyielding righteous indignation, when you whip people into a fanatical frenzy, when those in positions of power who should know better like Herman Ouseley and Piara Powar add their voices to that volatile mix rather than attempting conciliation and, in the process, create a stifling vacuum of moralising and intolerance from which all understanding and empathy is sucked, then what you invariably get is innocent bystanders like Alan Hansen (who genuinely didn’t have a clue that he was saying anything wrong) and the predominantly decent supporters of Liverpool F.C. (who have now been branded racist) caught in the crossfire. Who’s next, I wonder? Oliver Holt for wondering whether the term “black cunt” is racist? Should he get his P45 handed to him, I wonder? Or is he protected because he’s on the inside looking out, part of the establishment, part of the mob, throwing stones to hide his hands (as Michael Jackson once sang)? I spoke earlier about peacemakers – either Ouseley or Powar (or both) could have taken on that role in the past month if they had seen fit and cooled this whole situation down. As previously mentioned, they could have asked themselves why a club with such a strong record of fighting against racism and discrimination in their community were so adamantly defending this one player. Was it simply down to denial, to commercial concerns? Out of stubborn pride? Or was it something deeper? They could have easily found out, all they had to do was ask. They could have even gone to Anfield and met with the club’s hierarchy. I’m not saying that they necessarily had to agree with Liverpool’s stance, they may very well have left feeling that the club was dead wrong anyway, but the very fact that dialogue was open at all would have surely dampened the media’s fire a little bit on this issue and that would have been good for everyone. For one thing, Liverpool might have felt a little less cornered and frustrated, and might therefore have been less entrenched in their position. Instead, Ouseley and Powar merely joined in the chorus, no shades of grey, just stark black and white.

Let’s consider Ouseley first. On 21 December, presumably without one iota of information about the investigation carried out by the Commission since the publication of its report was still a week and a half away, Lord Ouseley welcomed the verdict and stated that Kick It Out will continue to work with clubs and players, at professional and grass roots level, offering education on what is deemed offensive and unacceptable behaviour.” Which is reassuring to know because it will hopefully reduce the potential of another Suárez situation happening again in the future (although if the allegations against John Terry are found to be true, you have to wonder how much education someone needs to know that the term “black cunt” is inherently offensive, notwithstanding Oliver Holt of course). So far, so good from Lord Ouseley, nothing particularly inflammatory in anything there. By 5 January, however, in the wake of Liverpool’s statement of 3 January and Suárez’s of 3 and 5 January, his attitude had hardened considerably. Liverpool F.C. need to take a hard look at themselves and how they have responded to the complaint and the investigations into the allegations of abuse in the Patrice Evra/Luis Suárez case,” he began, going on to say that Suárez’s attempt at a belated apology is nothing short of lamentable and that I cannot believe that a club of Liverpool’s stature, and with how it has previously led on matters of social injustice and inequality, can allow its integrity and credibility to be debased by such crass and ill-considered responses.” He then, however, explicitly acknowledged the underlying reason behind it all: Liverpool may have thought they had to defend their player as he is innocent.” Well exactly. So why the confusion and disbelief? If it was Lord Ouseley being accused of something in the wrong, he might well expect his employers to fight his corner as well.

He went on to wonder how Liverpool can be sure of the player’s innocence, reasoning that if the club does not carry out a thorough investigation, how can it understand that Suárez said things which are not acceptable, but that he didn’t comprehend this due to his background? He maintained that if this is the case, Liverpool have failed him. Because they have not told Suárez what the club’s expectations are.” What, so the club’s hierarchy are supposed to automatically know that there’s a Rioplatense Spanish word called “negro” that their newly-arrived Uruguayan is likely to be using? I wouldn’t have thought so. We can assume that any player, regardless of background, will understand that racist abuse will not be tolerated on a football pitch but the issue is not quite that simple because the club does not believe that Suárez purposely used racist language, that’s the key point. He then reiterated that in any other sector, if someone makes a claim of racially motivated or abusive behaviour, an employer has to investigate if they are competent because this may be damaging to the business. Clubs in these cases don’t seem to be.” I’m sorry, but what does Lord Ouseley think that Liverpool did here exactly? Meet Suárez over a few pints in the pub and say “Luis, did you racially abuse him or what lad?” “No.” “Oh, ok then, I’ll get the drinks in”? It can be assumed with some conviction that Liverpool launched an internal investigation immediately and that the club’s defence of the player throughout this process was based first and foremost on that. I mean, what were they meant to do, call Evra back to Anfield for an official interview? “Why are people not showing leadership and apologising, saying that we won’t do it again, and ask that they can move on? Well, firstly, it is stated explicitly in the report that “Mr. Suárez said in evidence that he will not use the word “negro” on a football pitch in England in the future, and we believe that is his genuine and firm intention” (paragraph 454), so he did in fact say that he won’t do it again. Secondly, on the subject of apologising, I would imagine that it depends entirely on what they are apologising for. Apologise for one single use of a Spanish word that the player didn’t realise would be taken in a negative manner? Sure, but apologise for racially abusing someone seven times when the player maintains it didn’t happen? I don’t think so.

He stated that you can’t on the one hand wear a Kick It Out T-shirt in a week of campaigning against racism when this is also happening on the pitch: it’s the height of hypocrisy.” We’ll come back to questions of hypocrisy later, suffice it to say for now that the club’s commitment to the fight against racism should be judged by their actions over the long term (and Lord Ouseley admits that Liverpool have “previously led on matters of social injustice and inequality) and not solely on their support of a player whom they believe to be innocent of the charges against him. Liverpool players wore a T-shirt saying: “We support Luis Suárez,” seemingly whatever the outcome. This was a dreadful knee-jerk reaction because it stirs things up.” Truthfully, while I wouldn’t call it “dreadful” exactly, the t-shirts were perhaps a little on the confrontational side, I’ll accept that. However, the players weren’t supporting him whatever the outcome,” the verdict had been announced by the time they made their statement of support and took to the pitch at Wigan in their t-shirts. By then, the club (which had been privy to the investigation all along) or maybe Suárez himself would have presumably told them that no concrete evidence had been produced against their teammate whatsoever. Under those circumstances, a strong message of support for their friend and colleague could (and should) have been expected. Lord Ouseley also mentioned Stephen Lawrence twice in the article. Look, I understand the link – both cases revolved around racism. However, I have to take exception once again to the two being associated so closely. Stephen Lawrence was an 18 year-old who was set upon, stabbed and murdered in the street in cold blood because of the colour of his skin. That doesn’t qualify as the kind of casual racism of which Suárez is accused during a game of football, it is infinitely more serious. Besides, the point is that the process by which the Uruguayan was found guilty was deeply flawed and there may not have even been any intent to racially abuse Evra. So I wish people would stop linking the two.

He went on to say that since the incident we’ve not heard a word of complaint from Evra about how his character has been besmirched by Liverpool.” He should sue then, simple as that. Surely the new owners, with their experiences of equality and inclusion in the US, can see how their brand is being devalued, and if they sanction this sort of lack of professionalism and moral leadership, we may as well pack up and go home and forget about anti-racism.” Moral leadership, the last I checked, does not involve allowing a man you believe to be innocent to be savaged without at least stating a position to that effect. As for professionalism in the fight against racism, Lord Ouseley should contact Oldham Athletic, who have first-hand knowledge of the club’s competency in this area, and ask them. They would no doubt reiterate their statement that “the professional standards applied throughout have been praiseworthy.” That’s the thing, though. Lord Ouseley doesn’t appear to have contacted anyone or asked any questions throughout this entire process. Go back over his article: “I cannot believe,” “how can it understand,” “if this is the case,” “don’t seem to be,” “why are people not,” “surely the new owners,” and so on. Lots of questions, lots of speculation, but a man in his position only needed to pick up the phone. He could have spoken to anyone at the club he wanted, from John W. Henry to Steven Gerrard, Tom Werner to Kenny Dalglish, even Lebron James could have probably been convinced to talk to a man of his stature. He could have asked for context, for reasons, for explanations, whatever he wanted to know he would have been told. He could have spoken to Oldham or Tom Adeyemi himself, asked how they had found the club’s reaction. If he had done all of that, then I am confident that there would have been no reason to ask rhetorical questions in print. He would have had answers, and you know what? He would have understood too because the answers he got would have reminded him of his originally-stated position back in October.

Allow me to quote directly from a press release on his organisation’s website: Lord Herman Ouseley, Chair of Kick It Out, said any footballer guilty of racism should face “severe action” both from The FA and the player’s club, but “you would have to be able to prove it beyond reasonable doubt.” He added: “There were incidents in the second half and Evra seemed to get very agitated so something was obviously bugging him because he was quite incensed. But if this happened he should have brought it to the attention of the referee at the time.”” Here’s the thing: Lord Ouseley’s statement here absolutely nails the underlying reasons for Liverpool’s position. Consider this situation a nail and Lord Ouseley a hammer – back in October, he smashed it squarely on the head. Yes, I agree, “you would have to be able to prove it beyond reasonable doubt.” Why? Well because such an accusation could ruin a man’s reputation, that’s why. It’s extremely serious. Speaking as a white man, one of the worst things I could ever be wrongly accused of is racism. That would hurt big-time. A greater burden of proof than “balance of probabilities” should be in order in such circumstances. That is exactly where the root cause of Liverpool’s position lies, that the Commission could make the decision that Evra’s account is probably what happened without any substantive proof whatsoever. So if Lord Ouseley understood that in October, why the change now? Why hasn’t he come out and reiterated his position, particularly after the report was released for public consumption? It is explicitly stated in paragraphs 77 and 78 that the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” did not apply in this case. So surely Lord Ouseley would have read the report and immediately raised his eyebrows at that point? Surely he would have instantly understood why the club was so fundamentally unhappy with everything – with the process, the verdict, the penalty? Regrettably, it appears that he did not. In the space of two and a half months, his position had undergone a dramatic shift. I can only speculate as to why that would be. Perhaps it was just easier to go with the flow, to join the mob rather than be a lone voice of reason? Or maybe it simply sufficed that someone was being made an example of in the fight against racism? One thing is for sure, that height of hypocrisy comment suddenly seems more than a little hypocritical itself.

Then you had Piara Powar, another of football’s leading anti-racism figures who has not missed his opportunity to stick the knife into Liverpool Football Club. Regarding the club’s statement of 3 January, Powar stated that it showed a lack of respect for the governing body by Liverpool and the FA should charge Liverpool FC and Kenny Dalglish. I think the FA should come back now and be very clear that Liverpool could be construed to have brought the game into disrepute by the way in which they have consistently undermined the judgment and by Kenny Dalglish’s comments.” I don’t mean to be funny or disrespectful here, but what business does Piara Powar have telling English football’s governing body what punishments it should be handing out? And could be construed to have brought the game into disrepute”? Well, have they or haven’t they? Liverpool have been too keen to support their man and in doing so have whipped up a sense of paranoia amongst their fans.” Once again, no exploration of why they have been so keen to support the player. And as for the paranoia thing? As Kurt Cobain once sang, “just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you.” Sorry, but I’m an intelligent, perceptive person not given to conspiracy theories or any other such nonsense and even I have felt like a concerted campaign has been launched against the club and its supporters over the past few weeks. It’s certainly not Liverpool’s doing that I feel that way, all I have to do is open a newspaper or turn on the television. That’s what happens when you don’t pull your punches and simply disregard the other side of the story. Too many intelligent people have put forward too many compelling arguments over the past month for all of this to be put down to simple paranoia. It fits a certain narrative, though, so people like Powar have been every bit as selective with their portrayal of Liverpool supporters as the Commission were with the evidence during their investigation. Much better to paint us as ignorant, thick, paranoid bigots than actually address the arguments advanced by intelligent people like Paul Tomkins, Jim Boardman, Rob Gutmann, Stuart Gilhooley and others.

This is not the Liverpool FC that we have applauded in the past for their support for a whole range of issues.” Like Lord Ouseley, Powar appears willing to admit that Liverpool have a strong history in areas such as social inclusion and the fight against discrimination. And just like Lord Ouseley, he gives the distinct impression that it now counts for nothing. How can that be so? I find this position irresponsible in the extreme. Anybody dedicated to the eradication of racism from football should not be hamstringing themselves by ostracising one of the biggest and most important clubs in European football (and a longtime ally of their movement) which they have supposedly applauded in the past for their support for a whole range of issues.” What sense is there in doing that? Again, wouldn’t it have been more responsible of Powar to reach out, talk to Liverpool, at least try to understand their position rather than stirring up bad feeling in the press? The responses from Kenny Dalglish have been undignified; the way in which they have dealt with the whole matter has been unprofessional.” As per the reasons outlined above, this is a bad case of the pot calling the kettle black, I think. For the club to so aggressively militate against what looks to most people a considered judgment from the FA leads to a potential for anarchy.” Again, no effort is made to see it from the club’s point of view, it merely suffices to state that it looks to most people a considered judgment.” Looks, as we know, can be deceiving.

Powar was far from finished. He followed up a couple of days later by crassly using the Tom Adeyemi incident to criticise the club further. The obvious thing for LFC today must be to come out as a club - owner, manager, captain - and start to undo some of the damage,” he began on Twitter, with no mention whatsoever of the on-going police investigation that the club had to be careful not to undermine. Including addressing their fans. Go onto the LFC website and there is not a single expression of regret about what happened last night.” Again, an investigation was underway involving the police. A man had been arrested but not charged. Nothing was certain. What were they meant to do? When the club did release a statement (less than two days after the incident), it did everything Powar asked and more, including an unequivocal apology (all of us are deeply sorry for what happened on Friday night and our players and our Club pass on our sincere regrets to Tom Adeyemi for the upset and distress he suffered as a result of the matter at hand). Strangely he was quiet after that.  Are LFC fans going to do this at every game, support the mistakes made by their own man by abusing others? 25% of PL players are black.” Now you’re getting into dangerous territory. People don’t like insinuations being made that they’re racist. I certainly don’t. I also don’t appreciate the club I have supported and loved for almost 25 years being subject to such a sustained, nasty attack. Powar has argued that the fans have been whipped up into a tribal fervourby the stance of Dalglish and Liverpool, and that the club have whipped up a sense of paranoia amongst their fans, but I would counter that it is the unfair, irresponsible harassment of the club by people like Powar which has led to any sense of paranoia that may exist amongst the supporters. Top clubs have unprecedented influence and power over millions of people.” In this scenario, with race being the defining theme of both the Suárez and Adeyemi situations, I would suggest that organisations like FARE have a fair bit of power too. The media will immediately seek them out for their reaction and men like Lord Ouseley and Piara Powar have the ability to influence quite a bit. As I said before, they could have been the peacemakers in this process, they could have reached out. Instead they elected to stand with the mob and throw rocks. That’s a shame.

Did I mention that Piara Powar is also the director of Chelsea F.C. foundation? This is an interesting little titbit of information when viewed in the context of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw away to Genk in the Champions League at the start of November when the away support spent most of the evening singing “Anton Ferdinand, you know what you are,” presumably in support of captain John Terry who had been accused of racially abusing the QPR player a week and a half previously. The chants were clearly dripping with racism, so much so that Chelsea quickly responded by saying that the chanting was wholly inappropriate and we don’t condone it.” Most worryingly of all was the fact that, whereas one lone individual would be arrested for the Adeyemi incident at Anfield a little over two months later, the vast majority of Chelsea’s 1,000+ travelling army joined in the chanting. Kick It Out’s Lord Herman Ouseley was quick to condemn it, and rightly so, but what of Piara Powar? What did he say? After all, not only was this a high-profile instance of racism from a substantial group of supporters from a big-name club but it also took place in European competition on the continent (Belgium, to be precise). In other words, an organisation called Football Against Racism in Europe might have been expected to take an especially keen interest in the matter. In the event, Powar said nothing, not that I can find online anyway. Even on the organisation’s website, there is not a single scrap of evidence that he uttered even one word on the matter. He has also been quiet regarding the arrest of a Chelsea supporter on allegations of racism after the 0-0 draw in Norwich a couple of weeks ago. How very strange from a man who has been shouting from the rooftops about Liverpool, Suárez and Adeyemi in recent weeks. We can only speculate as to why that might be. Could his position with the club have affected his judgement? Or is he just a hypocrite in general? One thing is for sure, such double-standards negate any claim he may have to the moral high-ground.

The Future

When John Terry has his date in court in a couple of months, Liverpool F.C. and its supporters will be watching intently. In particular, we’ll be watching the likes of Oliver Holt, Matthew Syed, Martin Samuel, James Lawton, Sky, Talksport, Lord Herman Ouseley, Piara Powar and others. We will be watching to see how the media coverage differs for England captain “JT,” the lion-hearted epitome of all that is good in the British game and, indeed, British society in all his glory. Already we have seen how Liverpool Football Club and its entire support have had their reputation tarnished, not because of their support for a man who was never proven guilty of the charges against him but because of how that support was twisted by a ravenous media and others looking to hijack the whole situation for their own ends. Suddenly one man’s alleged abuse of Tom Adeyemi meant that we were all racist scum in the eyes of some. Meanwhile, Chelsea supporters (plural) are involved in two separate instances of racist chanting in the space of three months and the reaction has been practically non-existent in comparison. You don’t have to be fatalistic, paranoid or given to conspiracy theories to foresee how this will all pan out. With a higher burden of proof required in a criminal court, Terry already has a better chance of acquittal than Suárez ever did. Even with close-up video evidence in existence of him apparently mouthing a certain collection of words, a guilty verdict is by no means a given. Should he be acquitted of the charges, we will all be invited to forget about the slow-motion footage all over the internet and just “move on.” The FA, meanwhile, will no doubt refuse to convene a Suárez-type Commission to investigate the incident. Should Terry be found guilty by the courts and given the maximum available punishment for a racially aggravated public order offence (a fine of £2,500, or around 6% of the £40,000 handed to the Uruguayan by the FA), then they will reason that he has already been punished once and that should be enough, in which case the only thing Liverpool did wrong was not calling the police to investigate Evra’s allegations in the first place. And, naturally, should the Chelsea and England captain be acquitted, they will argue that he has been cleared by a court of law and therefore has no case to answer. Never mind that the ridiculously low burden of proof used to find Suárez guilty would exponentially increase the probability of Terry’s guilt, never mind being seen to be even-handed and fair to all players regardless of nationality, ethnicity or club affiliation.

At that point, I will finally be able to answer the question which I asked last month and repeated way back in the first part of this piece: “Is it possible to respect an organisation whose actions reek of selective governance, double-standards and hypocrisy?” And the answer will be no. Failure from the FA to at least investigate Anton Ferdinand’s allegations against Terry, regardless of what the courts say, would surely send out something of a bizarre message to black players everywhere. If you’re racially abused by Johnny Foreigner, we’ll back you to the hilt, but if it’s the England captain then you’re on your own? Or perhaps Suárez should have simply begged Evra to take him to court instead? I would wager that any competent lawyer would make absolute shit of his allegations without too much difficulty in that kind of environment. What Suárez got instead was a report riddled with inconsistencies and highly subjective judgements which proves nothing and yet has irrevocably tainted his reputation forever. It’s a sad state of affairs when a footballer would be better off getting arrested than having his case heard by his own governing body. This is one of two main reasons why Liverpool, both club and supporters, are still feeling the sting of injustice a month after the announcement of the Commission’s verdict. The other is the manner in which we have been portrayed by the media, something which has only served to deepen the sense of anger and frustration felt. It hasn’t gone away either. On 11 January, David Maddock wrote a piece in which he used the tragic death of former Liverpool and Everton player Gary Ablett to stick the knife in once more. “It was shocking enough that he was subjected to that kind of abuse, even if it was from one disgusting idiot. But even more shocking really, that Liverpool fans then chose to chant at him, and boo his every touch afterwards.” So now every Liverpool supporter in the stadium was supposed to know immediately, perhaps instinctively, that a racist insult had been thrown and not that the player was wasting time (I believe this is why he was booed) or causing a scene over something else? Then again, since we’re all racists now and the game was at Anfield, perhaps we should have been able to put two and two together?

Then just last week, Patrick Barclay stoked the fire yet again in an article published on 17 January. He began by calling Liverpool supporters dunderheads, whatever that means. In fact, he stated that the dunderhead fringe of Liverpool’s support don’t half like an apology,” but his subsequent reference to Roy Hodgson tended to suggest that he was addressing more than just a “fringe” considering the vast majority of the club’s supporters never even wanted him in the first place and most certainly wanted him gone by the end. His obvious disdain for both the club and its supporters, however, is not the main thrust of the fiercely sarcastic article which, running at just over 300 words and a mere 6 paragraphs, felt like an hors d’oeuvre for a main course that never arrived (not that I particularly cared, the starter had already ruined my appetite). Barclay’s primary motivation was to introduce yet another strand into the long, tortured narrative which stretches all the way back to the middle of December. First you had the question of Suárez’s guilt, then you had Liverpool’s support of the player, then you had the Tom Adeyemi incident, now the spectre of Patrice Evra becoming a victim again appears on the horizon. There is speculation that Sir Alex Ferguson will drop his captain amid fear that an acrid atmosphere might take a more sinister turn.” What, you mean the kind of openly racist chanting in which Chelsea supporters engaged in Genk? I highly doubt it. The atmosphere at Anfield will be tense tomorrow, it will be volatile, it will be loud and Patrice Evra will more than likely be booed. He may well have insults thrown at him too, but let’s get this straight, it will have nothing to do with his race. Liverpool Football Club and its supporters believe that Luis Suárez is innocent of the more serious charges against him. If he broke rules E3(1) and E3(2) by the letter of the law, fine, but there is no proof whatsoever that he said the words attributed to him in the goalmouth that day. We therefore have doubts, to put it mildly, regarding Patrice Evra’s accusations. Rather than brand us all as racists, it would be wiser for everyone (neutral and opposition supporters, the media, the FA, race relations groups and others) to educate themselves and understand the frustration felt over the kangaroo court which found Luis Suárez probably guilty of racially abusing an opponent. Otherwise this will remain a gaping wound and will fester to the point where it will consume more than just Liverpool F.C. or the FA.

Patrick Barclay disagrees. A public apology from Suárez to Evra would change everything. Only Dalglish can arrange this triumph of decency over tribalism and he should do so now.” Again, here we see the underlying issue. An apology if Evra took offence to one instance of the Spanish word “negro”? Fine. An apology for saying things that he didn’t even say? Not so much. The truth, and I have stated this already, is that I genuinely don’t know if Evra’s account of events on 15 October is accurate or not. The point is that nobody else knows either, not the FA, not their Commission, not Patrick Barclay or any of his colleagues in the media, not Lord Herman Ouseley or Piara Powar, nobody. This was one man’s word against another’s. In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable for Liverpool and its supporters to continue to respect the principle of innocent until proven guilty, the cornerstone of justice in any civilised country. Luis Suárez admitted to saying a word which language experts have agreed may have been intended in a friendly way. The Commission disagreed based on nothing but conjecture and opinion. Evra’s account of the goalmouth incident is probably what happened, they said. Suárez probably abused him seven times. That is not innocent until proven guilty, that’s innocent until assumed guilty or worse, guilty until proven innocent. Suárez absolutely deserves the benefit of the doubt until someone produces real and substantial proof that he did what Evra claimed. If that day ever comes, I will be the first in line to say “wow, I was really fooled, I’m sorry,” but until then I will continue to support a player who, based on everything I have seen and heard, did nothing more than utter a word he thought to be harmless.

You’ll Never Walk Alone is a song, not a principle. I’m sorry but it’s true,” sneered Barclay as he attempted (and failed) to finish with a flourish. Whatever happens tomorrow, there will probably be controversy and the likes of Barclay will be there to twist events to suit themselves and shift more newspapers. For those who will be belting out Liverpool Football Club’s anthem, however, it is much more than simply a song. The ignorance of others to that fact is immaterial. Kenny Dalglish once said that the club is more important and bigger than any individual, no matter who has been through it previously and who will in the future. The club is the club. I will never forget that and anyone who does is being a wee bit stupid and irresponsible.” Liverpool F.C. has not sacrificed its integrity and values by supporting Luis Suárez over the past month – it has remained true to them. I argued in a piece I wrote on Red and White Kop earlier this month that the club probably does now need to do something to reconcile with the media, the FA and the likes of Kick It Out and FARE (whose leadership, as discussed, have been very critical of the club). This wasn’t to say that the club was somehow hostile or obtuse before this incident – as far as I know, Liverpool F.C. has always had excellent relations with all of these entities. Indeed, I presume that the door was open for anyone to seek answers over the past month if they so-wished. Clearly, however, the reaction has been poisonous and a bit of work behind the scenes might lessen the chances of it happening again. You only need to look at the different magnitude of coverage given to the Tom Adeyemi incident versus the Chelsea fans in Genk to see how similar events can be given very different weights by the media. However, I also argued that the club need to be very careful who they trust and who they reach out to because some of the coverage has gone far beyond reporting the facts in a neutral manner. It is not practical to ban the entire media from Anfield, of course, and anti-racism groups must absolutely continue to be supported, but Liverpool need to be met halfway and nobody appears willing to do that. The day that Liverpool F.C. goes crawling on its hands and knees and begs forgiveness for its principles and beliefs is the day that I check out and take up golf or gardening or something instead. Thankfully, that day seems a long way off for now.

© 2012

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Suárez Pt. V: The Execution

Liverpool’s Defence

Parts II, III and IV have detailed the case against Luis Suárez. In the next section I will talk about the Commission’s final findings, but first I want to discuss how Liverpool Football Club went about defending its player against these charges. In the first instance, I believe that the club should have treated the allegations against Suárez on the day with far more seriousness than they appear to have done. In retrospect, nothing should have been said to the referee or anyone else until a trusted interpreter and solicitor were present. Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish should certainly not have been attempting to act as interpreters for Suárez. Furthermore, this wasn’t foul play or an offensive gesture they were dealing with, it was an allegation of racism. I would go so far as to say that the police should have been involved immediately, for two reasons. First and foremost, racist abuse is a criminal offence, as John Terry has recently discovered. If Patrice Evra had been called “n*gger” as he was suggesting at the time, this was a serious matter beyond the remit of the FA and it should undoubtedly have involved the law. Secondly, from the club’s perspective, it would have afforded their player a certain level of protection. I mean, we can now see as plain as day that Suárez would have been infinitely better off had he been arrested by the police. It would have ensured that he was considered innocent until proven guilty and that a greater burden of proof was required to find against him, rather than appearing before his own sport’s governing body and being judged by their utterly inadequate “balance of probabilities” standard. It is hard to blame the club for their reaction, this was a once-off event that came out of the blue and could not have been prepared for. Still, I bet they would do things differently if they were faced with the same situation again.

Moving on to the actual Commission hearings. All-in-all, and I’ve touched upon this already, I am disappointed with how Suárez’s representative, Mr. Peter McCormick OBE, went about defending his client. It is only fair to say that we may not be getting the full story from the Commission’s report. You can only fit so much into 115 pages, after all, especially when you only believe one side of the story. What’s more, Kenny Dalglish’s recent statement that we know what has gone on; we know what is not in the report and that is important for us,” may suggest that there is much that the general public doesn’t know about what went on at the hearing. However, going on the report (which is all I can go on), there are aspects of Suárez’s defence that left much to be desired. For example, as already mentioned, I cannot believe that Mr. McCormick didn’t make a greater fuss about the evidence missing from the schedule of unused material, which included critical interviews with Patrice Evra. Instead, we are told that “Mr. McCormick, whilst understandably critical of the omission of the tapes from the schedule of unused material, confirmed that he had had an adequate opportunity to listen to the tapes and to review the brief notes of interviews before commencing his cross examination of Mr. Evra” (paragraph 20). Maybe I’ve watched too many American legal dramas, but I would have expected him to make an absolute meal of that omission. We are also told that “Mr. McCormick, who was Mr. Suárez’s chosen representative for these proceedings, had a number of pre-existing professional commitments over the relevant period” (paragraph 22). Firstly, the report is giving the impression here that Suárez chose McCormick. I don’t believe that for a second. The club chose him, and they evidently chose a man with a lot of other commitments. Just a suggestion, but maybe someone who could focus 100% on Suárez’s defence might have been a better choice? Then again, one anonymous lawyer has said that the FA are “police, judge and jury all rolled into one. Your chances of success before them, UEFA and FIFA are virtually nil,” so maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

It is stated that “at one point during the course of the hearing, both parties asked the Commission not to read a particular newspaper article lest it influence our thinking in any way. The Chairman disclosed that he had already read the article before being asked not to do so, but did not consider that it contained anything of note affecting the task before the Commission. The other Commission members did not read the article. The Commission assured the parties that it was confident that it could put out of its mind anything that it might have read or heard at any stage about the dispute, and decide the case solely on the basis of the evidence and submissions which it received at the hearing” (paragraph 226). If this is the article I think it is (suggesting that Lord Herman Ouseley, the most influential and respected anti-racist campaigner in English football, is deliberating whether to quit the FA Council depending on the outcome of the investigation into England captain John Terry’s alleged abuse of Anton Ferdinand), then I think that Mr. McCormick should absolutely have had concerns as to whether this would prejudice the investigation. Lord Ouseley, as we will later see with his reaction to Liverpool in the aftermath of the decision, wanted his pound of flesh on this. I am prepared to wait until the outcome, as people I trust and respect have asked me not to be impulsive and to wait until the outcome is known, and this is what I plan to do. Whether or not I have had enough of it all will depend on what happens next.” It’s a small step to making Luis Suárez a sacrificial lamb, especially with the Terry criminal case set to continue for months. The idea that the resignation of the most influential and respected anti-racist campaigner in English football from the FA Council would not remotely prejudice the investigation against the Uruguayan seems dubious to me. At the very least, I don’t think that Mr. McCormick should have been so quick to declare himself “more than confident, whatever the extreme of being more than confident would be in this situation, that the three of you are absolutely capable of deciding this case on the facts and on the merits of it, without our friends from the fourth estate becoming involved in the matter and trying to influence it one way or the other” (paragraph 227).

As previously discussed, Patrice Evra’s evidence was riddled with inconsistencies about how many times he was insulted and what word was used. McCormick should have been all over these. Perhaps he was and it just isn’t mentioned in the report? I can only hope so, but the evidence presented doesn’t look good. It is stated, for example, that Mr. McCormick apparently accepted “in closing submissions that this is not simply a case of one person’s word against another (paragraph 215). This is an extraordinary development given that Liverpool’s own statement of 20 December 2011 (post-verdict) states that we find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone.” Either the club were changing their tune after the fact (highly doubtful since they have steadfastly maintained Suárez’s innocence throughout this entire process) or Mr. McCormick was “accepting” something that he had no business accepting. My own reading of the report is that this investigation was very much carried out on the basis of one man’s word against another. Where is the video evidence of what Suárez actually said? There is none. Where is the witness testimony backing up Evra’s allegations? There is none. There is no proof. All the Commission can say is that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382). What about the aforementioned discrepancies in Evra’s testimony? How McCormick could accept that this was “not simply a case of one person’s word against another” is mind-boggling to me.

I have already considered the next point, but I will reiterate it here. Mr. McCormick broached the theory during the hearing that “Mr. Evra was inventing something, the consequence of which, if it was pursued and upheld, would be extremely damaging to a fellow professional. He also submitted that this was something that Mr. Evra appreciated at the time and nevertheless he carried it through. He submitted that Mr. Evra knew when he went into the referee’s room that he was setting in train the potential motion that ended with the hearing before us, and he had pursued it” (paragraph 326). In support of his submission, he put forward “the evidence that was put to him of his behaviour earlier in the game, and the frame of mind he was in” (paragraph 326). This refers to the four examples submitted during the hearing, namely: (a) Evra’s argument with the referee over the coin toss, (b) his gesture looking for a booking for Stewart Downing, (c) his first-half response to something said from the crowd, and (d) his disagreement with a foul given against him early in the second half. I ask the question again, why did Mr. McCormick not submit the incident where Evra blew a kiss at Liverpool supporters and then kissed his badge into evidence? This was clear incitement. It wasn’t done in the heat of the moment or in the mania of a goal celebration. As Evra limped from the pitch after receiving treatment for over a minute, he made this gesture. If anything illustrates his agitated state of mind (along with the unprecedented argument with the referee over the coin toss), this was it, all the more because it happened just a few minutes before the conversation with Suárez started. Why was it not submitted by Mr. McCormick?

Then you have the admission that discrepancies between Suárez’s statement and his evidence “was down to bad drafting” (paragraph 250). In a hearing that was already skewed in one direction anyway and in which the investigating body was doing everything in its power to find against the accused, this was unforgivable. It was like giving your worst enemy bullets and a gun, then pointing it at your head for him. Suárez has my utmost sympathy on this point. Someone fucked up big-time and the Commission gleefully pounced on the mistake, giving themselves much of the ammunition they required to label the Uruguayan unreliable. Since McCormick was apparently running his defence, the buck must stop with him. I also wonder why he didn’t go hard after the inconsistencies in Evra’s statements in the same manner that Mr. Greaney did with Suárez, or for that matter his admission of foul language and threats for which the Commission gladly accepted mitigating circumstances but which surely contravened FA rule E3(1), something which normally carries a two-game ban? Suárez may have thought nothing of this or was willing to let it go (since he didn’t hear it at the time), but his legal counsel should have realised the relevance of it and proceeded accordingly. Why did his team meekly accept that it just meant “fucking hell” and nothing worse? Well, that’s according to the FA’s recent response to Anfieldroad.com anyway: “it was accepted by all parties (including Mr. Suárez) that the phrase “concha de tu hermana” properly translates into English as “f*cking hell,” “f*ck me” or similar and is therefore deemed an exclamation not a direct insult.” If Suárez accepted that, then he was badly advised given that the language experts stated that it can also mean “son of a bitch” if directed at someone (paragraph 178). This was an investigation in which Patrice Evra was being cast as the angelic, ultra-credible witness. Any chance to throw doubt on that portrayal should have been taken, because one thing is for sure, the Commission took every opportunity they could to throw dirt at Suárez, implicitly calling him a liar throughout.

Another point which I raised previously pertains to witness statements. The Commission continuously accepted evidence as fact if the Suárez camp did not object to them doing so e.g. “Mr. Marriner’s witness statement was accepted by Mr. Suárez,” so therefore “we accept Mr. Marriner’s evidence that Mr. Comolli told him that he spoke fluent Spanish” (paragraph 287) even though Comolli denied it; “Mr. Suárez accepted their evidence in full,” referring to Evra’s Manchester United teammates Valencia, Hernández, Nani and Anderson. “We proceeded, therefore, on the basis that the evidence contained in those witness statements is true and sets out what did, in fact, happen immediately after the game” (paragraph 118); “Since Mr Suarez accepted Mr. Marriner’s witness statement, we accept Mr. Marriner’s evidence that he said this to Mr. Dalglish” (paragraph 144), even though Dalglish denied it. Firstly, the Commission did not consist of three five year-olds who could only go to sleep if their mammies read them a bedtime story – they had brains and eyes, and were well able to make up their own minds about something without having to be told. Secondly, it is disingenuous in the extreme to suggest that Luis Suárez, a man with very little English and no legal expertise, was the one calling the shots. The man was not running his own defence, Mr. McCormick was. Which brings me onto my final point, the most pertinent one for this section – why did Mr. McCormick not object or argue any of the points mentioned above, and more, if he knew that this was how the Commission was running the hearing? I mean, he did know, right? He was aware that they would take the acceptance of witness statements, as outlined in paragraph 29 of the report, as a tacit agreement with their content, right? He did inform his client and the club of that, right? And if he didn’t do any of the above, why not? Did the Commission withhold that information from him or was it something else that led to his acceptance, in particular, of the inconsistent evidence given by Andre Marriner and Alex Ferguson? And when he read the final report, did he void his bowels as he should have? Or did he feel a searing, burning sensation in the pit of his stomach akin to fury being beaten over the head by rage with a baseball bat like I did?

In addition, I wonder why the likes of Liverpool’s Glen Johnson and Manchester City’s Yaya Touré were not asked to provide statements? I am unsure as to the procedures involved, perhaps this was solely the Commission’s call. If so, the Suárez camp should have been making strong arguments on the matter at the very least. It is stated several times in the report that Suárez has called black Liverpool defender Glen Johnson “negro” in the past. In fact, the impression I get from reading it is that he calls him it as a matter of course e.g. “Just pass the ball, negro” (paragraph 353). Since the Commission were apparently in the business of applying English standards to a Spanish conversation, would the evidence of Johnson (a black Englishman no doubt intimately familiar with both the English language and racism itself) not have been at least somewhat enlightening? Has the term “negro” ever upset him, I wonder? The Commission may argue that the context of its use would be different with Johnson than it was with Evra. Well ok – how about Yaya Touré then? Suárez stated in evidence that his use of it in this instance was in the same spirit as “a match against Manchester City last season when he gave his hand to Yaya Touré and said “Dale, negro,” meaning “Come on, negro”” (paragraph 353). This was said to an opposition player in the heat of battle, and what’s more, to a black man who presumably speaks Spanish after three years with Barcelona. Why was Touré not asked to provide his interpretation of the word? If he hadn’t heard it, fine – but if he had, his evidence could have been crucial to establishing Suárez’s credibility on this matter. So why, on the face of it, was he not at least invited to make a statement?

As Dalglish has intimated, maybe we don’t know the whole story. If that’s the case and there is more information which hasn’t yet come to light, then the club should put serious pressure on the FA to release transcripts of the hearing into the public arena. I’ll gladly hold my hands up and say that Mr. McCormick is fantastic if that day ever comes, but the evidence contained in the Commission’s report is that Suárez’s representative summarily failed him and allowed a case to be made against him with little resistance. In any adversarial setting (and if you don’t think that this hearing was adversarial, then go back and read paragraph 246 again), you must question everything. I immediately think of the 1978 World Cup final where Argentina captain Daniel Passarella delayed the start of the game protesting against a harmless plaster cast on a Dutch player’s wrist, one which he had been wearing for most of the tournament. Passarella didn’t particularly give a damn about the cast, he was simply doing what any good lawyer would – setting out the terrain on which the battle ahead would be fought. By the time the game finally kicked off, the Dutch were enraged and more than a little unnerved, while Passarella and his team knew that they had a weak, compliant referee to work on. Likewise, Mr. McCormick should have excoriated the Commission and the FA for the Evra tapes which were not originally included in evidence, expressed deep concern that the newspaper article discussed during the hearing had compromised the chairman’s neutrality, raised questions about Commission member Denis Smith’s close relationship with Alex Ferguson’s son Darren and previous claims that he helped save Sir Alex Ferguson’s job,” and cross-examined the hell out of everyone who made a witness statement in the sternest way possible (particularly Evra, Marriner, Dowd and Ferguson), just like Mr. Greaney did to Suárez on the evidence of paragraph 246. He should have treated every inconsistency (I’ve outlined plenty in this piece) with the exaggerated incredulity and disdain with which Jeremy Kyle regularly treats his guests. He should have gone to war for his client. It appears that he didn’t, and while that’s obviously not the Commission’s problem, it is a matter that I thought decent, honest journalists would be interested in. After all, if a large part of Suárez’s guilt was established on nothing more than his legal team’s inability to point out gaping inconsistencies, what does that say for the case against him?

The Findings

So after going through the motions, collecting all the evidence, choosing what parts they wanted to believe and discarding anything they didn’t, the Commission eventually found that every single part of the FA’s case (bar their contention that Suárez’s “pinch” was referring to Evra’s skin colour) to be “proved on the evidence and arguments put before us” (paragraph 454). Proved. Proved. This the same Commission who earlier said that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382). The truth is, nothing was proved in this case, nothing. Read back over the report and find me just one established fact pertaining to the words exchanged between the two men and the timeline of when it was said. You can’t because there aren’t any. Simply put, not one iota of this judgement would hold up in any proper court of law, but then this wasn’t anything of the sort. The “balance of probability” stayed pretty much at 50/50 throughout. There were inconsistencies on both sides. Evra may have been mistaken in what he heard, likewise Suárez may have gone further than he admits. We’ll never know for sure unless one man holds his hands up and tells us. The point is, it is inherently wrong to find a man guilty of such a serious offence without adequate proof. The Commission may feel that they had that – I strongly disagree. Overall, both Patrice Evra and the FA were far more cunning throughout the entire process than Luis Suárez and Liverpool. For a man painted as some kind of Machiavellian monster, the little Uruguayan doesn’t half come off as naïve. Here is essentially what we’re told by the Commission happened on the afternoon of 15 October (and remember as you read through the next few paragraphs that the standard of proof required here is the “flexible civil standard of the balance of probability” – paragraph 453(2)):

Luis Suárez, in an attempt to “provoke Mr. Evra, so as to cause him to be sent off, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in the game” (paragraph 414), addresses him by the Spanish term “negro” seven times. This is ostensibly the first time that Suárez has tried to wind an opponent up with racist insults in his career, presumably choosing the biggest game of the season so far and one broadcast all over the world with state-of-the-art high-definition cameras everywhere in the ground because he likes to live dangerously. Why he chooses this word “negro” rather than the more traditional and provocative English word “n*gger” is less clear, but we can speculate that he did so for three reasons: (a) because Patrice Evra initiated the conversation in Spanish, (b) because he doesn’t speak much English and, therefore, might not even know the word, and (c) because if he is caught saying it, he can later claim that it is a perfectly harmless word back home in Uruguay with no racist undertones whatsoever. With that level of cunning and attention to detail, Suárez really should have been a politician rather than a professional footballer. Nobody would stand a chance. Having callously called Evra this word seven times, including supposedly telling him that he kicked him because he was black and that he doesn’t talk to blacks, Suárez now puts into motion the next part of his plan – deny everything. Except that he doesn’t…over the next days and weeks, the Uruguayan will readily admit to using the word “negro”. He admits to it as soon as the accusation is put to him after the game (“Mr. Comolli asked Mr. Suárez to tell him what happened. Mr. Suárez told him that Mr. Evra had said to him “Don’t touch me, South American”. Mr. Suárez had said “Por que negro?” Mr. Suárez told Mr. Comolli that this was the only thing he had said” – paragraph 141) and he also, allegedly, admitted it to a Uruguayan television station sometime afterwards. Erm, ok…so having so fiendishly abused an opponent based on his skin colour, Suárez now readily admits to doing it? Not only that, but he admits to only saying it once…why? If he said it seven times, why admit to saying it once? Why admit to anything at all? Maybe he’s not so cunning after all…

In truth, if the account of Patrice Evra, the FA and the Commission is to be believed, then Luis Suárez is stupid. Borderline retarded, I would have said. Let us accept that he used the word “negro” because it’s his native tongue and because Patrice Evra initiated the conversation in Spanish, and let us also accept, for the sake of argument, that he did mean it in a racist manner and did use it seven times. This would tend to indicate that he knew exactly what he was doing, that he was intentionally abusing his opponent in a racist manner, that he knew it was wrong and that he knew he was committing a serious offence. This is the Commission’s contention. Then why on earth would he admit to it? If Suárez says nothing, he’s home free. Deny everything and it’s exclusively his word against Evra’s. Why would he incriminate himself like that? This is a question that neither the FA, the Commission nor, disappointingly, Suárez’s representative appear to address, yet it certainly affects the “balance of probability” in my view. What kind of idiot incriminates himself, and how likely is that to happen?

Maybe Suárez was unsure as to whether someone had heard him on that one particular occasion and was just trying to cover himself by admitting to it, just in case? This possibility is explicitly stated in paragraph 306 of the Commission’s report: “An alternative explanation is that Mr. Suárez was aware that he had said to Mr. Evra “Porque tu eres negro,” and that this might have been overheard or caught on camera. When he was questioned about it in the aftermath of the game, he did say that he had said “Porque tu es/eres negro,” as both Mr. Comolli and Mr. Kuyt understood at the time but he sought to cast it in a different and better light. Subsequently, he changed that account to explain that he used the word in a friendly and conciliatory way that was common in Uruguay.” Why, then, his later confusion regarding when exactly he said the word? The Commission seized on this as evidence of his unreliability and actually took it as proof of both a sixth and seventh racist insult, even though Suárez only admitted to one (i.e. they effectively doubled-up, taking both his mistaken and corrected evidence as fact). And if he was so worried that one insult might have been overheard or caught on camera and thus admitted it to it, why choose that one? Why not just be done with it and admit to all seven, given that there were cameras all over Anfield that would surely have spotted what was said and a number of people in the goalmouth for the corner who simply must have heard something? What is more probable – that Suárez would admit to saying something after the corner (when he and Evra were pretty much standing on their own) because he feared that he might have been overheard, or try to pre-empt allegations of what was supposedly said during the corner at which time they were surrounded by people? It doesn’t make sense. And why take the risk of saying it in front of those cameras anyway? Let me be crystal clear here – go back and watch Vincent Kompany’s headed goal from a corner for Manchester City at Anfield in November. In one replay, the camera was so close to Kompany that you could almost see the beads of sweat rolling down his face. That was from a corner too. Get it? How could Suárez possibly have known that not one of them would pick up anything? He couldn’t. So why did he effectively hand himself in if he had deliberately set out to racially abuse Evra, and why (as the Commission suggests) did he get nervous about one particular moment to the point where he admitted to it and then tried to cast it in a better light? Doesn’t it make infinitely more sense to suppose that he probably (to use the Commission’s word) saw nothing wrong in what he said and that’s why he so readily admitted to it?

Meanwhile, Patrice Evra, the man who the FA attested “had been badly affected by the incident” (paragraph 413), actually testifies in his evidence that “I don’t think that Luis Suárez is racist” (paragraph 223). If that’s the case, then we can speculate that the man has a Christ-like ability to turn the other cheek and forgive. If it was me, having been told that someone kicked me “because you are black,” been subsequently told by the same individual that “I don’t speak to blacks” and then goaded with “okay, blackie, blackie, blackie” (paragraph 5), I would probably do one of two things when asked whether or not the man was a racist: (a) keep my mouth shut and say nothing, it’s not worth it, or (b) explicitly call him a racist for all the world to hear because that’s exactly what he is (in other words, shame him as much as I possibly could). Instead, Evra stated that he believed Suárez not to be a racist. Why? Is he truly that forgiving? Or is this yet another example, as I mentioned at the start of this section, of Patrice Evra and the FA being far more cunning throughout this process than Luis Suárez and Liverpool? If I had been as badly affected by the whole ordeal as the FA suggest Evra was and been racially abused, denigrated and insulted because of the colour of my skin five, six, seven times in a matter of minutes, then there’s no way that I could ever bring myself to basically defend my abuser by denying that he’s a racist. To be honest, and I’m not black but I am Irish so I’ll use that as an example, if someone called me “Paddy” or “Mick” in the same sneering, aggressive manner that Suárez is meant to have done, I’d feel like knocking his head clean off his shoulders. And that’s not even the same level of abuse as what Evra allegedly endured from Suárez. I would neither forgive, forget nor defend the individual on any level. What’s more, and this part would have anyone with a weak stomach reaching for the sick bag, Evra stated that “for me it was like I think a bad dream, because I respect so much that player because he’s a really good player” (paragraph 233). So, present tense, he respects Suárez, even though he’s just racially abused him seven times? Not respected, past tense, but respect. Do me a favour…

Apparently Evra is not the only one who doesn’t think that Suárez is a racist: “the FA made clear that it did not contend that Mr. Suárez acted as he did because he is a racist” (paragraph 454). It is quite possible that the FA mean what they say and that their definition of a racist simply differs from mine. After all, they “submitted that the likelihood was that Mr. Suárez was seeking to provoke Mr. Evra, so as to cause him to be sent off, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in the game” (paragraph 414). In other words, he was trying to insult his opponent, went a little too far and strayed into the realms of the unacceptable. In his own mind, I presume, it was a case of “anything goes” in winding his opponent up. If he felt, for example, like saying I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries,” then he would have said that. Or perhaps he was planning to insult Evra’s sister until the Frenchman got there first? You see, there is a difference in definition between myself and the FA on this one. To me, racism is a state of mind borne of ignorance which leads to racist behaviour, but the FA seems to be suggesting that there is a disconnect between the mind and the body, between the idea and the act, that using racist language in a certain context and actually being racist are two different things. I disagree. I’m not suggesting that someone who calls a black man a racist name in the morning is going to be out in white sheets and burning crosses that night or that he/she will believe a black person to be inferior, but the very fact that the FA is willing to say that Suárez is not a racist is actually excusing the kind of casual racism that blights society every bit as much as the more virulent type which, I would suggest, is nowhere near as prevalent. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that Suárez abused Evra seven times based on what I’ve read, but that opinion is beside the point in this instance: if he had been clearly proven to have said what Patrice Evra alleged, then I would have classed him as a racist and wanted him out of my club, bottom line. Both the FA and Evra, however, clearly do believe that he said those words, and yet they say he’s not a racist. That confuses me.

Recently, anti-racism campaigner Lord Herman Ouseley (who I will come back to in more detail in the final part of this piece) compounded my confusion when he spoke about the allegations of racism by QPR’s Anton Ferdinand against Chelsea’s John Terry in the context of the two clubs’ meeting in the FA Cup this weekend. Ouseley, who has been hugely critical of Luis Suárez’s failure to apologise for something he claims not to have done (he called the player’s apology of 5 January lamentable), has suggested that there is nothing wrong for someone making a mistake to apologise for it, hold their hands up and then face the consequences and move on in relation to the likely handshake between the two players before the game. Yet John Terry maintains his innocence for a start (I will fight tooth and nail to prove my innocence), so how can a handshake be construed an apology in this instance? More importantly, I have to ask the question – had Suárez used the most filthy, disgusting, inhuman insults imaginable against Evra fifty times during the game in question, would an apology have somehow made it better? A handshake? By all means I agree that it is not about retribution and continued hostility,” but why should Anton Ferdinand have to shake the hand of a man who has allegedly abused him like that? He doesn’t have to be hostile or seek retribution, but nor does he have to implicitly accept a non-existent apology by shaking the man’s hand. Nobody really raised an eyebrow when Wayne Bridge refused to shake Terry’s hand after it emerged that the Chelsea captain had had an affair with the mother of Bridge’s son. That was his prerogative. Any man could have empathised with him. It’s not like he punched him or tried to break his leg during the match, he was professional about it, but why should he shake his hand? The same is true of Anton Ferdinand. Why should any onus be placed on him when he clearly believes that he has been racially abused? Honestly, if (and it remains an “if”) Suárez did abuse Evra seven times, I wouldn’t expect him to shake the Uruguayan’s hand either. Maybe it’s just me but an apology for that kind of behaviour seems worthless. An honest mistake in the heat of the moment? Maybe, but seven times?

This is only my gut feeling on the issue but, for example, if I was a black man there is no way that I would accept someone seeking to excuse racist abuse of my child in school by saying “oh yeah, he was wrong to say what he did, but he’s not a racist, he’s only a kid!” Do I really give a fuck?! My kid is the one who is now aware that people will insult or make fun of him because of his skin colour. He’s the one now having to deal with that. Whether or not someone is actually racist, whether or not they truly believe black people to be inferior or whatever it is that these people believe, is not as important as the fact that they their words hurt, belittle and often humiliate their victims. Guess what? When John Barnes had a banana thrown at him in the late-eighties at Goodison Park, the person that threw it was probably not a card-carrying member of the National Front. He was more than likely trying to wind him up so that he wouldn’t play well, just an ignorant waste of skin who saw no difference between calling him a “prick” or a “cunt” and calling him a “coon” or a “n*gger.” Does that make it better? And, if John Barnes was the type give a fuck (in the event, he just back-heeled the offending fruit away), would it have made the hurt he felt any less? Racism is a state of mind borne of ignorance and part of that ignorance is assuming that you have the right to denigrate someone because of their skin colour. If you offered me €1,000 into my hand to go up to and racially abuse someone right now, I couldn’t do it. It feels too wrong. Regardless of the context, on a football pitch or in the street or in a pub, regardless of whether Suárez was merely seeking to “wind up Mr. Evra” (paragraph 391(3)), the defining hallmark of a racist is that he/she will see no real issue racially abusing people of colour, be it through calling them “n*gger,” “spick,” “chink” or some other demeaning term, as a way to hurt them. Therefore, if Suárez did that, how is he anything but a racist, especially if (as the Commission contends) he did it seven times? 

What else, I wonder, is it ok to say to a black person without actually being a racist? How far can a person go now? Where is the line drawn? Can we get some confirmation on this from the FA perhaps? I find it ironic that Liverpool are the ones who have been castigated as somehow condoning racism over the past few weeks simply because they have backed a man they believe to be innocent, yet Patrice Evra and the FA have basically told the world that you can tell someone that you kicked them “because you are black,” tell them “I don’t speak to blacks” and then taunt them with “blackie, blackie, blackie” and still not be considered a racist. That’s exactly what they tell us Luis Suárez did, but as long as you do it to insult someone or to hurt them, you’re apparently not a racist. Newsflash – your average ignorant racist on the street will, nine times out of ten, racially abuse someone simply because they see no difference between that and calling a fat person “fatso” or a handicapped person a “spastic.” Of course they do it to inflict hurt. It’s picking the most obvious thing about someone and going after it. The exact same person could just as easily idolise Jay-Z or Lebron James or Patrice Evra or fancy the arse off Beyoncé or Rihanna. The act of racially abusing someone is, in most cases, just a way to hurt a particular person, not an ingrained belief that your race is superior. This is your casual, everyday, insidious, all-too-common racism, the kind that flies under the radar, the kind that many simply accept, the kind that’s all the more dangerous for that. We’re not necessarily talking skinheads and Nazi salutes here, at least that type of thing can be systematically targeted and attacked. The only way to stop the more casual type of racism is to educate people. As John Barnes said in a recent interview, legislation banning racist comments from stadiums, while obviously a good thing, only ensures that the individuals will keep their mouths shut for 90 minutes, that’s all. It doesn’t necessarily change anything fundamental. If education is the key, and it clearly is, then what message does it send to say that Luis Suárez is not a racist after allegedly using that kind of language? What else can people now get away with? Then you’ve got Daily Mirror journalist Oliver Holt on Twitter wondering if calling someone a “black cunt” is racist! So I could go out on the street right now, call a black man a “black cunt” and, besides deservedly getting my head kicked in, I could claim with a straight face, in 2012, that I’m not a racist?! This whole thing is too fucked-up. My head hurts…

In the event, I suspect that the FA received advice to say what they did in order to guard against a potential libel or defamation case down the line (as well as to make their case easier to prove – questions as to why a man with black blood and a black grandparent would be a racist would have increased the burden of proof to ridiculously high levels). After all, if there was no explicit statement contained with Commission’s report that they were not calling Suárez a racist, then the Uruguayan might have observed the FA as legally liable for the poisonous nonsense which has spewed his way over the past few weeks from all and sundry (they are morally responsible, just not legally unfortunately). And you know what? The courts might have agreed with him. This would have then implicated the so-called “independent” Commission which was, after all, convened by the FA in the first place, and made an absolute mockery of their investigation. All hell would have broken loose. The spectre of legal action for ruining Suárez’s good name without proof, however, vanished once they submitted that they weren’t calling the Uruguayan a racist. Any potential libel case from then on would be thrown out of court by simply saying “but Your Honour, we never actually called him a racist.” How clever. Never mind that the media wolves (the Daily Mirror’s backpage headline following the announcement of the verdict was “RACIST”) and the country’s tabloid-reading idiots will ignore this one line buried deep in a 115-page report in favour of labelling him as just that. How utterly irresponsible, but then this is the FA we’re talking about.

In Evra’s case, the reasons for absolving Suárez of being a racist are more complex. Could Suárez sue him for libel or defamation simply for bringing a case to the FA which was found proven? I doubt it, but it’s certainly a good way to cover yourself just in case. The other option, of course, is that the instances of racism in the goalmouth never actually happened and that Evra has a guilty conscience now that he is no longer in the heat of the moment and realises what he’s done. As I have already illustrated, the “balance of probabilities” is not particularly in Evra’s favour on the question of the goalmouth exchanges (i.e. no witnesses, no video evidence, his incongruous reaction on the alleged sixth occasion), contrary to what the Commission found. Is that why he basically defended Suárez’s honour, of which the Uruguayan has little if he did what Evra claims? Let us consider for a moment the possibility that Evra is lying about the five instances of racism in the goalmouth, as his reaction of surprise when Suárez called him “negro” for an alleged sixth time might indicate. Why would he lie about it? Who knows? All I’ll say is that I would never attempt to understand the motivations of a man who actually argued with the referee over the coin toss at the start of the game (in over twenty years watching football, I have never seen that), blew kisses at Liverpool supporters as he left the pitch on 59 minutes, followed this up with the provocative act of kissing his badge, went on to insult Suárez and then allegedly threatened to punch him. The man was clearly in a state of agitation from the very start of the game, perhaps straining under the burden of captaincy, and was liable to do anything as a result. This was raised by Suárez’s representative but the Commission, not for the first time in this report, simply disregarded the evidence.

The Ban

The sentencing was the easy part. Once the Commission had accepted that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382), it was inevitable that a harsh punishment would follow. In many ways, the penalty handed down is actually the least contentious part of the report because all of the hard work had already been done by that stage. If, as the report suggests, Suárez’s “conduct is significantly more serious than a one-off use of a racially offensive term and amounts to an aggravating factor” (paragraph 411), then there can really be no argument with the ban handed down, although I must stress that this accusation remains unsubstantiated. Nonetheless, if the Commission found this to be the case, then Suárez clearly deserved a longer ban than the standard entry point for this offence. The Commission was also careful to place the onus on an objective judgement rather than a subjective one i.e. if Suárez was found to have broken rules E3(1) and E3(2), intent did not matter – it was enough to simply find that he did it. To be fair, that seems to be an accurate interpretation of how the FA’s rules are written, so I won’t argue too much with it. All-in-all, even if we accept the Uruguayan’s account that he only said “negro” once in a friendly way, he still broke the rules. Parts of the FA’s submission on the penalty, nonetheless, are amazing to read. It starts by deeming the entry point a four match ban” (paragraph 406) for the offence, according to FA rules and taking into account the “aggravating factor” (paragraph 406) that there was reference to skin colour involved. Fair enough. However, they went on to submit some frankly tenuous reasons for an increased punishment. Firstly, “the FA submitted that an increased sanction was required both to punish Mr. Suárez and also to ensure that it is widely understood that the FA deprecates and will not accept racist behaviour” (paragraph 408). In other words, one of the reasons they put forward for why Suárez’s punishment should be doubled was that they wanted to make a statement. That’s hardly fair, to either the player or his club. Furthermore, it seems that the Uruguayan’s position as “an international footballer of exceptional ability, playing for one of the best-known clubs in the world” counted against him in the FA’s eyes, as it apparently increased his “degree of responsibility” and his “conduct amounts to a serious breach of that responsibility” (paragraph 410). So, are we to understand from this statement that if Suárez was a bog-standard, run-of-the-mill Championship player, the FA would have requested the standard four game ban? Or am I missing something?

The FA went on to suggest that “the conduct of Mr. Suárez has damaged the image of English football around the world, given that the conduct occurred during the course of one of the most famous games in English football, watched by a huge number of people around the world” (paragraph 412). Again, are we to understand then that they would have pushed for the standard four game ban had the incident occurred in a Millwall vs. Watford game, for example? Is it fair to double a man’s punishment from the norm simply because of peripheral factors such as the profile of the game in question? And does that then diminish the seriousness of racial abuse in other, lower-profile settings? The subtext here is that the FA knew only too well the profile of the case worldwide and were eager to take advantage of that by making a statement, which would ring out loud and clear all over the globe, that “the FA deprecates and will not accept racist behaviour” (paragraph 408). I have two questions on that: (a) at what point does it become ok to double Suárez’s ban simply to send a message? And (b) is the nature of racist abuse in football, therefore, more serious the higher you go up the leagues? If so, I think that black players in League One and League Two should be informed immediately. The FA also submitted, in justification for an increased ban, “that the impact of the conduct of Mr. Suárez on Mr. Evra is a factor tending to aggravate the seriousness of the misconduct. He had been badly affected by the incident, and had been the subject of adverse comments in the media and on social networking sites (paragraph 413). The part in bold there truly boggles the mind. So Luis Suárez is now being held accountable for the views of hundreds, if not thousands, of people online? Oh dear. Even if Suárez had been proven to have used the most hateful of racist insults fifty times, there would have been a percentage of idiots on their laptops defending him and abusing Evra. Some people are like that. The FA have obviously never read the comments below Hillsborough videos on Youtube. For the love of God, how could they push for an increased ban based on that? 

Though the Commission does not mention this particular submission in its final judgement (you have to wonder whether they would have let the Suárez camp away with such a risible claim), it certainly goes some way towards illustrating the mindset of the FA and how determined they were to make an example of Suárez. The player was effectively on the hook at this stage. All they had to do was watch as the Commission reeled him in, yet they appeared to be trying to cover all bases. On the whole, the justifications they put forward for increasing his ban were woeful, but the key statement regarding the severity of the penalty comes in paragraph 411, where it is suggested that, “given the number of times that Mr. Suárez used the word “negro,” his conduct is significantly more serious than a one-off use of a racially offensive term and amounts to an aggravating factor.” This is the central point. Everything else is window-dressing on the FA’s part. If everything Evra said was true, then Suárez did indeed deserve eight games, and maybe more. In that case, Suárez is a liar in the first instance (he claims to have only said “negro” once), a racist in the second (Evra’s testimony, if true, is damning on that score), and deserved to have the book thrown at him. However, that’s only if Evra’s account was true in its entirety. I keep coming back to this point – the entire case is built on it. If anyone can read through the Commission’s report and show me reasonable proof that Suárez said the word more than the one single occasion he admits to, then I might be prepared to accept the increased ban. As it stands, however, and as I have previously illustrated, the first, second, third, fourth and fifth instances of the word are accepted based totally and completely on the word of Patrice Evra with no corroborating witnesses or video evidence (that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it cannot be adequately proven that it did either), while the alleged seventh was not reported by the player at all. The Commission merely came to the conclusion in paragraph 359 that it “probably” happened.Elsewhere, the inconsistencies rife within Evra’s contradicting statements during and immediately after the game, and in his evidence to the Commission, regarding what was said and how many times it was said were summarily ignored. I will reiterate once again, the Commission’s judgement that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382) was deeply flawed. Everything else unravels from there.

On the notion of what the FA called “a deterrent sanction” (paragraph 408), Suárez’s representative Mr. McCormick responded that “the deterrence for others would lie in the knowledge that if they used inappropriate words then they would end up before a Commission and be punished” (paragraph 416). Of course, other potential deterrents have become evident since the verdict e.g. the likely destruction of one’s reputation, being abused at football grounds all over England, finding oneself the subject of a media frenzy, etc. It would appear that neither the FA nor its Commission had considered these potential outcomes. Or maybe they simply didn’t care about them. It is ironic in the extreme that the FA should suggest that Evra “had been badly affected by the incident, and had been the subject of adverse comments in the media and on social networking sites” (paragraph 413) when they were effectively paving the way for Suárez to experience worse. McCormick went on to counter-balance the idea that his high-profile international standing added extra responsibility by pointing out that “the damage to his reputation would be all the greater” (paragraph 417) as a result of the charges against him, although I would suggest that this damage would be inflicted by the guilty verdict itself – an increased ban made little odds on that score. He also “submitted that we should decide on the penalty that we considered appropriate, having regard to any mitigating factors, and not be concerned with how that penalty might be interpreted by the wider public in terms of the message sent out as to the importance attached by the FA to anti-racism campaigns (paragraph 418). This was a very pertinent point as outside considerations such as those mentioned clearly had the potential to prejudice the Commission’s final judgement. A truly independent body would not have had to be told this. Any message to be sent to the wider public regarding racism was the FA’s business, not an Independent Regulatory Commission’s. Furthermore, the specifics of why Mr. McCormick made this submission are not mentioned in the report. Surely he outlined his reasons to the Commission? I don’t believe for one second that any halfway decent solicitor is going to simply say “you shouldn’t do this” without giving a reason. Why is this missing from the report?

On the subject of the profile of the game, he submitted “that those watching the match would not have understood that Mr. Suárez had used insulting words referring to Mr. Evra’s colour, and that it was Mr. Evra’s interview on Canal+ and his reference to “ten times” that had brought matters into the public domain” (paragraph 419). I think this misses the FA’s (correct) point that the case would generate far more interest worldwide due to the number of Liverpool and Manchester United supporters spread all over the globe. I feel that Mr. McCormick would have been better attacking this from my earlier angle that the profile of the game itself should have no bearing whatsoever on the punishment, otherwise you’re essentially weighting penalties for the same offence based on the level of the players involved which would be patently unjust. Again, an independent commission, as this one supposedly was, should not have been looking to send any messages – that’s the FA’s business. As an aside, McCormick’s statement is relevant regarding comments subsequently made by Blackburn Rovers striker Jason Roberts, who undermined his own argument that Liverpool must think long and hard about how they are perceiving this by making the laughable statement that they were ugly scenes and I’m worried that kids would have seen this”. Seen what, exactly? Two men talking on a football pitch? Ugly scenes? Maybe Jason Roberts is the one who needs to think about his perceptions. If a Commission specially formed to leave no stone unturned in their investigation of this incident could not find any explicit evidence of racist language being used, I doubt many nine year-olds could either. Mr. McCormick finished his rebuttal of the FA’s submission by stating that he “did not accept that criticism of Mr. Evra in the media and on social networking sites could be laid at the door of Mr. Suárez” (paragraph 419). Understatement of the century right there. I can only hope that he used stronger terms than that in rejecting such a ridiculous proposition.

McCormick emphasised to the Commission that, in coming to a decision regarding the severity of the punishment, we have a discretion as to whether to increase or reduce the penalty from the entry point…he suggested that he could not take issue with a two match suspension as the entry point” (paragraph 415). He does not seem to have realised (based on the report, at least) that this particular ship had long since sailed. As soon as the Commission ruled that Suárez had abused Evra seven times, all mitigating circumstances were off the table. These included: the independently-attested use and nuances of the word “negro” in Uruguayan culture and dialect; the fact that he has been resident in the UK for less than a year and speaks little English; the fact that he admitted to using the word when he could have easily denied saying anything; the fact that he had previously appeared in a film whose theme was that “the colour of a person’s skin does not matter, they can all play together as a team” (paragraph 423); his admission, through Mr. McCormick, that he “felt shame and embarrassment” (paragraph 424) over the incident; his assurances that “he would not use the word “negro” on a football pitch in England in the future” (paragraph 440), in effect saying that he had learned a lesson; and finally, the fact that in almost seven years as a professional footballer playing in the racially-diverse leagues of Uruguay and Holland he had never once been accused of racist language. This last point, in my view, is far more relevant than Mr. McCormick’s submission that Suárez has played with many black players and “used to socialise with” (paragraph 422) his black teammates at Ajax. The FA’s contention, which the Commission accepts, is “that the likelihood was that Mr. Suárez was seeking to provoke Mr. Evra, so as to cause him to be sent off, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in the game. It was submitted that such behaviour is to be deplored” (paragraph 414). Indeed it is. Why then, in almost seven years as a professional footballer playing against black players almost every week, has Suárez never been accused of racist abuse before? Did he somehow just pluck the biggest game of his team’s calendar out of thin air? Why was Evra the first black opponent he sought to provoke “so as to cause him to be sent off, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in the game” (paragraph 414)? Why was he able to hold his tongue, for example, in games during the 2010 World Cup against the black players of France, South Africa and Ghana? Or are all his other victims simply too shy to say anything? And if so, why have they not taken Evra’s example and come crawling out of the woodwork now? These are the questions that Mr. McCormick should have been asking. Of course he’s not going to racially abuse his own teammates, unless of course he’s fundamentally racist and can’t help it…but then both the FA and Patrice Evra have exonerated him of that, haven’t they?

These, then, were essentially the two opposing arguments regarding the penalty. The FA wanted an entry point of four games, increased to a higher number due to several alleged aggravating factors. The Suárez camp wanted an entry point of two games. The Commission, in their deliberations regarding the penalty, go on to state that “Rule E3(2) then directs us to consider, as an entry point, a sanction that is double the automatic two match suspension for insulting behaviour on account of the presence of the aggravating factor of a reference to colour. Doubling the automatic two-match suspension would result in a four-match suspension. We decided that an entry point of a four-match suspension was appropriate in this case in line with the guidance in Rule E3(2) (paragraph 429). Which I believe is fair since it is, after all, written in the FA’s own rulebook. The Commission then “weighed the aggravating and mitigating factors against each other” (as stated, the mitigating circumstances put forward by Mr. McCormick were of little use at this stage) and judged that “an appropriate and proportionate penalty is an eight-match suspension, a fine of £40,000 and a warning as to future conduct” (paragraph 442). The report goes on to state that “we concluded that a four-match ban, which was the entry point under Rule E3(2), would be too low and would not reflect the gravity of the misconduct” and reiterates that “Mr. Suárez’s behaviour was far more serious than a single use of the word “negro” to address Mr. Evra in a way which would be considered inoffensive in Uruguay. If that was all that Mr Suárez had done, and we had found the Charge proved, the penalty would have been less than we have imposed (paragraph 443). This last point in bold is an important one. Remember it for later.

As I suggested at the outset of this section, based on the FA’s rules and considering that the Commission had already found against Suárez at this point, the penalty itself could be construed as utterly justified. If everything Evra said was true, then Suárez did indeed deserve eight games, and maybe more. However, that’s only if Evra’s account was true in its entirety. I keep coming back to this point – the entire justification for an increased eight-game ban is built on the assumption that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382). Yet it is my assertion, based on the evidence listed in the Commission’s report, that there is little balance of probability either way on the five alleged instances of “negro” in the goalmouth. It is the very definition of a 50/50 case of one man’s word against another’s. All the Commission had to go on was the testimony of the two men involved, some inconclusive video footage and the highly dubious notion that one man was unreliable while the other was credible (despite massive discrepancies in parts of his evidence). In fact, I would submit that the Commission’s statement that there was “a facial reaction by Mr. Evra, akin to a look of surprise” (paragraph 102) after the alleged sixth instance and the fact that he only then drew the referee’s attention to the fact that “he just called me a fucking black” (paragraph 103) actually tips the balance of probability against Evra. Both common sense and logic dictate that there will be no greater reaction to being called “negro” on the sixth occasion than there were on the first five, when Evra didn’t react at all (and it wasn’t because he was playing to the whistle because the ball wasn’t in play at the time). This is not to say that it definitely didn’t happen (it’s impossible to prove), but it certainly throws grave doubt over the probability that it did. And if we accept that the probability does not now favour Evra’s version of events, then we can answer “no” to the crucial question asked in paragraph 31.1 (“on the balance of probabilities, is the account of Mr. Evra true and reliable?”) and we can therefore eliminate the supposed first, second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh instances of racist abuse.

I don’t think I need to tell you, that changes the complexion of the penalty quite a bit. It seems strange and more than a little bemusing to me that the Commission can make statements throughout the latter stages of the report such as “in total, Mr. Suárez used the word “negro” or “negros” seven times in the penalty area. On each occasion, the words were insulting. On each occasion, Mr. Suárez breached Rule E3(1). Accordingly, the Charge is proved (paragraph 392) or “given that Mr. Suárez had denied the Charge and it had been proved, it seemed to us appropriate that he should pay in full the costs as described in the formal record of our decision” (paragraph 451) or we have found that Charge proved on the evidence and arguments put before us” (paragraph 454). Firstly, and I’m sorry if I’m splitting hairs (maybe I’m just not fluent enough in legalese?), nothing in this case was proved in so far as I, or any normal person, understand that word. Nothing. The whole investigation came down to one thing, the Commission’s belief that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382). To say that they found the charges proved is disingenuous in the extreme as far as I’m concerned. Even under the “flexible civil standard of the balance of probability” (paragraph 76), the charges were not adequately proved, not even close. A second interesting point to note is that in the aforementioned Shearer case in 1998 (mentioned way back in Part I), the investigating panel found the charges not proved. This in spite of the fact that television pictures clearly showed Shearer turning and very deliberately punting his opponent in the face. Are we to understand that “balance of probabilities” did not apply in that case? And what of the Emre/Joseph Yobo incident, also mentioned in Part I, where the FA’s investigating panel stated that we were not satisfied that the Charge was proved” despite the fact that “in their written submissions to the FA, defender Joleon Lescott said Emre had called Yobo a “f*****g negro” while goalkeeper Tim Howard accused him of saying “f*****g n*gger””)? Did “balance of probabilities” apply there? If so, how could neither of those cases be found proved when there was far more concrete evidence available that there was in the Suárez case?

Let’s go back to the Commission’s statement that “Mr. Suárez’s behaviour was far more serious than a single use of the word “negro” to address Mr. Evra in a way which would be considered inoffensive in Uruguay. If that was all that Mr. Suárez had done, and we had found the Charge proved, the penalty would have been less than we have imposed (paragraph 443). Well now all we’re going on is the one instance to which Suárez admits because six of the other seven allegations are not proved, not proved, not proved, not even “on the balance of probabilities.” All of a sudden, the only compelling “aggravating factors” (paragraph 409) that the FA managed to put forward in the first place (namely that “given the number of times that Mr. Suárez used the word “negro,”, his conduct is significantly more serious than a one-off use of a racially offensive term and amounts to an aggravating factor” – paragraph 411) disappear. What’s more, all of the mitigating factors rendered obsolete by the fact that Suárez made overtly racist comments like “No hablo con los negros” (“I don’t talk to blacks”) now come back into play – the language experts’ testimony that “negro” was possibly used in a friendly way, Suárez’s lack of English, his lack of knowledge of the English culture, his charity work in the past, his black heritage, his contrition, his assurances that he would never use the word on the pitch again and his hitherto clean record as regards racism. Taking all of this into account, even if we accept that Suárez had nonetheless broken the rules and needed be punished, that the “objective test” set out by the Commission was the correct one (dubious) and that the entry point should indeed have been four games, it would have made far more sense to give him a four game ban with two suspended, a fine and maybe send him on some race awareness training. That should have been the worst case scenario for the player. Had this reduced penalty also been buttressed with a statement setting out how Suárez’s use of the word “negro” may indeed have been intended harmlessly and that the Commission were unable to find otherwise, then I suspect that Liverpool’s statement on 20 December would have been far less uncompromising and we could have all moved on from this much quicker. Suárez would have missed a couple of games for his mistake, the FA, anti-racism groups and Patrice Evra would have gotten their pound of flesh and anyone associated with Liverpool F.C. would have felt far less hard done-by. As we know, that didn’t happen. Blaming the ensuing mess on Liverpool is, under these circumstances, a bit rich.

To summarise:

(1) Patrice Evra’s evidence regarding what was said and how many times it was said fluctuated constantly throughout this whole process. He was every bit as unreliable a witness as Luis Suárez;

(2) If we accept that Evra’s account was no more likely to have happened than Suárez’s, then the only solid information we have to go on is the Uruguayan’s admission that he used to word “negro” (pronounced “negg-grow”) once;

(3) Language experts have agreed that his use of the word to Evra was possibly benign – at this point, the more serious charges against Suárez begin to fall apart;

(4) If we accept that he technically breached the rules and that the entry point for his offence is a four game ban, then none of the aggravating factors for an increased ban are now present and, indeed, there are plenty of mitigating circumstances that can now be taken into account;

(5) As a result, I submit that the ban was severe and should have been four games with two suspended on the condition that Suárez fulfils his promise that he will never use the word “negro” on a football pitch in England again and possibly buttressed by undertaking education on race relations in England;

(6)    This was a process in which Suárez was assumed guilty until proven innocent, denying him even a scintilla of natural justice. Luis Suárez’s reputation now lies in tatters based solely on the word of a man whose allegations remain unsubstantiated. This point is the key one.

In the end, the club decided not to appeal the decision. It’s easy to say, as many have, that Liverpool should have taken the matter further if they truly believed that Suárez had been hard done by. It isn’t so much that they didn’t have ample reasons to feel aggrieved – those have all been listed here. Simply put, on a practical level, the advantages of taking the matter further were outweighed by the disadvantages. Firstly, there was the risk that an appeal board could have actually increased the sanction against Suárez. Secondly, any arbitration procedure could have taken months, during which time the fine and ban would have more than likely taken effect anyway. What’s more, it would have had to be proved that the Commission’s investigation included irrationality or procedural unfairness. In truth, the entire procedure was straight from the FA’s rulebook, as utterly inadequate as that proved to be in this case. The Commission took great care to adhere strictly to the organisation’s rules, and while the repeated acceptance of Evra’s inconsistencies and amplification of Suárez’s might be described by some as irrational, proving it would have been a different matter. A high court challenge was out as well judging by legal precedent – it was ruled in 1992 that the FA was not subject to judicial review. The European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Arbitration for Sport would have been difficult too. Overall, the options available to the club were limited. They would have known this having no doubt taken legal advice in coming to the most practical conclusion, namely to simply accept the Commission’s decision and move on. There was simply no point in dragging it out any longer. In accepting the verdict, they must have hoped that the whole sorry mess could be left behind and that everyone could simply move on and get back to the football. Oh how wrong they were.

© 2012

The sixth (and final!) part is on its way before the weekend. It deals with the whole aftermath of the case, including media coverage, so needless to say it has taken quite a while to complete :)

Filed under E2Klassic football liverpool premier league Luis Suarez

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Suárez Pt. IV: A Question Of Linguistics

Language

Supposed confusion regarding the terms “black” and “n*gger” aside, all parties now agree that the word used by Suárez on 15 October was the Spanish “negro” (when this was decided is not mentioned in the Commission’s report – remember, Evra was ostensibly claiming “n*gger” as late as his interview with Canal Plus). Now before we go into linguistics, it is important to understand that the context in which it was used is hugely important. If Suárez said “why, black?” once, then that is massively different to saying that he kicked Evra “because you are black” or that “I don’t speak to blacks.” Regardless of the language in which such words are spoken, the racist intent is clear from the way they fit together. The difficulties arise when you realise that “por que, negro?” (the only sentence that Suárez admits to saying involving the word “negro”) is a potentially harmless one in his native Uruguay. It is a word which he states “was intended in a conciliatory and friendly way” (paragraph 6) and which is used in Uruguay “as a friendly form of address to people seen as black or brown-skinned or even just black-haired,” one which he claims to have used “when he spoke to Glen Johnson, the black Liverpool player,” and “in no way was the use of the word “negro” intended to be offensive or to be racially offensive” (paragraph 104). Needless to say, this complicates matters. Had Suárez admitted to saying “I don’t speak to blacks,” the cultural nuances of the word would have meant little – that statement is dripping with racism. This would have only been exacerbated with “dale, negro…negro…negro.” However, “por que, negro?” is potentially consistent with Suárez’s statement that it was not meant in a racist manner. In these circumstances, the whole issue hinges on that one word, “negro,” and since it has many cultural idiosyncrasies attached to it, it is hugely important to explore its potential meaning and the context in which it may have been used.

By painting Luis Suárez as an unreliable witness and Evra as credible, even though his evidence was arguably every bit asunreliable as his counterpart (as outlined in Part III), the Commission was able to come to the conclusion that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382). In other words, Suárez did say that he kicked Evra “because you are black,” did say “I don’t talk to blacks” and did say “Okay, blackie, blackie, blackie” (paragraph 99). Why, then, the Commission decided to engage language experts is a mystery. Regardless of how “negro” is used in Uruguay, those three sentences above are explicitly racist, whatever word is used. You don’t need a language expert to tell you that. Nonetheless, “on 11 November, the FA instructed two experts, Dr. Scorer and Professor Wade. The experts were instructed to prepare a written report on the linguistic and cultural interpretations of the words “negro” and “negros” in Rioplatense Spanish. The instructions went into further detail as to the issues which the experts were asked to cover. The FA provided the experts with relevant materials, including 12 video clips of the match, the witness statement of Mr. Evra and the transcript of the interview with Mr. Suárez. The experts provided a written report to the FA on 15 November” (paragraph 15). Perhaps the Commission were simply trying to cover all angles. In the event, the linguistic testimony of the two experts only cast yet more doubt on their eventual judgement and provided further compelling evidence of the Commission’s propensity for favouring one piece of evidence over another for no other reason than it fit a certain narrative.

Firstly, let us consider the context of the word, which was clearly paramount in the Commission forming the view they eventually did. In rejecting Suárez’s evidence that “his use of the word “negro” to address Mr. Evra was conciliatory and friendly,” the Commission stated that “to describe his own behaviour in that way was unsustainable and simply incredible given that the players were engaged in an acrimonious argument” – paragraph 453(5). Ok – now let me quote the independent expert evidence on the matter. While Dr. Scorer and Professor Wadedid suggest that “the word can be employed with the intent to offend and to offend in racial terms” (paragraph 171), they also submitted that it may have been used in a benign manner. “To analyse the word “negro” in Mr. Suárez’s interview it was important to remember that the word was used during a football match, which establishes the context as one of informal social relations (paragraph 188). “Although there was clearly already bad feeling between Mr. Suárez and Mr. Evra at the time of their second exchange (by which we understand the experts to refer to when the referee blew his whistle to stop the corner), the fact that Mr. Suárez indicates that Mr. Evra had already spoken to him in Spanish in the earlier exchange means that he could well have felt that a linguistic and/or cultural relationship had been established between them (paragraph 189). “Mr. Suárez would not have needed any further sense of familiarity to use the word “negro,” which is to say how well Mr. Suárez knew Mr. Evra is not of particular importance; in Rioplatense Spanish the use of “negro” as described here by Mr. Suárez would not be offensive. Indeed, it is possible that the term was intended as an attempt at conciliation and/or to establish rapport (paragraph 190). It goes on to state that “the question “Por qué, negro?” as transcribed in Mr. Suárez’s interview sounded right linguistically and culturally and is in line with the use set out by Mr. Suárez when referring to Glen Johnson” (paragraph 191). Indeed, the expert evidence further stated that “the term can also be used as a friendly form of address to someone seen as somewhat brown-skinned or even just black-haired. It may be used affectionately between man and wife, or girlfriend/boyfriend, it may be used as a nickname in everyday speech, it may be used to identify in neutral and descriptive fashion someone of dark skin; several famous people in Uruguay are known as “el negro/la negra such-and-such”” (paragraph 172).

Go back and read that expert evidence again. Read it as many times as you need to. Now ask yourself whether it was “unsustainable and simply incredible to suggest that Luis Suárez may have intended “por qué, negro?” to be “an attempt at conciliation” with Evra. Well Dr. Scorer and Professor Wade seem to think it eminently possible, no more likely or unlikely, in fact, than the suggestion that it was meant in a racist way. Yet the Commission deems it simply incredible because the two players “were engaged in an acrimonious argument.” The Commission members have obviously never been party to an argument in the pub or at a match (or, dare I say, on a football pitch) where normally affectionate words like “pal,” “mate” or “buddy” can either be used to defuse a situation (e.g. “alright, mate, calm down…”) or in anger (e.g. “listen, pal…”) in the heat of the moment. Is it impossible, therefore, for me to say “mate” to someone after a blazing argument? Some might say that a friendly term like that is exactly what is needed in that scenario to calm things down. Oh, but “mate” doesn’t contain a reference to skin colour, does it? You see, this is the crux of the misunderstanding which has been exhibited by so many morally-outraged idiots over the past few weeks. There is no English equivalent of “negro” in the context claimed by Suárez (and deemed entirely plausible by the Commission’s language experts). This naturally makes the use of the word difficult for an English speaker to understand, especially in a society with complex race relations historically. Some scoffed when the Uruguayan compared it to calling Dirk Kuyt “blondie,” one refers to race and the other doesn’t, right? The point he’s making, however, is that both words are used in the same spirit. If my understanding is correct, “negro” in this context corresponds more to “mate” or “pal” in English than simply “black.” We just do not have an equivalent and a literal translation loses all of the nuances of how the word is spoken in practice in Uruguay and other South American countries.

How do we English speakers consider the word “love,” for example? Well it’s affectionate, isn’t it? How many mothers call their children by that name? Did The Righteous Brothers not once sing “Oh my love, oh my darling”? It’s a term of endearment, right? Not always. It can also be said sarcastically to someone you don’t like. Look no further than this example from Richard “did you smash it” Keyes. He certainly wasn’t being nice about Karen Brady here, was he? In this instance, it was meant in a patronising and belittling way to which I’m sure the woman in question took offence when she heard it later. Conversely, take the word “bitch.” It’s a horrible word, right? It still gets edited out on some television channels. It’s insulting, disrespectful. On the other hand, one of the first gifts I ever bought for my girlfriend of almost ten years’ standing (tenth anniversary in March) was a t-shirt with the words “Top Bitch” on the front. True story. It was cheap (I didn’t have much money), I thought it was funny and she did too. Really broke the ice, that did. I think she still has it as well. The point is, I certainly wasn’t calling her a “bitch” in the traditional sense of the word. We wouldn’t have even made it to dinner if I had. These English words, along with a slew of others, can be used in either a friendly or a nasty way. How do you tell the difference? Well, the tone and facial expression of the person saying them, of course. So in the middle of a cauldron of noise (Anfield), under the pressure of captaining his team against their bitter rivals, do we believe that Patrice Evra could somehow appreciate the nuances of Suárez’s tone and delivery? Of course he couldn’t. Consequently, the Uruguayan’s “negro” comment would have been stripped of all additional meaning. This only adds to the language barrier between a Frenchman speaking European Spanish as a second language, who was potentially processing the conversation in any one of English, French or Italian if you believe the report, and a Uruguayan speaking native Rioplatense Spanish. All of a sudden, “negro” is being taken to literally mean “black,” or even “n*gger.” All other meaning had been stripped away. In such a scenario, my girlfriend’s t-shirt could have been grounds for an early break-up. “You’re calling me a bitch?!” “Well…yeah…but at least you’re a top one!” Thankfully, we both speak English. Fluently.

And what of the other person in this two-way conversation, might I ask? Is the meaning of a word not also dependant on the spirit in which it is taken? Take women, for example (if I can be so bold as to risk being charged with sexism in this current climate of phoney moral indignation). They’re way more stubborn than men, in my experience. The male will always lose an argument because the female can simply keep going longer than we can. They’re the Duracell bunnies of acrimony. Sometimes my girlfriend and I will have an argument (very occasionally, to be fair), she’ll go to bed and I won’t see her again until morning. By then, I’ll be a quivering mess having played the whole thing over and over in my head for hours while she’s had a good night’s sleep. All I’ll want to do is forget about it and apologise, even if I was in the right. And I’ll call her “babe” or “hon” or whatever, and we’ll hug and that’ll be it. Try and call a woman “babe” in the middle of a heated exchange, however, and all you’ll get is “don’t fucking “babe” me!” In this kind of scenario, where she’s furious with you and only wants to get her few digs in, any term of endearment is akin to pouring petrol on a fire. Is it my fault that she’s so blinded with rage that even an affectionate word is like a red rag to a bull? I’m not saying that Evra should have understood all the nuances of the word “negro” in the heat of the moment, I’ve already pointed out in numerous ways that he couldn’t. What I will say is that he was clearly storming all over Anfield that day looking for a fight. Any open-minded football supporter would tell you that. He literally argued the toss with the referee, had two interactions that we know of with the crowd (one of which was pure incitement) and admitted to threatening Suárez with physical violence. Suárez could have said “I respect you so much, Patrice, you’re the best left-back in the world and I am only fit to cower in your shadow,” and Evra would have probably taken it as a wind-up. He could have said “sorry I fouled you” and he probably would have been met with an icy glare. I’m not saying that Evra was acting like a woman in full-on bitch-mode (the bad meaning of the word) that day…but he sure did a good impression of it. Under those circumstances, what the fuck was Suárez meant to do to calm things down? He used what he instinctively thought to be a friendly word…and it was the biggest mistake he’s ever made on a football pitch.

Ah, but Suárez used the word on English soil! Its meaning in Uruguay doesn’t matter! Yes, but let’s not forget that Evra instigated the conversation in Spanish, not English. At what point does an exchange in Spanish between a Uruguayan and a Frenchman become governed by the English language? How many people live in the UK who can barely speak a word of it? In a modern, multi-cultural society, does every ethnic group or nationality have to fluently speak and understand the official language of the land in order to make a safe and happy home there? If so, should their proficiency in English not be checked at customs upon their arrival? “Hello, sir.” “Dzien dobry.” “Alright, back on the fucking plane, pal…” There are simply too many over-arching societal questions here to be answered by anyone, let alone a three-man Regulatory Commission governed by rules pertaining to a mere sport. If an immigrant mistakenly using words from his/her own language (and that’s what Suárez did, he erroneously used a Spanish word whose literal translation into English was deemed offensive) results in being treated like a criminal, then English nationals abroad had better be very careful from now on because ignorance of another culture’s rules and traditions cannot be used as an excuse anymore. Therefore, the British couple who were jailed for a month in Dubai for kissing in public and the British woman arrested for indecency for wearing a bikini in public were asking for it, were they? We are to have no sympathy for them because they unknowingly offended the local population by doing something that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow in their own culture, correct? Well the Foreign Office better publicise that one – if you get caught kissing in public or showing a little too much skin in the wrong place, you’re on your own. Suárez, as he has explicitly stated, meant no harm, he was simply speaking how he has spoken his entire life and didn’t realise that his word would be taken so wildly out of context, but fuck that, right? Ok, well then can we be spared the sanctimonious bullshit the next time a British citizen gets arrested abroad for doing something that people in Britain consider natural? Please? World Cup 2022 in Qatar should be tons of fun on that score…

Normal people use the word “incredible” when they see something that defies belief e.g. a supremely beautiful landscape or a transcendently gorgeous woman, or maybe a spectacular sunset or natural wonders such as the Aurora Borealis or the Grand Canyon. In everyday life, meanwhile, you might define a suggestion or statement as “simply incredible” if there is very little possibility of it being true e.g. if someone tells a teacher that the dog ate their homework, it could be said to be simply incredible. Yet here you had two language experts brought in by the Commission themselves, very clearly telling them that, “although there was clearly already bad feeling between Mr. Suárez and Mr. Evra at the time of their second exchange,” (paragraph 189),it is possible that the term was intended as an attempt at conciliation and/or to establish rapport (paragraph 190). Somehow, the Commission preferred to rely on the notion that if Evra’s account was reliable and truthful, then the racist connotations also submitted as possible by the language experts in paragraphs 177 to 186 must be accurate. Of course they must! As already discussed, if Evra’s account is what happened, then you don’t need experts to tell you that “I don’t talk to blacks” is a racist statement! Instead of conceding that Suárez may have meant the gesture in a benign way, as outlined above, the Commission once again cherry-picked the evidence that most suited the narrative they were creating. “First, there are some black people in Uruguay and other areas of Latin America who object to the use of the word “negro” as a term of address, as they say it highlights skin colour when this should be irrelevant. This is the use of the word “negro” (i.e. as a term of address) which Mr. Suárez contended before us is acceptable, yet his view appears to be contentious with some in Uruguay and Latin America” (paragraph 200). Yes – and it is also stated explicitly by the experts that “if Mr. Suárez used the word “negro” as described by Mr. Suárez, this would not be interpreted as either offensive or offensive in racial terms in Uruguay and Spanish-speaking America more generally (paragraph 194). Have you ever seen a clearer example of someone hearing what they want to hear? The Commission eventually found that “Mr. Suárez used insulting words in telling Mr. Evra that he kicked him because he was black. We do not believe this requires any elaboration. The Spanish language experts, whose evidence was accepted by Mr. Suárez, said that this comment would be interpreted in Uruguay and other regions of Latin America as racially offensive” – paragraph 391(1). Of course their evidence was accepted by Suárez – it also stated that “if Mr. Suárez used the word “negro” as described by Mr. Suárez, this would not be interpreted as either offensive or offensive in racial terms in Uruguay and Spanish-speaking America more generally (paragraph 194). Why wouldn’t he accept it?! More importantly, this is yet another example of the Commission hearing what they wanted to hear. If Evra’s account was true, then yes – but that remains unsubstantiated to this day and probably always will.

You know what the experts also stated? That “the use of the verb form “porque tu eres negro” is not the most usual form for Montevidean Spanish, since the form of the verb “ser” most commonly used would be the “vos” form, that is “porque (vos) sos negro.” Nevertheless, a small percentage of people from Montevideo do use the “tu” form (in contrast to Buenos Aires, where it is rarely used) or even a mixture of both” (paragraph 181). In other words, the “balance of probabilities” is that Suárez did not say what Evra claimed, namely “porque tu eres negro.” The Commission did somersaults trying to explain this one away, suggesting that since Suárez “has spent some considerable time in Europe it is possible that his use of Spanish alters between Uruguayan and European contexts” (paragraph 181). Possible, yes, but probable? Nah, especially since his time in Europe has included precisely none in Spain, so how could he have been speaking a different form of Spanish? “It is also possible that Mr. Evra, who may have learned his Spanish in Spain where the “vos” form is not used, may, when recalling the incident in interview, have rendered Mr. Suárez’s usage as the “tu” form, even if Mr. Suárez used the “vos” form” (paragraph 181). Lots of possible’s and may’s there to explain away why the experts doubt that Suárez said what the “credible” witness Evra claims he did. They certainly never gave the Uruguayan the benefit of the doubt like that, on anything. “The experts considered it worth noting that the phrase “porque tu eres negro” struck both of them as slightly unusual” (paragraph 182). This immediately casts doubt on the accuracy of Evra’s evidence, especially since “por qué” (meaning “why,” what Suárez claims to have said) and “porque” (meaning “because,” what Evra claims was said) sound almost identical. Even “allowing for linguistic errors made by a non-native speaker of Spanish” (paragraph 177), if the Frenchman misheard Suárez once, how many other times did he jumble, misinterpret or even embellish what was said?

The Commission’s ability to see the worst in Suárez throughout this whole process is perhaps best illustrated in how they interpreted him rubbing Evra’s head shortly after the referee spoke to the players for the second time (the point at which Evra pushes his hand away). They found that it was “part of Mr. Suárez’s attempts to wind up Mr. Evra” – paragraph 453(7). Now I have watched football for a long time – Mexico ’86 comprised my first football memories and I have supported Liverpool since the 1986/87 season, when I was 7. That’s roughly a quarter of a century. I have watched many different teams in many different countries in that time and I have long since come to the conclusion that though languages and cultures may differ, there is also a universal language that everybody understands e.g. tapping your wrist at a referee means that you want time added on, gesturing with your hands like you’re diving into a swimming pool means that someone is cheating, thumping your chest indicates pride. Nobody will ever tell me that a pat on the back of the head, much like a gentle slap on the back, is anything other than a friendly gesture. Nobody. I have seen it used between teammates and opposition players alike; I’ve seen it done after the most contentious fouls or matches; I’ve seen it done with players, referees, managers, officials. And I’ve seen it done whether the environment was hostile or not. It’s a friendly gesture. While you can argue up to a point about the use of “negro” in this context, you cannot argue about the pat on the head – if you watch football, you know what this gesture means. And if you look at the picture of the two men (below), you’ll see a deadly serious look on Suárez’s face – no sneer or grin whatsoever. He isn’t trying to wind him up. If anything, the gesture is utterly consistent with his statement that he “did not understand what the referee was saying but he gained the impression that what he was doing was to say that they should each say sorry to each other and get on with the game. As they walked away from the referee, Mr. Suárez took his advice and patted Mr. Evra on the back of the head” (paragraph 109). Unlike the pinch which, although not racist in the slightest might have been an attempt to wind Evra up, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this gesture whatsoever. The Commission simply decided to make it into something it wasn’t. Also, have a look at the picture just below it, taken during the contentious goalmouth conversation between the two players. Look at the gesture that Suárez is making - does that look confrontational to you?

 

Speaking of linguistic interpretations and winding people up…let’s go back to how the initial conversation between the two actually began: “concha de tu hermana” (paragraph 87). This was Evra’s admission since Suárez stated that he didn’t hear it, but even this admission was on his terms. Even though the literal translation of the phrase is “your sister’s cunt,” and even though the aforementioned language experts stated that “if directed at someone in particular, it can also be understood as “[you] son of a bitch”” (paragraph 178), “Mr. Evra’s evidence was that this is a phrase used in Spanish like when you say “fucking hell” in English” (paragraph 87). This is possible, as the language experts agree in paragraph 178, but it is also possible that he was calling Suárez a son of a bitch, language undoubtedly in contravention of FA rule E3(1) which states that “a participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour (paragraph 49). On this same subject, let us now consider a reply received by the website Anfieldroad.com in respect of some questions pertaining to the investigation. According to Mr. Alex Burkwood, Customer Relations Officer of the FA, “it was accepted by all parties (including Mr. Suárez) that the phrase “concha de tu hermana” properly translates into English as “fucking hell”, “fuck me” or similar and is therefore deemed an exclamation not a direct insult.” Er, no it wasn’t, actually. That’s certainly not my reading of the report. The language experts agreed that it can be equivalent to “fucking hell” or “fuck me,” but if directed at someone in particular, it can also be understood as “[you] son of a bitch” (paragraph 178). So if it was directed at Suárez, it immediately becomes insulting. The Commission itself acknowledges that “Mr. Evra’s use of the phrase should be understood in the sense of “fucking hell” or “you son of a bitch”” (paragraph 374). Wait…I thought that the only proper translation was “fucking hell,” therefore it can only be “deemed an exclamation not a direct insult”? Is the term “son of a bitch” insulting language or not? Of course it is. Mr. Burkwood, however, bends over backwards to excuse Evra.

This is just an extension of the Commission’s own behaviour, suggesting in the report that the assertion (despite the fact that it is supported by the language experts) that Suárez used the word “negro” in a conciliatory way is “unsustainable and simply incredible given that the players were engaged in an acrimonious argument” (paragraph 453(5)), yet taking Evra’s word for it that he meant “fucking hell” despite the fact that Suárez had just laid him out five minutes earlier, effectively putting the phrase into context despite not doing the same for “negro,” which they translated literally. Come to think of it, it’s unclear whether Suárez even considered it an acrimonious argument at the time. Any acrimony flying around seemed to only be coming from one man. It’s actually entirely possible, when you think about it, that Suárez didn’t even know how freakishly angry Evra was. Again, examine his frame of mind – leaving the pitch after the original foul, he blew a kiss and kissed his badge at Liverpool supporters, a direct incitement. Does that not count as “any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute” (paragraph 49)? By the time he uttered his insult to Suárez, he had already argued with the referee over the coin toss and aggressively engaged the crowd twice over the course of the match (remember, referee Andre Marriner stated in relation to the first incident that Evra was acting in a way that he “thought was inflaming the situation” – paragraph 331). Dirk Kuyt also stated that “it seemed clear to him that Mr. Evra was trying to provoke Mr. Suárez so he (Mr. Kuyt) stepped between them and told Mr. Evra to leave Mr. Suárez alone” (paragraph 98). Speaking of Kuyt, he also stated in evidence that “he was “absolutely certain” that he heard Mr. Evra say that the referee was only booking him because he was black” (paragraph 115) after his 65th minute yellow card. If true, and we are given no reason to consider Kuyt unreliable, we can speculate that Evra was in a delusional state at this point. All of the above evidence was disregarded by the Commission, even though Evra’s mental state was clearly volatile to say the least. If they had taken it into account, they might have come to the conclusion that the Frenchman, speaking to Suárez in Spanish so as to make his message crystal clear, meant to insult Suárez with “concha de tu hermana.” The “balance of probabilities” suggests as much, and if Suárez is damned because of the environment in which he used “negro” (i.e. an adversarial one, so he couldn’t possibly have meant it in a friendly way), then surely Evra should have been damned in the same manner? Maybe, just to be absolutely clear on this issue, each of the three Commission members should have flown to a different city in South America, say Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Medellin, found a bar, gone up to the biggest fella in the room, said “concha de tu hermana” loud enough for him to hear and seen what the reaction was. “On the balance of probabilities,” I think Messrs Goulding, Jones and Smith would have been coming back to the UK in plaster if they were lucky, and not just because some South American ruffian took exception to the term “fucking hell.”

Yet instead of chastising Evra, the Commission actually excused him! He apparently “included it in his witness statement placed before us, even though it reflected badly on him. Mr. Suárez did not hear Mr. Evra use these words, and would not have known that he had used them unless Mr. Evra had said so (paragraph 234). Ah, bless him! Ask yourself this – would the Commission have had one single concrete instance of Suárez using the word “negro” had he himself not told them so? Did it reflect badly on him? Damn sure it did – if he hadn’t admitted to it, he wouldn’t be sitting out eight games right now and being called a racist by all and sundry. Where was his credit? In the FA’s reply to Anfieldroad.com, this blanket defence of Evra’s conduct continues. “Evra’s further comments (i.e. “say it to me again, I’m going to punch you”, “okay, now I think I’m going to punch you”) were made in the context of, and in reaction to, him being spoken to in racially insulting terms. Accordingly, there was nothing in Evra’s language which breaches Rule E3 when assessed against the standards The FA applies to all incidents of on-field verbal exchanges between players.” Ah right, but that’s assuming that Suárez did racially abuse Evra in the goalmouth, an accusation which remains unsubstantiated. Also, let me get this straight: if you’re insulted on a football pitch, you can then say whatever the hell you like and even go so far as to physically threaten someone? In fact, you don’t even have to have been insulted, you can just say you were with no proof whatsoever! Perhaps Suárez calling Evra “negro” would have been ok if he had heard the original insult? Maybe the FA should write this into their rules so as to avoid confusion from now on?

Speaking of “negro,” have a look at the two pictures below. One is of a Manchester United supporter in Chicago during one of their pre-season American friendlies this past summer. The other is of the Argentina national team showing their support for Fernando Cáceres, a former Argentina international who was shot in the head during an attempted robbery in 2009 (incidentally, Cáceres is not black but is dark-skinned). You will see a familiar word in each picture. The Manchester United supporter is wearing the number 14, which belongs to Mexican Javier Hernández, only he neither has the player’s surname “Hernández” nor his nickname “Chicarito” on the back, no. Instead, he has “El Negro.” This is consistent with Hernández’s own testimony that “terms such as “Negrito” can be used with close friends and in certain situations without it being offensive” (paragraph 353), a statement which “Mr. Greaney invited the Commission to attach no weight to” (paragraph 29). One thing I can tell you for sure is that no sane football supporter is going to go to the trouble of getting a racist epithet printed on the back of his own team’s jersey, much less racially abuse one of his own players. This was clearly meant in an affectionate way. Likewise, I hardly think that the Argentina national team (replete with stars like Messi, Mascherano and Di Maria) are going to racially abuse a man lying in a coma in a hospital bed for the whole world to see (then again, Mascherano was a Liverpool player at the time so you never know). The Commission might argue that it is accepted that the word can be used in a friendly way but they maintain that Suárez didn’t use it as such. Yet I would contend that these two examples illustrate just how freely the word is used in Latin America. This only supports Suárez’s contention that “he used the word “negro” at this point in the way that he did when he was growing up in Uruguay (paragraph 104). If a Uruguayan grows up in an environment where “negro” is not only harmless but also as common as “mate” or “buddy” in this part of the world, then can he really be expected to simply turn 24 years’ worth of conditioning on and off like a tap? And are we now expecting all foreign players to immediately learn every English custom inside a year even if they don’t speak the language? Yes, according to the Commission. We are. According to Gordon Taylor too, who says that players new to this country need to be advised about what is unacceptable.” Forgive my ignorance here, but what does the PFA actually do again?

For what it’s worth, I find Suárez’s account of his use of the word “negro” in this context consistent with his statement that “I was darker when I was younger and had very dark hair and because of this my wife calls me negro, in an affectionate way, and so do many of my friends. Similarly, I would refer to Glen Johnson as “negro” in the same way that I might refer to Dirk Kuyt as “Blondie” (because he has blond hair) or Andy Carroll as “Grandote” (Big Man – because he is very tall). Where I come from it is normal to refer to people in this way by reference to what they look like” (paragraph 256). It is also consistent with the experts’ testimony that “negro” can be used “in the same way that other words referring to physical characteristics are used as descriptors for particular individuals e.g. “el flaco” [the thin one/beanpole] or “el gordo” [the fat one/fatso]; these words can also be used without the article, e.g. “hola, gordo” [hi, fatso] or “chau, flaco” [bye, beanpole]; thus, a group of friends waiting for another friend might exclaim “mira, ahi viene el negro” [look, here comes the black one/blackie]” (paragraph 173). The Commission, however, effectively heaps scorn on Suárez in this matter and comes as close as it ever does to calling him an outright liar with the suggestion that “whilst Mr. Suárez had, in his interview with the FA, said that he had used the word “negro” towards Mr. Evra in a “friendly and affectionate” way, the first time that he used the words “conciliation” and “conciliatory” was in his witness statement. This was signed after Mr. Suárez had received the experts’ report which referred to the possibility that Mr. Suárez’s use of the term was intended as an attempt at conciliation. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr. Suárez used the words conciliation and conciliatory to describe his use of the word “negro” because the experts had used those terms to describe the circumstances in which the word would not generally be offensive in Uruguay (paragraph 261).

At this point, I’m going to go outside for some fresh air because this is the angriest I’ve been writing this piece. Back in a while.

Ok, I’m back. So the Commission are now finding against Suárez because of semantics. I have to admit, this paragraph has had to be cleaned up a fair bit because while the FA and their little kangaroo court would have been left in little doubt of how I feel by some of my own personal semantics, others might have been offended. First off, the obvious point: as a fluent English speaker, if I’ve just had an argument with someone (assuming that Suárez even felt that he was in an argument in the first place) and then say something in a “friendly” and “affectionate” manner, you can take it as read that I’m attempting to be “conciliatory.” That’s just obvious. I’ve had disagreements with work colleagues who I didn’t know that well in the past where the very act of talking to them later was the apology. “See the match last night?” That’s your apology right there. Translated: let’s be friends, or at least not enemies. To suggest that there is some kind of disconnect between “friendly” and “affectionate” and “conciliatory” is utter bullshit, especially for a Spanish speaker (hell, there are plenty of English speakers who have probably never used the word “conciliatory” in their lives). What’s more, let’s go back to a point made by Suárez’s representative earlier in relation to the “pinch” and the discrepancy in the Uruguayan’s statement which emerged under questioning. Mr. McCormick “submitted that it was down to bad drafting” (paragraph 250). So unless McCormick was lying, and I assume that the Commission were not calling his integrity into question (who knows, maybe they were?), this makes you wonder about how many people were actually involved in putting together Suárez’s statement, out of necessity, due to his lack of English. Under these circumstances, can it be held against him if words show up later that weren’t used before?

The bottom line is this: Luis Suárez has lived in England for less than a year and he has very limited English, as in not much at all. While Patrice Evra “can easily converse in Spanish” (paragraph 87), “Mr. Suárez speaks little English” (paragraph 235). The Commission had already implicitly held this against the Uruguayan. On the one hand, “we found Mr. Evra to be an impressive witness. He gave his evidence to us in a calm, composed and clear manner” – paragraph 231 (fair play to him, but then he wasn’t being accused of a reputation-crushing offence and didn’t have to speak through translators). On the other, “Mr. Suárez was not as impressive a witness as Mr. Evra. His answers were not always clear or directly addressed to the question…whether this was due to language difficulties or evasiveness was not entirely clear and so, whenever we could, we gave Mr. Suárez the benefit of the doubt” (paragraph 237). Hmm, yeah, it really sounds like it. The subtext here is that Suárez’s lack of English counted against him. The proof is in the conciliation/conciliatory nonsense as outlined in the previous paragraph. Here you have a man who speaks little English, whose witness statement passed from English to Spanish and back to English again (see paragraph 251) through translators and who knows what else, yet he was somehow expected to claim ownership of every single word? Say the words “conciliation” and “conciliatory” to Suárez and I bet you’re met with a blank stare (actually, maybe not so much after the publication of this report). He probably didn’t even know what these words meant at the time. Nah, maybe I’m grasping at straws, the Machiavellian little shit is probably secretly fluent in English, am I right? Uruguay’s answer to William Shakespeare.

Finally, there is the reaction back home in Uruguay to consider. If “negro” is a harmless word as Suárez suggested, then surely there must have been a strong message of support for the Liverpool striker? Indeed there was. Compatriot Gus Poyet, formerly of Chelsea, Tottenham and currently Brighton’s manager, began by stating that the ban is incredible, shocking, it’s disproportionate. I back Luis to death.” He went on to say that Suárez just arrived and there are things that he has to learn when you are in another country because they might be normal in your country but perhaps they are not considered that way in other parts of the world. I have tried to explain that we live with coloured people in Uruguay. We share different experiences with them. We play football, we share parties. We are born, we grow up and we die with them. We call them ‘blacks’ in a natural way, even in an affectionate way. That is the way we were brought up. We are integrated and there are no problems from either side.” Uruguay’s national director of sports, Ernesto Irurueta, called the ban exaggerated, absurd and out of place.” National team coach Óscar Tabárez said that he has our full support and solidarity because seen from a distance this seems like an excessive punishment.” Uruguay’s captain Diego Lugano stated that I can’t believe it. They’re making a big mistake. It’s obvious that in England there’s a racism problem they’re trying to eradicate, and that’s good, but this sentence has no solid arguments. Luis is a victim. I can’t understand how a player like Evra can do this. He’s breaking all the codes of football. We all know what kind of person Luis is and the values he has.” Lazio’s Álvaro Gonzalez said that all of us who know Luis, we know that if he made this remark it wasn’t insulting. We Uruguayans, and more so in football, use terms that can be wrongly interpreted by people from other places…it’s not a reason to call a Uruguayan a racist. Maybe we end up paying for entering other, perhaps more closed cultures and which surely have discriminated against Evra at some moment for him to feel attacked in this situation.” Most recently, FC Porto’s Álvaro Pereira (who, incidentally, is black) left no doubt as to how he feels, saying that my team-mates call me ‘negro’ and in South America it can also be used in an affectionate way.” So ask yourself what this public support of Suárez by a host of Uruguayans tells you. Are they simply defending a teammate and a fellow countryman? Or are they genuinely bewildered? And if they are, does that not corroborate Suárez’s evidence about the use of “negro” in Uruguay?

Just to finish up on the language issue, although this is concerned more with the nature of the actual sentences alleged to have been spoken by Suárez rather than the nuances of the word “negro” itself. In its statement of 20 December 2011, Liverpool F.C. stated that Luis himself is of a mixed race family background as his grandfather was black.” At the time, I saw this as merely the same kind of play that Sepp Blatter made after his comments on racism in football where he published a picture of himself embracing a black man, Tokyo Sexwale, or something akin to Father Ted putting on a slideshow of all things Chinese (including Mr. Miyagi, even though he was Japanese, and Ming the Merciless) in order to show that he wasn’t racist.  Then I thought about what Patrice Evra actually accused him of saying: “I don’t speak to blacks” (paragraph 5). And I asked myself, how likely is it that someone with black blood coursing through his veins would say that to someone? “I don’t speak to blacks.” Well, technically, Luis Suárez is black. Does he not talk to one of his parents then? This isn’t some distant ancestor we’re talking about here, it’s his grandfather. Presumably Suárez knew the man, and we can assume that either his mother or father would have raised him with an awareness of his heritage given that one of them had a black father. Of course, this doesn’t prove anything, but I will reiterate once again: we’re talking “balance of probabilities” here. What is the probability that Suárez effectively insulted his own family by telling Patrice Evra that “I don’t speak to blacks”?

Incidentally, click here for a compelling rebuttal of the Commission’s findings regarding the language and words allegedly used by the two players. In addition to this long, detailed consideration of the evidence contained within the report, the gentleman in question (Aldo Mazzucchelli, Assistant Professor in Hispanic Studies at Brown University) follows up by saying that the use of “tu” is very uncommon in Montevideo – basically a few individuals in the highest social layers, or people from the south-east of the country (and Suárez was born in the north-west part of it), and “porque tu eres negro” sounds utterly “literary.” Evra makes Suárez to (sic) sound like an XIX century writer from Cuba or Mexico. No football player would talk like that, believe me. On the other hand, that is exactly the way Evra or anybody familiar with Spanish from Spain (not from Uruguay or Argentina) would have made the sentence up if he had to invent it. It is just totally implausible that Suárez used that language. It seems to me that their experts called FA’s attention to this key issue, and they just did not weighted (sic) it correctly and dismissed it as unimportant. But is (sic) is important.” He adds that there is no room for interpretation. “La concha de tu hermana” is a very gruesome insult. It means literally “Your sister’s ****,” and it is what you would say just before, say, getting in a fist fight with something (sic) – because there is no room for more words after such a violent verbal attack.” Coming from a native of Uruguay with a PhD from Stanford University, I would say this evidence is very interesting to say the least.

© 2012

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Suárez Pt. III: A Question Of Reliability

Suárez’s Credibility

The Commission used mostly circumstantial evidence in order to convince themselves (and, it would seem, the entire world) of the Uruguayan’s unreliability. Where discrepancies in his testimony did occur (and there were admittedly a few of them), they were seized upon even as equally serious inconsistencies in Evra’s were ignored. That was an interesting approach to say the least. If one man is credible and another is not, then the balance of probabilities naturally tilts in favour of the former. Yet was Suárez truly more unreliable than Evra and, conversely, was Evra truly more credible than Suárez? We’ll get to the Frenchman in more detail later, for now let’s concentrate on the Uruguayan. The Commission’s first attempt (a silly one at that) to portray him as unreliable is by painting his failure to mention something said to Evra after the second chat with the referee in a sinister light – “It will be noted that Mr. Suárez makes no mention of the players talking to each other as they walk away from the referee for the second time” (paragraph 109). It will also be noted (by me) that Evra made no accusations against Suárez regarding this particular incident – he claims, as far as I can tell, six instances of the word “negro,” five in the goalmouth and the one to which he reacted when the referee stopped play the first time. He mentions nothing about a seventh and nothing about a conversation as they walked away from the referee a second time. Is Evra’s failure to mention it noted by the Commission? Not that I can tell. 

The report also makes much of the fact that “Mr. Suárez also changed some of the detail of his account of the incident when he used the word “negro”. He now said that it was simultaneously with the blowing of the whistle that Mr. Evra spoke to him and said “Don’t touch me, South American” (in English). Mr. Suárez took this to be a reference to his touching of Mr. Evra’s arm on the goal line a few moments earlier” (paragraph 315). “There were, thus, three changes in this account from what Mr Suárez had said in his 2 November interview: (1) Previously he had said that this exchange took place when they were walking away after the referee had spoken to them, whereas now it was said to have occurred simultaneously with the referee blowing his whistle and before he spoke to them. (2) Previously he had said that the exchange took place in the context of Mr. Suárez saying sorry to Mr. Evra as required by the referee, whereas now nothing was said about Mr. Suárez apologising. (3) Previously Mr. Suárez said that he believed that Mr. Evra’s comment that Mr. Suárez should not touch him was a reference to Mr. Suárez putting his hand on the back of Mr. Evra’s head, whereas now it was said to be a reference to the pinching on the goal line” (paragraph 316). This is hugely important as the Commission’s final decision is based largely on the fact that they deemed “Mr. Suárez’s evidence unreliable in many respects” (paragraph 364), one of the main ones being the inconsistencies in when exactly he used the word “negro”. In addition, the witness statement includes some other new claims, including one that “Mr. Suárez told him to shut up and made a brief gesture with his left hand like a “quacking” motion as if to say he was talking too much and should be quiet” (paragraph 314) during their goalmouth conversation. 

Ok, let us first consider the discrepancies regarding the timing of his use of the word “negro” from his initial interview with the FA on 2 November and his witness statement submitted later. Suárez reasoned in the statement that “I should point out that, in interview with the FA, I had thought that the conversation in paragraph 32 [it should be 30] above took place after the Referee spoke to myself and PE. On viewing the clips, however (which I was not shown during the interview), I now realise that the conversation took place immediately before the Referee spoke to us” (paragraph 317). Interesting. The report concedes that “it is true to say that Mr. Suárez had not seen all the video clips when he was interviewed” (paragraph 320) but dismisses this by stating that he “had watched a recording of the game with a view to preparing for his FA interview. It is a reasonable inference that he had thought very carefully about what had happened at the key moments in the penalty area, with the benefit of some recording to refresh his memory” (paragraph 320). This is confirmed in the report to have been the “Sky footage” (paragraph 308) of the game. Now just hang on a second, and bear with me because I’m fuming with anger here – the clips in question which Suárez hadn’t been shown would presumably be the footage gleaned from broadcasters that contained material which was not broadcast, including footage of the exchanges in the penalty area in the 63rd minute taken from a number of different camera angles” (paragraph 12), the same footage that the Commission relied upon in making their case against Suárez, yet he had never seen it and was supposed to remember everything with crystal clarity based on the Sky broadcast of the game (which was so brilliant that the Commission didn’t use it)?

Unbelievable. Remember, Suárez maintains that he used the word “negro” in the same off-hand, everyday manner with which “he says “Just pass the ball, negro” to Glen Johnson” (paragraph 353), in the same way that Patrice Evra’s Mexican teammate Javier Hernandez “admitted that terms such as “Negrito” can be used with close friends and in certain situations without it being offensive(paragraph 353), in the same way that Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has said that Suárez’s wife calls him that and I don’t think he is offended by her. If that’s the case, then he would have thought nothing of saying it and certainly wouldn’t have been keeping a detailed log of the exact point at which he said it. How many times, yes, that’s easy, but minutes and seconds? Get real. Yet the Commission later accepts that “it is true to say that Mr. Suárez had not seen all the video clips when he was interviewed, and that it is not easy to piece together a detailed sequence of events which took place in a brief period of time in a high-pressured match” (paragraph 320). Again, which is it? Should he remember everything with total recall or is it natural that he would forget a few things? “On the other hand,” the Commission argues, “a serious allegation had been made against Mr. Suárez” and “it is a reasonable inference that he had thought very carefully about what had happened at the key moments in the penalty area.” Agreed, but (a) that still doesn’t mean that he will remember every little detail based on a normal television broadcast of the match, and (b) what of Patrice Evra’s forgetfulness, which we’ll explore in more detail later? I’m not saying that Suárez’s inconsistency should have been simply disregarded by the Commission, when cast in a certain light it may look bad, but each man’s evidence (good and bad) should absolutely have been given equal weight. As we will see later, it wasn’t. 

This is the same report, by the way, which admits “that the FA had interviewed Mr. Evra on 20 October, and that this interview had been recorded. No transcript had been made. The tapes should have been, but were not, included in the schedule of unused material. Upon enquiring into this omission, it also emerged that the FA was in possession of some brief notes of interviews, which also should have been, but were not, included in the schedule of unused material (paragraph 18). At the very least, that’s incompetence on a grand scale, and I have to wonder once again why Mr. McCormick, “whilst understandably critical of the omission of the tapes from the schedule of unused material, confirmed that he had had an adequate opportunity to listen to the tapes and to review the brief notes of interviews before commencing his cross-examination of Mr. Evra” (paragraph 20) instead of calling into question exactly what kind of operation the Commission were running. Again, however, I have to admit that I know little about legal proceedings of this nature so I will just assume that he had his reasons. This is also the same report which states, in paragraph 453(4), that Evra and Suárez “were understandably unable to remember every detail of the exchanges between them,” and yet here they were essentially making their case on the fact that the Uruguayan could not remember everything with 100% accuracy. Then you have the so-called “quacking” motion mentioned in paragraph 314 which was another new piece of evidence mentioned in Suárez’s witness statement. All the report states about this is that “we found the “quacking” motion to be a puzzling gesture, which was not really explained or explored further in the evidence” (paragraph 373). Firstly, why wasn’t it? With the number of different camera angles supposedly at the Commission’s disposal, surely they could have ascertained whether Suárez actually did make this gesture? If he did, well and good, but if he didn’t, that would have damaged his credibility, no? So why is it not mentioned either way in the report? And secondly, it is by no means a “puzzling gesture” at all. It is designed to mimic a mouth opening and closing, as if talking, and has been used many times in many different walks of life for many years. If Evra was insulting Suárez (“concha de tu hermana”) or moaning about a foul that the Uruguayan considered “normal” (paragraph 6 and elsewhere throughout the report), then I would suggest that this is a fairly common response. The only thing that puzzles me is why the Commission would think otherwise.

The Commission also made much of the conversations which took place between Suárez, his manager Kenny Dalglish, his teammate Dirk Kuyt, the club’s Director of Football Damien Comolli and referee Andre Marriner in the immediate aftermath of the game, more precisely in the wake of Evra’s accusations. In once again casting Suárez in as unreliable a light as possible, they leaned heavily on the referee’s report which, although accepting that some of its content was “second or third-hand” (paragraph 285), they nonetheless appear to have accepted at face value and even placed massive faith in it. This is the same Andre Marriner who maintained that “there was nothing in relation to Mr. Evra that caused him concern up until the 63rd minute of the game” (paragraph 333), yet nonetheless stated that he considered Evra’s interaction with the crowd after 13 minutes to be “inflaming the situation. Mr. Marriner had a word with Mr. Evra and asked him to keep a level head (paragraph 331). Sounds like concern to me. Besides, even if Mr. Marriner was not concerned by Evra arguing with him at the start of the game that he had won the coin toss when he hadn’t, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there was no cause for concern. That was merely Marriner’s opinion. It certainly shocked me and I’ve been watching football for over two decades. The Commission’s report consistently paints a picture of a body that only sought to investigate when it suited them. Once again here they were taking someone else’s view as fact, namely that there was nothing to be concerned about in Evra’s behaviour (which I will come back to in more detail in the next section). Well, with respect, Andre Marriner is a football referee. He’s not a psychologist and he is prone to error. His word is not the gospel even if the Commission were eager to take it as such. His statement regarding Evra’s behaviour on the pitch does not tally with the evidence, so therefore all of his evidence should have had a fair but critical eye thrown over it from the start. The Commission did not do this, instead boasting that “we have the benefit of Mr Marriner’s contemporaneous report, made on the day, and based on what was reported to him that day” (paragraph 284).

Well, let us consider this report which seems to have made the Commission go weak at the knees. It is, after all, an essential part of the case for Suárez’s unreliability. First off, the report’s content did not come from Andre Marriner. Surprised? Hey, this Commission is full of them. Mr. Dowd, the fourth official, made notes and Mr. Marriner, the referee, wrote up his report of the incident later that day (paragraph 284). Oh it gets worse, much worse. “Mr. Marriner wrote up his report that evening. He referred to the notes that Mr. Dowd had taken, which Mr. Dowd had given to Mr. Marriner before they left the ground. Mr. Dowd told us that the notes consisted of 4 or 5 bullet points where he had roughly recorded what had been said. He did not write down exactly what everyone had said; he had just paraphrased the main points. Once he had finished his report, Mr. Marriner threw away Mr. Dowd’s notes(paragraph 152). Now I hope I don’t have to tell you this, but at the risk of sounding obvious, Marriner’s report is absolutely useless based on the above information. It should not have been considered at all, much less “be given some weight as a contemporaneous record of what people were told had happened soon after the incident, rather than what they recalled at some later date” (paragraph 288). It might not have been at a later date, but the fact remains that hours had passed by the time Marriner sat down to write it that evening. Removed from the madness which had engulfed him so soon after the game (the kind of situation that a referee rarely comes across, that’s why it’s called an “extraordinary incident” – paragraph 153), he now set about trying to reconcile Phil Dowd’s account (which, by his own admission, was only paraphrasing what was said) with his own memory of events. The Commission acknowledges that some of the contents of the report are…second or third-hand” (paragraph 285). No, it’s all second or third-hand. Suárez told Comolli who told Dalglish. Both men then told Marriner, Dowd roughly jotted down the conversation’s main points as he listened, then Marriner tried to remember and make sense of someone else’s hand-written bullet-pointed list hours later. At no point in his evidence does he suggest that he rang, texted, e-mailed or even tweeted Dowd and said “Hey Phil, I can’t read your writing here…” or “Phil, what do you mean when you say this…?” He never asked for any clarification or explanation whatsoever as far as we know, even if it was just to err on the side of caution, despite the seriousness of the incident. And then do you know what he did? He threw away the fucking notes when he was finished! A quick Google search on contemporaneous note-taking will bring you to the website of East Sussex County Council. In a section titled “Guidance on Keeping of Contemporaneous Notes,” we are told that notes taken should be “original and not copied from elsewhere.” It is also stated that “as memory is fallible, such notes may be the only place from where evidence can be recalled and substantiated” and that, therefore, original notes are “to be retained.” Andre Marriner wouldn’t have known about this, naturally, but the manner in which he and Phil Dowd recorded events that day nonetheless fell way short of best practice.

I don’t necessarily blame Marriner, this was a situation which he had never experienced before (to the best of my knowledge). Mistakes were bound to be made. No, if there is blame to be apportioned here it is to a Commission which placed so much weight on a referee’s report that was fatally flawed to the point where it may as well have been written on the back of a cigarette packet. That’s certainly the impression Dowd gives – “4 or 5 bullet points where he had roughly recorded what had been said” (paragraph 152). In a case decided primarily on the respective reliability of the two main protagonists, this all goes towards Marriner’s credibility as a witness, in particular in relation to the events which occurred after the game and which the Commission used to discredit Suárez. As the report states, “Mr. Comolli spoke to Mr. Suárez in Spanish to get his version of what had happened. Based on that conversation, first Mr. Dalglish, then Mr. Comolli reported to the referee what Mr. Suarez had said” (paragraph 283). I’m sorry, I simply have to hijack this paragraph for a moment and ask – ever play Chinese Whispers? Fun game that, we used to play it in school the odd time. Our old friend Wikipedia explains that one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first.” Every time I’ve played this game, the above has happened, and that’s just when it’s being played in English – throw in a couple of different Spanish dialects (i.e. a Uruguayan speaking the Rioplatense version and a Frenchman using the European dialect) and common sense dictates that even more errors will accumulate. Of course, you don’t have to be familiar with the game to understand the concept. We all know how gossip can spiral out of control and rumours that bear no relation to the truth end up being spread around as fact based on the retelling of the original information by numerous other voices. The Commission were either not familiar with this concept or chose to ignore it. 

So the chain begins with Suárez speaking to Comolli. “Mr. Comolli said in his witness statement that Mr. Suárez told him nothing happened. He said that there was one incident where he said sorry to Mr. Evra and Mr. Evra told him “Don’t touch me, South American” to which Mr. Comolli thought Mr. Suárez said he had replied “Por que, tu eres negro?”” (paragraph 138). According to Kenny Dalglish, Comolli then relayed to him that “Mr. Suárez had said that Mr. Evra had called him South American and that Mr. Suárez had replied “Tu eres negro” which is “you are black.” Mr. Comolli reported the Spanish words to Mr. Dalglish, that is he told him that Mr. Suárez had said “Tu eres negro,” and then Mr. Comolli told Mr. Dalglish that this meant “you are black”” (paragraph 140). Dalglish then went to see referee Andre Marriner. “Mr. Marriner said in his witness statement that Mr. Evra had told him that Mr. Suárez had said to him “I don’t talk to you because you n*ggers,” although Mr. Dalglish told us that he did not remember the referee saying that to him” (paragraph 144). Marriner stated in evidence that “Mr. Dalglish’s explanation of what happened was as follows: Dalglish said to me that Suárez had told him that he had said to Evra “you are black,” having been taunted by Evra with the comment “you are South American”” (paragraph 146). By contrast, Dalglish states that “I said to the Referee that LS had told me (meaning in the general discussion to which Damien Comolli was a party as well) that he had referred to PE being negro (black) and that PE had referred to LS as “South American”” (paragraph 147). Next, Mr. Comolli entered the referee’s room to “confirm the version of events told to Mr. Marriner by Mr. Dalglish” (paragraph 149). “According to Mr. Marriner’s evidence, Mr. Comolli told Mr. Marriner that he speaks fluent Spanish and that Mr. Suárez had told him that Mr Evra had said to Mr Suarez “you are South American” and that Mr. Suárez had replied with “Tues negro” which Mr. Comolli said translates to “you are black.” Mr. Dowd said that he asked Mr. Comolli to spell “Tues negro,” as neither Mr. Dowd nor Mr. Marriner spoke fluent Spanish. Mr. Comolli spelt it, and Mr. Dowd then noted it down” (paragraph 150). 

Ok, let’s just break here for a minute and digest that much. So, according to Comolli, Suárez told him that he said “Por que, tu eres negro?” to Evra in response to being called “South American.” By the time Comolli passed this information along to Dalglish, the “por que” had been dropped along with the question mark (according to the report) – now Suárez had just said “tu eres negro.” By the time Comolli spoke to the referee later, it had apparently become “tues negro.” Three different statements, in other words (I’m taking all of this directly from the Commission’s report, by the way). Now I’m not suggesting for a second that Comolli was trying to be economical with the truth. In fact, the English meaning of what he believed Suárez to have said never really changed all that much: “why, you are black?” (paragraph 138) – “you are black” – “you are black.” However, the Spanish is key here. If words had been jumbled, however slightly, and one even omitted by the time that Comolli got to Marriner’s room, then that casts doubt over the Frenchman’s comprehension of what Suárez said to him. “Tu eres” or “tues”? That’s an entire syllable gone, vanished into thin air in the space of time it took Damien Comolli to make his way to the referee’s room. It’s important in this context since the comprehension of what Suárez told his Liverpool colleagues was used by the Commission to paint him as unreliable. Who is truly the unreliable one here? No offence to Comolli, but I wouldn’t define any of his evidence regarding what he understood from Suárez as reliable. That’s not his fault, he isn’t a native Spanish speaker. The Commission responded to these discrepancies with this gem: “Mr. Comolli’s initial understanding was that Mr. Suárez had said to Mr. Evra “Porque tu eres negro.” This is what Mr. Comolli said to Mr. Marriner and what Mr. Dowd noted down (save for what was perhaps some linguistic variation or confusion between “eres” and “es”)” (paragraph 376). Oh, that’s ok then! In a language where the words for “because” and “why” sound almost identical, in a case where Evra was stating that Suárez used “eres” and Comolli changed from “tu eres” to “tues,” we’re now passing off massive discrepancies in meaning as “some linguistic variation or confusion.” I wonder who else was confused that day? “Tu eres” or “tues”? “Porque” or “por qué”? Comolli is not a native Spanish speaker. He is subject to the same “linguistic errors made by a non-native speaker of Spanish” (paragraph 177) as Patrice Evra. And while Marriner stated that Comolli told him “that he speaks fluent Spanish” (paragraph 150), “Mr. Comolli denied in evidence that he had told Mr. Marriner that he spoke fluent Spanish, telling us instead that he simply told Mr. Marriner that he spoke Spanish (paragraph 287). This not only increases the probability that Comolli was mistaken in what he heard and therefore supports Suárez’s contention that “there seems to have been a misunderstanding on Mr. Comolli’s part” (paragraph 292), with Comolli later accepting Suárez’s “version that he said “Por que negro?” in reply to PE’s request that he should not touch him” (paragraph 293), it also casts further doubt on Andre Marriner’s credibility. Did Comolli tell him he was fluent or not? The Commission merely states that “we do not think that Mr. Marriner would have recorded in his report that Mr. Comolli speaks fluent Spanish unless Mr. Comolli had told Mr. Marriner that he did” (paragraph 287).

Why? You mean Andre Marriner is now infallible to the point where he could not have misunderstood a foreign gentleman in the heat of a very pressurised moment and maybe attributed something to him that he didn’t say? His report is certainly fallible, that’s for sure. As presented in paragraph 153, amongst the items of information he left out of it is the number of times that Evra claimed to have been abused. That’s quite pertinent, don’t you think? We will see in the next section that confusion reigns as to what number was told to the referee by both Evra and Alex Ferguson after the game. The one place you might expect to see it recorded is in a “contemporaneous record of what people were told had happened soon after the incident” (paragraph 288). Not so. It makes you wonder what else Marriner could have gotten wrong. Comolli is very clear on the earlier point – he didn’t say he was fluent in Spanish. In fact, it is clearly noted in his witness statement that he “speaks several languages “on a working basis, including Spanish and English”” (paragraph 137). That’s not the same as fluent. Even if he was, “fluent” only means that you can converse without problems in a particular language, it doesn’t necessarily allow for slight misapprehensions that can completely change the meaning of a word or sentence. Comolli himself discussed in evidence, for example, that ““Por que” can mean both “Because” and “Why” in Spanish” (paragraph 293). No reason is evident in the report as to why the Commission did not explore this linguistic issue in more detail. Incidentally, Evra claims Suárez said “because” and Suárez claims he said “why.” Perhaps that’s the reason? Heaven forbid that Evra might have understood “why” as “because.” Marriner’s credibility is further undermined in that Kenny Dalglish disputes saying to the referee “that Suárez had told him that he had said to Evra “you are black”” (paragraph 146), stating instead that he had said that Suárez “had referred to PE being negro (black)” (paragraph 147). The latter is a far looser statement, one which is more in keeping with Suárez’s actual testimony. Why did the Commission place so much stock in Marriner?

And it isn’t just Marriner whose evidence is contested, but Dowd as well. “Mr. Dowd said that he asked Mr. Comolli to spell “Tues negro,” as neither Mr. Dowd nor Mr. Marriner spoke fluent Spanish. Mr. Comolli spelt it, and Mr. Dowd then noted it down” (paragraph 150). Comolli again denied this point; “he said that he just said “negro,” that Mr. Dowd asked Mr. Comolli to spell “negro,” and he did not remember dictating the full sentence (paragraph 289). The Commission stated in response that “we were surprised by Mr. Comolli’s evidence that he only dictated the word “negro” in view of the contents of Mr. Marriner’s report, and his and Mr. Dowd’s witness statements” (paragraph 289). Well if the Commission was so surprised, then why not ask Dowd to provide a supplemental statement addressing this very point? And why the surprise “in view of the contents of Mr. Marriner’s report” when I have already utterly undermined his reliability and credibility on these matters in the space of just six (admittedly long) paragraphs? This is just a hobby for me, I’m not holding a man’s career in my hands! Once again, the Commission was only investigating what they felt like investigating. They went on to state that “we find that Mr. Comolli told Mr. Marriner that Mr. Suárez had said “Porque tu es negro” to Mr. Evra, and that Mr. Comolli spelt “Tues negro” for Mr. Dowd, who wrote it down” (paragraph 289). “In cross-examination on this point, Mr. Comolli agreed that he told Mr. Marriner that Mr. Suárez had said “Porque tu es negro”” (paragraph 289).

Yet this raises yet more questions. Comolli correctly identified in evidence (as mentioned) the similarities between “porque” (which I understand is the Spanish for “because”) and “por qué” (which I understand is the Spanish for “why”), both pronounced in identical ways. He admitted that the conversation with Suárez was probably a misapprehension on his part, that the Uruguayan was actually telling him “why” and he took it to mean “because.” Indeed, Comolli originally included both words in his understanding of what Suárez supposedly said (“Mr. Comolli confirmed under cross-examination that he believed that what he was told by Mr. Suárez in this meeting was that the words he had used to Mr. Evra translated as “Why, because you are black”” – paragraph 138). So even if Comolli did tell this to Marriner, the misunderstanding was only being passed along ala Chinese Whispers (was it “why,” “because” or both?) And I say “if” there for a particular reason, because Marriner’s own report, the one which the Commission placed all their faith in, explicitly outlines Comolli’s statement to have been that “Evra first said “you are South American” to Suárez who responded with “Tues Negro” which translates “you are Black”” (paragraph 153)? Where is “porque” in that extract? Where, point it out to me. Why does Marriner not mention it? Was that his omission, or maybe Phil Dowd’s? Yet how could Dowd omit it when Comolli supposedly dictated all the words? Oh wait, he only spelled “tues” for him, didn’t he? So Phil Dowd (remember, “neither Mr. Dowd nor Mr. Marriner spoke fluent Spanish” – paragraph 150) either: (a) left out “porque” from his notes altogether, it’s not important, or (b) spelled it himself, even though he’s not a fluent Spanish speaker. And then later that night, working from his colleague’s bullet-pointed list, Andre Marriner either: (a) didn’t transcribe “porque” because it wasn’t there, or (b) simply ignored it. Well what does that say about the pair of them and their useless report? 

The truth is that one big, convoluted game of Chinese Whispers was set in motion from the moment Patrice Evra opened his mouth about what Suárez allegedly said. It went from him to his manager Alex Ferguson (more on that arc in the next section) while a second arc simultaneously travelled from Luis Suárez to Damien Comolli to Kenny Dalglish and even to his teammate Dirk Kuyt, who spoke to Suárez in Dutch and was under a similar initial impression to that of Comolli (i.e. that Suárez said something to the effect of “because you’re black can’t…why can’t I touch you then” – paragraph 297), only to later accept that “I may have misunderstood what he was saying or perhaps sought to interpret what he was saying as what I thought LS might have said when, in fact, it was not what he said” (paragraph 301). Both sides then crash-landed in the referee’s dressing-room where two beleaguered officials, who often cannot even get even the most basic of decisions on the pitch correct, were tasked with untangling it all. They failed. That’s not necessarily their fault. This was an unprecedented chain of events which I don’t think anyone could have reasonably been expected to fully control, played out in many different languages and dialects by people of many different nationalities i.e. English, European Spanish, Rioplatense Spanish, Dutch and, as we will later see, possibly French and Italian as well, being spoken, translated, re-translated and understood by a Uruguayan, a couple of Frenchmen, a couple of Scots, a Dutchman and a couple of Englishmen (ironically the only native Spanish-speaker, and therefore most credible witness linguistically, amongst them was Luis Suárez himself). In a situation where “events moved quickly” (paragraph 305), the notion that words and meanings were jumbled and lost in translation as they travelled one form of Spanish to another and then into English, or from Spanish to Dutch and back to English, is not possible or even probable – it’s a definite. During an average, everyday game of Chinese Whispers, played for fun between friends, “errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first.” In the pressurised environment of an “extraordinary incident” (paragraph 153) with different languages, dialects and two opposing camps, what do you think will happen “on the balance of probabilities”?

The Commission, the ones who held a man’s good name in their collective hand, should have taken everything that was allegedly said after the final whistle with a grain of salt the size of Jupiter. It was, to use a word close to the Commission’s heart, simply unreliable. Yes, it is unsatisfactory that no concrete evidence existed, but you cannot go supposing things in a case of this magnitude. Instead, they damned Suárez for every discrepancy, every misunderstood word or meaning. In fully endorsing and using Marriner’s evidence to this end, the Commission reasoned that “Mr. Marriner’s witness statement was accepted by Mr. Suárez” (paragraph 287). So what? Does that excuse the Commission from investigating the very real and troubling inconsistencies and gaping holes in Marriner’s evidence that I have already outlined? Of course it doesn’t. In another part of the report, it is stated that “Mr. Suárez accepted their evidence in full,” referring to Evra’s Manchester United teammates Valencia, Hernández, Nani and Anderson, as if Suárez was somehow privy to what went on in the Manchester United dressing-room and therefore in a position to object to what was supposed to have taken place there. “We proceeded, therefore, on the basis that the evidence contained in those witness statements is true and sets out what did, in fact, happen immediately after the game” (paragraph 118). Elsewhere, the differing evidence given by Dalglish and Marriner in relation to their conversation in the referee’s room (as outlined earlier) resulted in the Commission deciding to accept “Mr. Marriner’s evidence that he said this to Mr Dalglish” because “Mr. Suárez accepted Mr. Marriner’s witness statement” (paragraph 144). Again, how was Suárez to know what was said to the degree that he could call Marriner’s integrity into doubt like that? Knowing what he knows now, he might have instructed his legal representative to do exactly that.

I have a massive problem with this kind of logic. It supposes that just because Suárez (or perhaps more accurately, his brief) doesn’t object to something, it should be, de facto, taken as true and accurate. This is, quite frankly, a ridiculous assertion. The Commission might argue that a judge in a court of law can only react to the evidence placed before him, but this wasn’t a court of law. It is carefully stated in the report that their decision was “based solely on the evidence and arguments presented at the hearing” (paragraph 216). Well Andre Marriner’s witness statement was evidence and the Commission had no business giving it “weight as a contemporaneous record of what people were told had happened soon after the incident” (paragraph 288) so riddled with inconsistencies was it. All of this is in stark contrast to the treatment afforded Patrice Evra. In the next section, which will deal with Evra’s credibility, we will see how massive discrepancies in his evidence regarding what was said and when it was said were largely swept under the carpet by the Commission, how grave doubts were cast on his own manager’s conversation with Marriner and Dowd, and how Ferguson backtracked on it in his supplemental statement. This was also evidence that the Commission could have pounced on if they had been so-minded, yet they were happy to take it as confirmation of Evra’s story rather than as the damaging revelation that it was. The difference in the treatment of the two men could not be more obvious.

On that point, let’s go back to Suárez’s allegation that Evra’s statement “Don’t touch me, South American” is what prompted the response “por que, negro?” (paragraph 348 and elsewhere), because that’s another example of the Commission seeing what they wanted to see. According to the report, a number of things about this evidence changed from the player’s initial interview to his witness statement and evidence at the hearing, most notably the language which was used (“sudamericano” in his initial interview became “South American” in his statement and at the hearing), the point at which it happened (walking away from the referee the second time having patted Evra’s head in his interview, upon the referee’s whistle to stop the corner in his witness statement) and the incident which prompted it (the pat on the head in the interview, touching Evra’s arm in his statement). First off, it is not stated in the Commission’s report whether Suárez’s interviewer sought clarification on the language in which Evra is alleged to have spoke. Therefore, it may be that a native Spanish speaker with no English was simply giving the Spanish version of what was said. This is not clarified in the report. Secondly, the discrepancy in the alleged timing of “South American,” as well as the incident to which it refers, is the exact same one evident in Suárez’s use of the word “negro,” which has already been covered(“on viewing the clips,however (which I was not shown during the interview), I now realise that the conversation took place immediately before the Referee spoke to us” – paragraph 317). These errors are consistent with each other i.e. if Suárez genuinely made a mistake in his initial interview with the FA, then the timing of “negro,” “South American” and the question of whether Evra’s words referred to the pat on the head or the touch on the arm all change accordingly, together

Reading Suárez’s testimony on the matter, a couple of things occur to me. Firstly, his confusion about the specific incident which prompted Evra’s “South American” remark is entirely understandable. Why? Well because only Patrice Evra, who denies using the term at all, knows for sure what it was said in reference to (if, indeed, he said it at all). Unless they had a conversation about it (which they clearly didn’t), there was no way for Suárez to know. It could just as easily have been prompted by how close the two men were standing to each other ahead of the corner (Evra was marking Suárez). His statement suggests that “I took this to be a reference to the touching of the arm on the goal line a few moments earlier” (paragraph 258), but I would submit that this is only speculation on his part. Its importance in this investigation is therefore diminished both by this and, secondly, the fact that Suárez, at no point in his evidence, claims to have felt insulted by the remark. The Commission go off on what is essentially a wild-goose chase, asking the language experts to analyse it as an insult (the finding, incidentally, was that “though the experts are not familiar with either “sudamericano” or “South American” being used as an insult, if they were said with a sneer then they might well be understood as such” – paragraph 192). This allows them to allege at another point in the report that “as expressly reported by Mr. Dalglish, Mr. Suárez’s remark was a riposte to being taunted by Mr. Evra. If that is correct, it would suggest that Mr. Dalglish understood Mr. Suarez’s comment to be in the nature of retaliation for having been called “South American.” But that would suggest that the riposte “You are black” was used in a derogatory sense, which is contrary to Mr. Suárez’s case. In fact, Mr. Suarez told us that he did not consider being described as South American to be derogatory, so it is difficult to understand why this was referred to as a “taunt”” (paragraph 304). Hmmm, wild guess here but maybe it’s because Kenny Dalglish, a man with nothing more than “restaurant Spanish” (paragraph 139) and who was largely depending on Liverpool’s French Director of Football Damien Comolli to translate Suárez’s words, was supposing that this was the case? Still, never once missing a trick, the Commission used this to cast further doubt on the spirit in which Suárez used the word “negro.” 

Bottom line, the “South American” remark is completely irrelevant in this case except for the fact that it provides context for Suárez’s reply of “por que, negro?” That does not sound to me like the response of a man who has just been insulted and is firing back in retaliation. It is far more likely (dare I say, probable) that Suárez was simply stating in evidence, matter-of-factly, what was said which prompted him to reply “por que, negro?” Another point to note is that Suárez mentioned this to several people immediately after the game i.e. the probability is that he wasn’t just making it up to cover himself as the Commission intimate on a number of other issues. Of course, their finding on the matter naturally favoured Evra. The report states that “Mr. Evra denied using the words “South American” when speaking to Mr. Suárez. When it was put to him that he had done so, he seemed genuinely bemused. He said to address someone as “South American” in this way is not something he would do. He said “What’s the sense? What’s the point?” There was no evidence of Mr. Evra using this phrase on any other occasions (paragraph 363). Couple of points here. Firstly, there is no evidence of Suárez using “negro” on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh occasions found by the Commission either, but that didn’t stop them believing it. Secondly, Evra apparently seemed “genuinely bemused” at the term “South American.” At this point, the ugly spectre of body language raises its head. In fact, the report has already explicitly stated that “we had an opportunity to observe the demeanour of the witnesses, in particular Mr. Evra and Mr. Suárez, and from that to judge their credibility” (paragraph 210). Incredible. No wonder Evra was adjudged to be more credible of the two! A man accused of an offence that will ruin his name forever is unlikely to give his evidence “in a calm, composed and clear manner” (paragraph 231), especially if he doesn’t speak the language. If the Commission members were going to start trying to analyse facial expressions and demeanour, then they really should have engaged body language experts to aid them in their investigation. Sorry, but I don’t trust that at all. In this scenario, for example, what if Evra was just acting bemused? Besides which, the Commission once again resembled Goldie Locks in deciding whose reactions mattered more and routinely found that Evra’s were “just right” in comparison to the Uruguayan’s. Though they were eager to make much of Dalglish’s “taunt” evidence as outlined two paragraphs back, for example, they simply ignored his statement “that Mr. Suárez looked surprised that an allegation of this nature had been made against him” (paragraph 285). If Evra seemed “genuinely bemused” at the “South American” allegation, why was Suárez’s surprise not noted in the same way, especially coming from a witness (Dalglish) whose words apparently had such a high value placed on them by the Commission in another instance?

Ultimately, “we found that Mr. Evra did not use the words “South American” when speaking to Mr. Suárez. The language experts were not familiar with its use as an insult, Mr. Evra’s denial of his alleged use of it was plausible, we found Mr. Suárez’s evidence unreliable in many respects, and we found Mr. Evra generally to be a credible witness (paragraph 364). I will consider questions of Evra’s “credibility” in the next section (spoiler: he isn’t all that credible), but I will point out for now that “plausible” is not the same as factual. To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, it ain’t the same fuckin’ ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same fuckin’ sport.” And in a case this serious, where a man’s reputation was on the line, satisfying oneself that someone’s evidence is “plausible” is utterly fucking repugnant.

Evra’s Credibility

So the Commission effectively jumped on these few discrepancies in Suárez’s evidence. There was also another (regarding “the pinch”) which I will explore later. The key thing, however, is that there were also many troubling inconsistencies in Evra’s testimony and, more importantly, the Commission consistently chose to accept his version of events regardless. Firstly, what exactly was said? Mr. Ray Haughan, the Liverpool Team Administration Manager, provided a witness statement suggesting that he overheard Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson approach the referee’s room after the game and say that “I want to make a complaint because Suárez has called him (meaning Evra) a n*gger five times” (paragraph 134). Indeed, Ferguson himself outlined in his witness statement that “as he was speaking to David De Gea, Mr. Evra approached him. He said “Boss, Suárez called me a n*gger”” (paragraph 128). Evra himself also stated that “he said that Mr. Suárez had called him a n*gger (paragraph 125) to his teammates after the game and “that he told the referee that Mr. Suárez had called him a n*gger (paragraph 130). “Mr. Evra told us that he believed, from the moment he heard Mr. Suárez use the word “negro,” that this meant n*gger. The Commission asked Mr. Evra why, then, did he not tell the referee that he had been called n*gger, as opposed to black. Mr. Evra’s answer was that even when he pronounced the word “n*ggers,” it was not a word he liked to use. He added that maybe it was also because he was speaking in English, that “black” was the English word in his mind, and he felt he had done enough to complain by telling the referee that he had been called black” (paragraph 271). Oh, ok. This from the same Patrice Evra who used the term mother-fucking n*ggers during a French documentary about his former club Monaco’s 2004 Champions League campaign. This was the Commission’s “credible witness” (paragraph 364) who testified that “the word “n*ggers,” it was not a word he liked to use”. Hey, I’m not saying that it was up to the Commission to dig up a DVD of Le Periple Rouge, but what I am saying is this: there’s your credible witness.

Now let’s consider that word “n*gger,” as disgusting as it is. Despite telling teammates, his manager and the referee afterwards that Suárez had called him this, his statement to the Andre Marriner during the game was “ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black (paragraph 5). Also during the game, Ryan Giggs “asked Mr Evra what was wrong and Mr Evra told him that he had been called black (paragraph 113). After the game, Antonio Valencia testified that Evra “said that Suárez had said that he wouldn’t speak to him because he was black (paragraph 121). Javier Hernández agreed, stating that “I understood from what Evra said that Suárez had been racially abusive towards him and that he had told Evra that he would not speak to him because he was black (paragraph 122). Nani: “he said that Suárez had said that he wouldn’t talk to him because he was black(paragraph 123). Anderson: “he told us that Suárez had said to him on the pitch that he wouldn’t speak to Evra because he was black (paragraph 124). Yet elsewhere in his evidence, Evra stated that “he said that Mr. Suárez had called him a n*gger (paragraph 125) to his teammates after the game and Alex Ferguson outlined in his witness statement that “as he was speaking to David De Gea, Mr. Evra approached him. He said “Boss, Suárez called me a n*gger”” (paragraph 128). He then “told Mr. Marriner that during a coming together in the penalty area in the second half of the match, Mr. Suárez said to Mr. Evra, “I don’t talk to you because you n*ggers”” (paragraph 131). So simultaneously after the game, Evra was using the words “black” and “n*gger” interchangeably. So what was it that Suárez said? That’s a major inconsistency right there, but the Commission readily accepted the explanation that “Mr. Evra said that at the time Mr. Suárez made that comment, he (Mr. Evra) understood it to mean “Because you are a n*gger”. He now says that he believes the words used by Mr Suarez mean “Because you are black” (paragraph 90). Yet had he not specifically told both Andre Marriner and Ryan Giggs in the immediate aftermath that he had been called “black”? And, if the evidence of Valencia, Hernández, Nani and Anderson is to believed, was he not saying “black” in the dressing-room afterwards as well? Why does Evra claim in evidence that “some of the other players could see that he was upset and asked him what was wrong. He said that Mr. Suárez had called him a n*gger” (paragraph 125). Four of his teammates, as outlined above, said he used the word “black” – Valencia, Hernández, Nani and Anderson. And why did “black” on the pitch, and possibly in the dressing-room, suddenly change to “n*gger” when he spoke to Ferguson and Marriner? We’re told that it’s because of the fact “that “black” was the English word in his mind, and he felt he had done enough to complain by telling the referee that he had been called black” (paragraph 271). However, “Mr. Evra told us that he believed, from the moment he heard Mr. Suárez use the word “negro,” that this meant n*gger(paragraph 271). Right, so not “black” then? So why use the word “black” at all, especially if he was only going to use it freely after the game anyway?

This all throws a HUGE spanner in the works because the term “n*gger” is an English word and is overtly racist, yet the Commission’s report states clearly that “Mr. Evra and Mr. Suarez spoke to each other in Spanish (paragraph 5) in the goalmouth and that the word used was the Spanish “negro”. So where did Evra get the idea from that the word used was “n*gger”? When he subsequently suggested to a Canal Plus reporter that there are cameras, you can see him. He says a certain word to me at least 10 times…I won’t repeat what he said, but it was a racist word, and he said it more than 10 times,” was he suggesting the English word “n*gger” (deeply offensive), the Spanish word “negro” (as per Suárez’s testimony and that of language experts, potentially harmless) or perhaps the English word “negro” (also offensive)?  The report then muddies the water still further by suggesting first that language experts “noted that, in interview, Mr. Evra translated the word “negro” as French “nègre,” which is translatable as both “Negro” and “n*gger” and in current French usage is clearly a racially offensive term” (paragraph 180) and then by stating that “it seemed to us that Mr. Evra’s understanding of the Spanish word “negro” was influenced by his knowledge of Italian (paragraph 272). Presumably, since the contentious goalmouth conversation apparently took place in Spanish (as initiated by Evra, remember, with “concha de tu hermana”), the Spanish meaning of the word is the one which should have been taken, especially since Suárez “speaks little English” (paragraph 235) and no French or Italian (to the best of my knowledge). So can Evra’s apprehension of events really be all that “credible” given that there may have been as many as four different languages (of which Suárez barely speaks two) involved in his understanding of what was said, has admitted that “he is not exactly fluent in Spanish” (paragraph 87), and especially given that he was going around afterwards claiming to have been called “n*gger,” a word that the FA has NOT charged Suárez with using? Yet the Commission accepted every explanation of Evra even as it appeared to pounce on every apparent omission or discrepancy in Suárez’s evidence.

Another contentious issue is how many times the word, accepted by all parties to be “negro” in the final analysis, was said. Suárez claims once. It’s actually very difficult to make out from the report how many times Evra claims Suárez used the word. Five times in the goalmouth for sure (as per paragraph 5), but it’s funny, he doesn’t explicitly say anything in evidence (at least nothing quoted in the Commission’s report) about the alleged sixth and seventh occasions. Read through it. In paragraph 5, the FA’s case is set out – only five instances of abuse are mentioned. Paragraphs 82 to 116 set out everything of relevance that happened on the pitch – Evra only explicitly mentions the five again i.e. he details his account of exactly what was said by Suárez, but he does not state anywhere what was said on the alleged sixth and seventh occasions. Regarding the sixth, all that is stated in the report is that “Mr. Evra’s evidence was that while he was walking towards the referee he said “ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black”” (paragraph 103). That’s all. Hold on here, though – did Evra not recall, with crystal clarity, the exact sentences spoken by Suárez in the goalmouth? Apparently. So why did he not state, for the record, what the Uruguayan said to him on the sixth occasion? All we glean from the evidence is that he evidently called him “black,” but this is not inconsistent with Suárez’s evidence that he said “por que, negro?” And as for the seventh alleged instance…all that is stated in Evra’s account is that “as they walked away Mr. Suárez said something to Mr. Evra but he did not remember what he said to him or what Mr. Evra said to Mr. Suárez” (paragraph 108). He didn’t remember. This should give the lie to the notion that Evra was claiming seven – if he was, then he had no right to.

So what number are we talking here, six? I mean, he surely also acknowledged the alleged sixth instance which took place when the referee blew his whistle the first time, the moment that Suárez admits to using the word, which saw Evra storming towards the referee saying “ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black” (paragraph 5)? Of course, as already mentioned, neither this instance nor the magical “seventh” conjured by the Commission are mentioned in paragraph 5, introduced as “the FA’s case”. In fact, the report at this point (paragraph 5) seems to suggest that Evra ran to the referee as soon as he blew his whistle the first time. Later, we are told that Suárez did, in fact, call him “negro” again before they approached the referee, to which Evra responded with “a facial reaction…akin to a look of surprise” (paragraph 102). Is that consistent? Not really. Did Evra walk to the referee immediately when the whistle was blown or did Suárez get a chance to say something else first? The Commission then manages to pin a “seventh” instance of the word “negro” on Suárez apparently based on two flimsy points: (a) the fact that the Uruguayan “said something (paragraph 108) to Evra after they left the referee for the second time, and (b) that he “makes no mention of the players talking to each other as they walk away from the referee for the second time” (paragraph 109). From this utterly circumstantial set of events, the Commission concluded that “as they walked away from the referee for this second time, Mr. Evra probably said to Mr. Suárez again in English “Don’t touch me” or words to that effect, and Mr. Suárez said “por que, negro?”, meaning “why, black” (paragraph 359). Probably. Words to that effect, probably. Not one shred of evidence, not even a single piece of testimony from Evra on the matter, nothing. But he probably said it.

So, are you keeping count here? Suárez says once, the FA Commission says seven, Evra apparently says six…or was it five? Let’s go back to Mr. Ray Haughan, the Liverpool Team Administration Manager, whose witness statement (accepted by the FA) suggested that he overheard Alex Ferguson approach the referee’s room after the game and say (in Evra’s presence) that “I want to make a complaint because Suárez has called him (meaning Evra) a n*gger five times (paragraph 134). Liverpool’s Director of Football Damien Comolli also submitted that “Ferguson went to the changing room saying he’s been abused five times” (paragraph 155). Five times? Five? I could have sworn it was six! “Sir Alex said that he thought he may have told the referee that Mr. Evra had been called the word several times, but did not recall having said specifically that it was five times and thinks it unlikely he would have done so. Mr. Evra did not mention in his evidence any specific number that he told Sir Alex at the time” (paragraph 277). He “did not mention” it. Well maybe you could have asked him about it, no? So Ferguson is basically calling Haughan and Comolli liars (remember, “the FA accepted in full the evidence of Mr. Haughan” – paragraph 28). Or maybe they were mistaken? Or maybe Ferguson was mistaken? Or getting forgetful in his dotage? Or maybe Evra was mistaken? Which was it? Surely you cannot take a single word of what they say as credible now? Never fear. The same Commission that was throwing mud at Suárez with one hand, saying that “it is perhaps surprising that Mr. Suárez did not correct Mr. Comolli if he got it wrong” (paragraph 295), now gave Evra a hand up with the other by ignoring the fact that Ferguson was apparently telling the referee that he had been racially abused five times (as accepted by the Commission in its report: “This was the number that Sir Alex Ferguson reported to the referee after the game, and which Sir Alex probably learned from Mr. Evra – paragraph 382) while Evra, present throughout, did not correct him. The answer for this little discrepancy was that “Mr. Evra said in his evidence to us that he had been called “negro” five times, namely (1) “Porque tu eres negro,” (2) “No hablo con los negros,” and (3) “Dale negro, negro, negro”. Thus, it might appear that Mr. Haughan’s evidence supports Mr. Evra’s evidence that the word was used five times in the goalmouth” (paragraph 276). It is then stated that “the “five times” reported to the referee straight after the game corroborates Mr. Evra’s evidence that the word was used five times in the goalmouth” (paragraph 382).

No! No it doesn’t! It actually throws Evra’s account into complete disarray. Evra was supposedly (according to the Commission) abused seven times, he seemingly recalls six (the five times in the goalmouth and the one which prompted him to approach the referee saying “ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black” – paragraph 102/103). So where did five come from? That is huge, that is massive, that is something which the Commission simply had to establish in order to properly judge Evra’s credibility. The sixth instance is the one which Evra reported to the referee, according to his own testimony. So why was he going around afterwards claiming five? Remember, Ray Haughan’s statement is that Ferguson said five. Crucially, he also stated that “he saw Sir Alex Ferguson and Mr. Evra come out of the away dressing room and go into the referee’s room. Sir Alex knocked on the door, which was not closed, and went in” (paragraph 133). So Evra was there too. Why did he not correct his manager and say “actually, boss, it was six”? He was allegedly called “negro” (which he claims to have been under the impression meant “n*gger”) seven times. Why did he only mention five? This question was completely and senselessly disregarded by the Commission, which reiterates in paragraph 278 that “in our judgment, this lent some weight to the credibility of Mr. Evra’s evidence that Mr. Suárez used the word five times in the goalmouth”. If anything, it completely undermined both his evidence and the Commission’s ultimate judgement that he was racially abused seven times.

Quick aside – paragraph 27 of Luis Suárez’s witness statement contained evidence that he pinched Evra’s arm during their goalmouth conversation in an attempt to “defuse the situation” (paragraphs 245 to 252 of the report deal solely with this issue). Later, under questioning by Mr. Paul Greaney QC, Suárez apparently admitted that the pinch was not actually an attempt to defuse anything. Suárez’s representative Mr. McCormick “submitted that it was down to bad drafting. Mr. Suárez was intending to say that his response to Mr. Evra’s question “Why did you kick me?” was an attempt to defuse the situation in that Mr. Suarez put out his hands as people do when they say “Look, there’s no problem. There’s nothing to get excited about”” (paragraph 250). Along with the Uruguayan’s confusion over when exactly he called Evra “negro” and the jumbled conversations with Comolli and Dalglish afterwards (as outlined earlier), this was one of the main arms of the FA’s attack on Suárez’s reliability as a witness. The pinch, and Suárez’s conflicting evidence about it, was gleefully pounced upon by the Commission in its report, certainly by Mr. Greaney whose questioning of Suárez as outlined in paragraph 246 more closely resembles the closing court scene of A Few Good Men rather than a non-criminal hearing such as this one where we’re not sending people to prison.” Check it out: “Is it correct, as you say in paragraph 27 of your witness statement, that you were trying to defuse or calm down the situation in the goal mouth?”; “let me be as clear as I can. Was your aim, when you were in the goal mouth, and speaking to Mr. Evra, to calm down the situation?”; “what we want to know, or at least I do, is what was in your mind? Was it in your mind to try to calm down the situation?”; “do you see paragraph 27 of your statement? Does it read: “I was trying to defuse or calm the situation”?”; “Mr. Suárez, I have to suggest to you that my question is really a very simple one. In the goal mouth, and in particular as you pinched the skin of Mr. Evra, do you say you were trying to calm the situation?”; “I’ll just make one more attempt, and then we will move on. In your statement, over which we have understood you took some care, you have said of the pinching: “I was trying to defuse the situation.” All I wish to know is whether that is true or not” (paragraph 246).

Six times he asked the question, to a man with little English and his very reputation on the line, six, and the discrepancy in his evidence was used to effectively crucify him even though Mr. McCormick, a man whose integrity was not in question, gave an explanation which was summarily rejected out of hand by the Commission. There are a couple of points I want to make on this. Firstly, and this is the reason that I raised the pinch here, I wonder what a line of questioning such as this one regarding Evra’s conflicting evidence and inconsistencies would have yielded? It seems unusual to me that Mr. McCormick would not have undertaken such an approach on behalf of his client because, as I suggested earlier, it goes right to the heart of Evra’s credibility. Perhaps Mr. McCormick did and it simply isn’t detailed in the report? Kenny Dalglish has subsequently stated that we know what has gone on; we know what is not in the report and that is important for us. But without me getting myself in trouble, that is me finished. It is unfortunate that you don’t actually know the whole content of what went on at the hearing. I am not prepared and I cannot say. I cannot go any further. So who knows how many omissions there are from the Commission’s report? Perhaps we will never know. All I’ll say is that if Mr. McCormick didn’t attack Evra’s evidence like Mr. Greaney did with Suárez, then something was seriously amiss. And secondly, just because Suárez wasn’t trying to defuse the situation by pinching Evra’s arm, that doesn’t necessarily prove anything beyond what normally happens on a football pitch . There is still the “burden of evidence” (paragraph 343 and others) that Suárez racially abused Patrice Evra seven times. In my estimation, the Commission was only able to prove one, and that’s only because Suárez admitted to it. The pinch was merely an act picked out of Suárez’s evidence as a means to discredit him. There were plenty of those for Evra too which were simply ignored or explained away.

One more thing on the pinch, which the FA made much of in their submission (claiming that Suárez was referencing Evra’s skin colour) and which the Commission used to attack the Uruguayan’s credibility. Evra actually suggested that he didn’t remember being pinched by Suárez in the goalmouth. The Commission accepted his contention that he was “more focussed on his lips and what he was saying. Mr. Evra only realised that Mr. Suárez had touched his arm in this way when he saw the video footage later” (paragraph 95). This is the very same Commission that called into question one man’s reliability based on lapses in his memory. Suárez was alleged (by the FA) to have touched the man’s arm in reference the colour of his skin and Evra didn’t even remember it? And yet elsewhere, “Mr. Evra stated that Mr. Suárez touched his arm at this stage, “indicating my skin” (paragraph 185). So hold on here…Evra didn’t remember Suárez pinching his arm until he saw the video footage, yet he can still give evidence that he was referencing his skin colour at this point? The Commission had earlier suggested that Suárez’s “account seemed to change in an attempt to fit in with the video evidence” (paragraph 358). Is that not exactly what Evra was doing here?  It was supposedly only when he saw video evidence and was prompted that he remembered about the pinch. Suddenly, he was giving evidence that Suárez was “indicating my skin” (paragraph 185). And yet the same Commission that overtly criticises Suárez for not correctly remembering his use of the word “negro” until he saw the Commission’s footage somehow gives Evra a free pass on forgetting the pinch and then specifically drawing attention to it later. This is an extraordinary revelation, not least because the Commission attached huge importance to it in how the incident supposedly went towards proving the unreliability of Suárez’s evidence. Well Evra firstly didn’t even remember it, then testified that Suárez was referencing his skin colour. That is hugely damaging to Evra’s credibility. The Commission gives him a dig-out here as well by saying that “this posed a problem for Mr. Suárez in that any comment by Mr. Evra along the lines of “Don’t touch me” could not have been referring to the pinching, of which Mr. Evra was unaware at the time” (paragraph 318). It only causes a problem for Mr. Suárez if you accept Evra’s account. Accept Suárez’s and it suddenly becomes Evra’s problem, doesn’t it? Then again, Evra’s account was probably what happened, right lads? What a joke.

Anyway, back to the numbers. Let’s count ‘em up real quick. Suárez claims he said “negro” once, the Commission says seven, and we’ll give Patrice the benefit of the doubt and say five or six…or was it ten?! After the game, in an interview with a reporter from French television station Canal Plus, Evra stated that there are cameras, you can see him.” Well clearly nobody did – not his teammates, not the cameras, not the FA, not the Commission, nobody. He says a certain word to me at least 10 times. I was very upset. In 2011 you can’t say things like this. He knows what he said, the ref knows it, it will come out. I won’t repeat what he said, but it was a racist word, and he said it more than 10 times.” So now it’s at least ten times, or even more than ten times! From five after the game, to at least ten if not more later, to five or six in his evidence before the Commission. Which was it? Once again, rather than actually questioning him about this discrepancy as they had Suárez about the pinch (as outlined earlier) or suggesting that it cast him as unreliable, this supposedly independent Commission accepted the (frankly dubious) explanation that “he did not mean this in the literal sense, it was just a way of talking. In French, he said, it is common to say something like “more than 10 times” but for you not to mean that it was actually over 10 times. It was just a figure of speech” (paragraph 59). Yet Liverpool’s French Director of Football and native French-speaker Damien Comolli explicitly refuted this, stating “not in these circumstances. He said that if his daughter asked him for a toy for Christmas and she says it five, six, seven times, he might say “You already told me ten times”. But, in those circumstances (referring to Mr. Evra giving an interview after the game), nobody in the French language will say that (i.e. ten times) because it’s too important. You have to be precise in what you say (paragraph 60). So here you had a native French-speaker heaping doubt on Evra’s account. It is also interesting to note that Evra repeated the “10 times” statement twice in the interview with Canal Plus reporteri.e. it was no off-the-cuff, figure-of-speech remark. Yet the Commission, once again, accepted his version of events and even twisted Comolli’s evidence to back Evra up! Paragraph 280 states the following: Mr. Evra said that the phrase “ten times” was just a figure of speech in France. We understood Mr. Comolli to say broadly the same thing, though he thought that Mr. Evra should have been more precise when giving evidence on such a serious matter on television.” No! No he didn’t say “broadly the same thing”! Go back and read his evidence again: “in those circumstances (referring to Mr. Evra giving an interview after the game), nobody in the French language will say that (i.e. ten times) because it’s too important” (paragraph 60). I don’t think Comolli could have been any clearer than that. The Commission’s manipulation of his evidence is nothing short of scandalous.

One final example of Evra’s inconsistency as a witness (and the Commission’s ability to ignore it) is a curious anomaly that first appears in paragraph 270, over halfway through the report, and which is only mentioned twice in total (paragraphs 270 and 275). “In his witness statement, Mr. Evra said that he said to the referee “ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black.” His oral evidence varied between, on the one hand, Mr. Evra telling us that he used these words to the referee and, on the other hand, telling us that he said “he just called me again a fucking black” (paragraph 270). Woah, woah, woah, stop the car, stop the car! Now back it the fuck up for a second, back it up! Throughout this report, Luis Suárez is basically accused of chopping and changing his evidence to make his story look more plausible. Variances between his oral and written evidence are highlighted in particular. Meanwhile, one of the most glaring logic holes in Evra’s story, to my mind, is that during the game he only appeared to draw the referee’s attention to the alleged sixth racist slur by Suárez (according to the Uruguayan, the only time he said “negro”), not the other five. Curious. Now, buried deep in paragraph 270 and largely skirted over by the Commission (“it is a minor inconsistency which arose only in the course of his oral evidence about whether he used the word “again” when speaking to the referee, and it is not of any material significance to the issues we have to decide– paragraph 275), we find evidence that Evra may have been trying to make it look like he said “again” so as to give the impression that he did refer to the more grievous abuse suffered in the goalmouth after all. Pardon my language, but how the fuck is that a minor inconsistency? If Evra said “again,” then it gives the impression that he was referring to the earlier, I would say more serious abuse. If he didn’t, then the implication is that he didn’t draw the referee’s attention to the goalmouth conversation at all, just the instance to which Suárez admits. And that’s odd, it raises a boatload of questions as to why a man who has been racially abused six times only gets upset over one. What’s more, it’s another black mark against Evra’s credibility if you actually want to see it. The Commission didn’t.

All-in-all, this series of inconsistencies regarding what was said and when it was said should surely have cast at least some doubt over Evra’s account and tipped “the balance of probabilities” (paragraph 31.1) somewhat in the other direction. It did not – why? Why were the few inconsistencies in Luis Suárez’s testimony, the responsibility for the most glaring of which was accepted by his representative (“Mr. McCormick submitted that it was down to bad drafting” – paragraph 250), seized upon by the Commission as evidence that he was an unreliable witness while more serious discrepancies in Patrice Evra’s account, from immediately after the game, were ignored? After everything I have outlined above, how could the Commission come to the judgement that “in all the circumstances, we preferred the evidence of Mr. Evra. His account was clear and consistent in all material respects. There is no basis for saying that he lied or was mistaken in what he heard (paragraph 382)? Oh yes – there is.

© 2012

Filed under E2Klassic football liverpool premier league Luis Suarez

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Suárez Pt. II: The Case

The Charges Against Suárez

Allow me to begin my in-depth consideration of the investigation by quoting paragraph 31 of the Commission’s report (which sets out the issues to be addressed) in its entirety:

31. In accordance with the Chairman’s direction, the parties agreed that the following were, simply stated, the issues which the Commission was required to address:

31.1. On the balance of probabilities, is the account of Mr. Evra true and reliable?

31.2. If it is:

(a) does that mean that Mr. Suárez used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Mr. Evra, in breach of Rule E3(1); and

(b) if it does, did the abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour of Mr. Suárez include a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Mr. Evra within the meaning of Rule E3(2).

31.3. If it is not:

(a) on the account of Mr. Suárez, did he use abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Mr. Evra, in breach of Rule E3(1); and

(b) if he did, did the abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour of Mr. Suárez include a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Mr. Evra within the meaning of Rule E3(2).

So there are a number of issues at stake here. The first port of call for the Commission was to establish whether Patrice Evra’s account was accurate “on the balance of probabilities(paragraph 31.1). What exactly is “balance of probabilities,” I hear you ask? It is explained later in the report that “the applicable standard of proof shall be the flexible civil standard of the balance of probability. The more serious the allegation, taking into account the nature of the Misconduct alleged and the context of the case, the greater the burden of evidence required to prove the matter” (paragraph 76). It is also stated that “it is for the FA to satisfy us on the balance of probability that Mr. Suárez breached the Rules” (paragraph 78). In other words the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” (paragraph 77), which would have meant that the FA and Evra had to prove the allegations and that Suárez would have been protected by the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” did not apply in this case. This is apparently because balance of probability is the standard of proof set out in Regulation 7.3 of the FA’s Disciplinary Regulations (paragraph 76, 78) and the Commission was obviously eager to follow the letter of the law on this one (I again draw reference to the Emre/Yobo case referenced in Part I of this piece where a standard of proof was agreed between the FA and Newcastle United – why was it different this time?). Common sense, apparently, never entered their thinking because a standard of proof generally used in cases pertaining to basic disciplinary matters (e.g. yellow and red cards, foul play and the likes) was never going to cut it in a case of this magnitude.  The result was the bizarre, utterly inadequate judgement of “we found that Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382) based on subjective, selective judgements by the Commission which had very little corroborating evidence attached. Probably? Just think about that for one second – a judgement against an individual which essentially ruins his reputation was based on what probably happened.

Now I’m no expert on tribunals or law or anything like that, or indeed how investigations like this usually work, but it certainly seems to me like the “reasonable doubt” standard would have been far more just in this case (a man’s good name was at stake), or at the very least the high probability standard put forward by Stuart Gilhooly in a recent article on the matter. The FA would probably protest that we’re not sending people to prison,” but neither was this a case of a player being charged with a bad tackle or everyday bad language – this was a man being accused of uttering racist slurs against an individual. Was he facing jail time? No. Was he running the risk of having his reputation destroyed? Yes. This was a far more serious matter than Ryan Babel posting a photoshopped picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United jersey on Twitter, for example (just one of the 471 disciplinary cases which the FA had successfully prosecuted in the previous year). Yet the Commission was nonetheless happy to deal in the probable rather than the definite. The suggestion, therefore, in the report that “the FA accepts that the Charge against Mr. Suárez is serious” and that “a greater burden of evidence is required to prove the Charge against Mr. Suárez” (paragraph 80) seems contradictory to me. The very idea of “balance of probabilities” suggests that this matter was not being taken as seriously as it should have been and that “a greater burden of evidence” was not required to prove the charge. The deliberations subsequently outlined in the report suggest to me that a greater burden of evidence than none at all was sufficient for the Commission to find against Suárez. 

So, it was found that “Mr. Evra’s account is probably what happened” (paragraph 382). I will discuss the Commission’s acceptance of the truth and reliability of Evra’s account in (a lot) more detail later, but with its accuracy accepted they next had to consider, based on what was now established truth (or should that be probability?), whether Suárez had breached FA rules E3(1) and E3(2). Allow me to quote paragraph 49 of the report, again in its entirety, which sets out the content of these rules:

49. Rule E3, with the sub-heading “General Behaviour”, provides as follows:

“(1) A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.

(2) In the event of any breach of Rule E3(1) including a reference to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability (an “aggravating factor”), a Regulatory Commission shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, taking into account the following entry points:

For a first offence, a sanction that is double that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.

For a second offence, a sanction that is treble that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.

Any further such offence(s) shall give rise to consideration of a permanent suspension.

These entry points are intended to guide the Regulatory Commission and are not mandatory.

The Regulatory Commission shall have the discretion to impose a sanction greater or less than the entry point, according to the aggravating or mitigating factors present in each case.”

Again, I will consider the penalty ultimately handed down to Suárez in more detail later, but suffice it to say for now that the eight-game ban was thus calculated as follows: two games for the breach of E3(1), doubled to four for the breach of E3(2) and doubled again, at the Commission’s discretion, for the seriousness of the aggravating factors attached to the case. It is also important to note that the Commission, in coming to their verdict, were thinking objectively rather than subjectively (as set out in paragraphs 50-73). In other words, intent did not come into their deliberations on whether Suárez breached the aforementioned rules. It was enough to prove that he had insulted Evra in breach of E3(1) and that, in doing so, he had referenced his ethnicity in breach of E3(2). Whether he meant to or not was immaterial. All linguistic and cultural considerations would therefore only be classed as mitigating factors. Once this decision was taken, Suárez was destined to be found guilty because even if Evra’s account was found unproven, the Uruguayan nonetheless admitted to using the Spanish word “negro” once and the objective test accepted by the Commission essentially meant that the question of whether or not Suárez meant it in a benign way was now largely immaterial to the charges against him. This was again in keeping with the FA’s rules, which do not explicitly make provision for a subjective test. However, once again common sense was conspicuous by its absence in this process. It is stated, for example, that “it can be said with some force that whether a player has used violent conduct should not depend on whether he intended his conduct to be violent. Likewise, whether a player is guilty of serious foul play does not generally, and should not in the context of Rule E3(1), depend on his intention” (paragraph 59). I must reiterate once again, however, that there is a world of difference between a player attacking the ball with his studs up and accidentally catching a player high on the leg (the intent might not have been there, but it was nonetheless a dangerous tackle) and a foreigner with no English using a word from his own language that is deemed to be offensive in another language. Yet again, rules designed for basic disciplinary matters in sport were being used in a case of far greater magnitude. In the circumstances, the letter of the law was clearly inadequate and the Commission should have used its discretion to find a compromise.

Conflicting Accounts

The accusations against Suárez are set out in paragraph 5 of the report. “In the goalmouth, Mr. Evra and Mr. Suárez spoke to each other in Spanish. Mr. Evra asked Mr. Suárez why he had kicked him, referring to the foul five minutes previously. Mr. Suárez replied “Porque tu eres negro,” meaning “Because you are black.” Mr. Evra then said to Mr. Suárez “say it to me again, I’m going to punch you.” Mr. Suárez replied “No hablo con los negros,” meaning “I don’t speak to blacks.” Mr. Evra continued by saying that he now thought he was going to punch Mr. Suárez. Mr. Suárez replied “Dale, negro, negro, negro,” which meant “okay, blackie, blackie, blackie.” As Mr. Suárez said this, he reached out to touch Mr. Evra’s arm, gesturing at his skin. Mr. Kuyt then intervened. When the referee blew his whistle and called the players over to him shortly after the exchanges in the goalmouth, Mr. Evra said to the referee “ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black” (paragraph 5). Suárez’s version of events is outlined in paragraph 6. “He agreed with Mr. Evra that they spoke to each other in Spanish in the goalmouth. When Mr. Evra asked why he had kicked him, Mr. Suárez replied that it was a normal foul and shrugged his shoulders. Mr. Evra then said that he was going to kick Mr. Suarez, to which Mr. Suárez told him to shut up. As Mr. Kuyt was approaching, Mr. Suárez touched Mr. Evra’s left arm in a pinching style movement. According to Mr. Suárez, at no point in the goalmouth did he use the word “negro.” When the referee blew his whistle to stop play, Mr. Evra spoke to Mr. Suarez and said (in English) “Don’t touch me, South American.” Mr. Suárez replied “Por que, negro?”. He says that he used the word “negro” in a way with which he was familiar from his upbringing in Uruguay. In this sense, Mr. Suárez claimed, it is used as a noun and as a friendly form of address to people seen as black or brown-skinned (or even just blackhaired). Thus, it meant “Why, black?” Mr. Suárez maintained that when he said “Por que, negro?” to Mr. Evra, it was intended in a conciliatory and friendly way. Mr Suárez said this was the only time that he used the word “negro” in his exchanges with Mr. Evra during the match” (paragraph 6).

The crucial timeline spans six minutes, from a foul by Suárez on Evra which took place after 58 minutes (which prompted the later exchange between the two), to the conversation in the Manchester United goalmouth ahead of a 63rd minute corner, and finally to referee Andre Marriner calling both men over to him (twice) on 64 minutes. These six minutes comprise the whole case. The foul itself, according to the FA Commission, “seemed to us to be a deliberate foul” (paragraph 82). This is highly debatable; it was undoubtedly a foul (Suárez does catch Evra’s right knee), but whether there was real intent is another matter. The entirety of the play leading up to the foul is captured on a supporter’s camera from behind the Kop-end goal. It shows one fully-committed professional footballer (Suárez) who had just robbed another fully-committed professional footballer (Evra) of possession inside his own box and, adrenaline no doubt flowing, battling to find a way past him. Evra nicks the ball away near the touchline just before the Uruguayan manages to take it past him. Suárez, already on his way past Evra, throws out a leg behind him in a vain effort to reclaim possession and makes contact with his opponent’s right knee. It presumably hurt, that’s not in question, but how many times do mistimed tackles such as this one happen on a football pitch? The members of the Commission may never have played or avidly watched football, but this was real, full-blooded, physical battle. The pace was frenetic. The footage is superb in that it is so close to the action and perfectly illustrates both the will to win and sheer physicality of both men. It is a clip apparently never seen by the panel, but it certainly casts doubt on their conclusion that it was deliberate. At worst, and I mean at absolute worst, it was a mistimed challenge by Suárez that merited a free-kick. It wasn’t a studs-up lunge or anything like that. He clipped him and it hurt, but there was certainly no deliberate attempt to injure Evra.

The foul was nothing out of the ordinary. Indeed, Suárez’s claim that he responded to Evra by saying it was normal (paragraph 6) seems very likely under the circumstances (it’s what I would have said). Quite how the Commission came to their arbitrary judgement of intent is beyond me, especially since referee Andre Marriner, deemed “plausible and credible” (paragraph 106) by the Commission, didn’t book the Uruguayan for this supposedly deliberate act. It seems to me to be nothing more than a justification for the fact that the resulting contentious conversation between the two was actually initiated by Evra with the phrase “concha de tu hermana,” or “your sister’s cunt” (paragraph 87). The Commission later accepts that “if directed at someone in particular, it can also be understood as “[you] son of a bitch”” (paragraph 178). However, this is further excused with the suggestion that “Mr. Evra was in a state of shock because of the foul which involved a kick on his knee, with which he had had problems previously” (paragraph 383). If the Commission wasn’t trying to implicitly justify or excuse this antagonistic vulgarity, then why else comment on whether the original foul was deliberate or whether Evra was in shock because of a routine knock? What other possible relevance does that have? Yes, it went towards showing that Evra thought it was deliberate and was annoyed enough to raise it again with Suárez, but the Commission? Their view on its intent is utterly irrelevant unless it is to excuse Evra’s abusive, aggressive reference of Suárez’s non-existent sister’s genitalia (considering Zinedine Zidane’s famous headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final was allegedly prompted by some nasty words about his sister, perhaps Evra can count himself lucky that Suárez is actually sisterless and didn’t hear it in any event). In addition, Evra’s apparent contravention of FA rule E3(1) with this language, as well as the threat that “I’m going to punch you,” is seemingly allowed.

Incidentally, another interesting point to note about the original foul is that “Mr. Evra said that while he was lying on the ground, Mr. Kuyt came up to him and said “stand up, you fucking prick”. Mr. Kuyt said “This is untrue. What I did say was something to the effect of “Stand up, stand up,” as if to say that it had been a foul but he was making too much of it” (paragraph 83). Firstly, surely this accusation of insulting language against Kuyt, though apparently innocuous, nonetheless shows a worrying tendency for Evra to embellish? Does that not go towards credibility? Secondly, surely that puts Dirk Kuyt in breach of FA rule E3(1) as well? And thirdly, the report subsequently states that the footage at their disposal “did not show Mr. Kuyt speaking to Mr. Evra at this time” (paragraph 83). This is an incredible statement which makes you wonder what kind of half-arsed investigation was being run here. So apparently the FA’s request of “broadcasters to provide video footage of what appeared to be the key moments of the game, so far as Mr. Evra’s complaint was concerned” which yielded “material which was not broadcast, including footage of the exchanges in the penalty area in the 63rd minute taken from a number of different camera angles” (paragraph 12) did not show Dirk Kuyt saying anything to Evra in the 58th minute. Yet have a look at that supporter’s footage again – you can clearly see Kuyt briefly saying something to Evra, clearly. This video was uploaded to Youtube on 19 October, just four days after the incident (I know because I watched it at the time) and provided an excellent view of events surrounding the infamous 58th minute foul to which the Commission seemingly attached such importance. Why was it neither found nor used?

It is also interesting to note that Evra incited Liverpool supporters as he left the pitch after the foul by blowing a kiss and then kissing his badge (58:30 to 58:34 on the clock). This incident was not considered during the investigation, a curious omission. Suárez’s representative, Mr. Peter McCormick OBE, argued during the hearing that “Mr. Evra was wound up throughout the game and the foul plus the refusal to apologise by Mr Suárez tipped Mr. Evra over the edge and he decided to seek vengeance” (paragraph 333), yet he did not draw attention to the badge-kissing. Instead, he drew attention to four other incidents in supporting his position: Evra arguing with the referee before kick-off that he had won the coin-toss (paragraph 329), gesturing for a yellow card for Liverpool’s Stuart Downing for an alleged dive after 12 minutes (paragraph 330), responding to something said from the crowd after 13 minutes which referee Andre Marriner thought “was inflaming the situation” (paragraph 331) and arguing with the referee over a foul given against him in the 47th minute (paragraph 332). Mr. McCormick further argued that Evra “reacted outwardly far more to those incidents than he did in the goalmouth when he claimed that Mr. Suárez used the word “negro” five times. Had that really been the case, submitted Mr McCormick, we would have seen a stronger reaction from Mr. Evra given how he reacted at other times during the match” (paragraph 334). The Commission rejected the submission, finding in paragraph 333 that “Mr. Marriner was saying that in none of the incidents to which Mr. McCormick referred did Mr. Evra’s behaviour cause the referee any concern” (erm, so did I just imagine that earlier quote from paragraph 331 where Marriner suggested that Evra “was inflaming the situation” with the crowd after 13 minutes?) and quoting Ryan Giggs as saying that “he did not consider that Mr. Evra was wound up” (paragraph 333). Giggs also stated that Evra “did not seem quite with it, you might call it red mist” (paragraph 114). This was after the incident with Suárez, so the Commission would probably call it understandable, yet it challenges their rejection of “the submission that Mr. Evra was unduly wound up such that he was tipped over the edge to pursue vengeance against Mr Suárez” (paragraph 333). His own teammate called it “red mist.” That, arguing with a referee over a coin toss and responding “to something that might have been said to him from the crowd in the seats behind him” (paragraph 331) is not normal, rational behaviour for a professional footballer at this level. At the very least, McCormick’s submission did illustrate an unusually intense, aggressive Patrice Evra (who was nonetheless able to keep his temper during the alleged racist abuse in the goalmouth) and his gestures to the crowd after 59 minutes only highlight this further. Why McCormick did not submit this incident into the evidence is a mystery which I will return to later.

It was obviously not present either on the aforementioned footage which the Commission obtained from broadcasters for use in their investigation, “including footage of the exchanges in the penalty area in the 63rd minute taken from a number of different camera angles” (paragraph 12). Something else that was apparently not present was even one clear instance (just one) of Suárez uttering any racist slurs, even the word “negro” to which he freely admits using on one occasion. Notice that the Commission did not engage any expert lip-readers for their investigation? Of course they didn’t, that would have been a gigantic waste of time and money because there was nothing for them to examine. Remember, they had all of this “material which was not broadcast, including footage of the exchanges in the penalty area in the 63rd minute taken from a number of different camera angles” (paragraph 12) and they still found nothing. What’s more, nobody in a crowded penalty area awaiting a corner heard one racist word come out of Luis Suárez’s mouth, yet by the time this conversation ended, “Mr. Evra’s evidence is that up to this point Mr. Suárez had used the word “negro” or “negros” five times in the goalmouth: “Because you are black,” “I don’t speak to blacks” and “Okay, blackie, blackie, blackie”” (paragraph 99). And not one witness came forward to back Evra’s statement. Curious. In fact, without Suárez’s admission that he said “negro,” there was no case to answer. None whatsoever. No video evidence, no witness testimony, nothing. Had Suárez said nothing or denied everything, there is no way that the FA’s Commission could have found against him. Instead he admitted it which, in my view, gives credence to his assertion that “in no way was the use of the word “negro” intended to be offensive or to be racially offensive” (paragraph 104). If it was, then why would he admit to using it? And if he had used it on a number of occasions, why admit to one? It simply doesn’t make sense to me, “on the balance of probabilities,” that Suárez would racially abuse someone and then readily admit to it later. That would be odd behaviour to say the least.

The most damning indictment of Evra’s claims, however, comes from the Commission themselves. Paragraph 102 actually serves to bolster Suárez’s argument that he did not call his accuser “negro” at all during their goalmouth conversation, much less the “five times” (paragraph 99) claimed by Evra, and would have helped clear him of the more serious allegations against him had the Commission chosen to see it that way. Citing video footage of the incident which was already referenced in paragraphs 87, 88, 89, 91 and which, at the very least, contradicts nothing in Suárez’s statement, the report examines the referee’s stoppage of play in the 64th minute. “The referee called them over to him. Mr. Suárez said something to Mr. Evra, then started to walk away. There is a clear reaction by Mr. Evra to Mr. Suárez’s comment. This is apparent in two ways. First, there is a facial reaction by Mr. Evra, akin to a look of surprise. Secondly, whilst looking at the referee, Mr. Evra points to Mr. Suárez, first with his forefinger then with his thumb. Mr. Evra walks towards the referee and says something while pointing back at Mr. Suárez” (paragraph 102). “Mr. Evra’s evidence was that while he was walking towards the referee he said “ref, ref, he just called me a fucking black” (paragraph 103). Again, it is clearly stated by the Commission in paragraph 31.1 of the report that one of the key issues for consideration is whether, “on the balance of probabilities, is the account of Mr. Evra true and reliable?” (paragraph 31.1). Paragraph 102 is a clear indication that the Commission themselves knew only too well that it wasn’t. If a man has already been called “black” and “blackie” five times in a minute, why on earth would a sixth identical insult a few seconds later prompt “a facial reaction by Mr. Evra, akin to a look of surprise”? This is not explained in the report, all that is stated is that “we rejected the submission that Mr. Evra’s visible reaction to other incidents in contrast to his reaction to Mr. Suárez’s alleged comments in the goalmouth undermined his claim that Mr. Suárez made those comments” (paragraph 335) with absolutely no reason given. Why? Surely there has to be a reason? Common sense would seem to dictate that a man who has already been racially abused five times will not take any greater exception to a sixth slur than he did for the first five (unless it was a different word, and Evra’s evidence does not suggest that it was). So why the sudden surprise? And, “on the balance of probabilities,” does this not cast some doubt on Evra’s accusations?

Again, the video footage does not contradict Suárez’s testimony that “simultaneously with the blowing of the whistle, Mr. Evra said to him “Don’t touch me, South American”. Mr Suárez took this to be a reference to his touching Mr. Evra’s arm on the goal-line a few moments earlier. Mr. Suárez said that he turned to Mr. Evra and said “Por que, negro?”” (paragraph 104). Suárez’s contention is that this is the only time he used the word “negro,” and the look of surprise on Evra’s face cited by the Commission only backs this up. It doesn’t prove it, naturally, but remember, we’re talking “balance of probabilities” here. Nothing in paragraphs 82 through 109 (from the original foul to the point at which “there was no more conversation between Mr. Evra and Mr. Suárez for the rest of the game”) proves anything against the Uruguayan, nor contradicts anything he says. The Commission is drawing on video evidence of the whole incident from the goalmouth conversation to the referee calling both players over (twice), “including footage of the exchanges in the penalty area in the 63rd minute taken from a number of different camera angles” (paragraph 12), and yet they can find no explicit shot of Suárez calling Evra “negro” on any of these alleged six occasions. All they have is evidence of words being exchanged in the goalmouth (of which Dirk Kuyt stated “Mr. Evra was trying to provoke Mr. Suárez” – paragraph 98), nothing more. All they can glean from the footage is things like “it does seem that Mr. Suárez does say something at this point” (paragraph 88) and “Mr. Suárez’s face is obscured, but he does appear to shrug his shoulders” (paragraph 91). In other words, very, very little to incriminate Suárez beyond Evra’s word. The key point is that the Commission chose to believe Evra’s account over Suárez’s, calling the Uruguayan “an unreliable witness on critical parts of his evidence” (paragraph 379) and the Frenchman “a credible witness whose evidence was not seriously undermined in any material respect” (paragraph 379).

© 2012

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Suárez Pt. I: The Background

Introduction

The Luis Suárez/Patrice Evra affair, which has been dragging on since 15 October, now finally appears to have had something of a line drawn under it, on the surface at least. Some in the media continue to stoke the fire but the main protagonists have fallen silent on the issue. In many ways, this comes as a relief. The punishment has been handed out, accepted without appeal and is currently being served. Suárez has publically apologised, saying that I admitted to the commission that I said a word in Spanish once and only once. I told the panel members that I will not use it again on a football pitch in England. I never, ever used this word in a derogatory way and if it offends anyone then I want to apologise for that. And while some will make much of the fact that he has not apologised directly to Patrice Evra, Suárez maintains that he only said the word once. If this is the truth, and nobody can prove that it isn’t (certainly not the FA or its Independent Regulatory Commission), then why would he apologise to a liar (Evra claims he said it at least five times)? Meanwhile, Liverpool F.C. has confirmed that, despite a strongly held conviction that the Football Association and the panel it selected constructed a highly subjective case against Luis Suárez based on an accusation that was ultimately unsubstantiated,” it will accept his ban of eight games rather than risk a perception, at least by some, that would diminish our commitment on issues of race and inclusion. Presumably Evra, his manager Alex Ferguson and his club Manchester United are happy too that justice has apparently been served, although little enough has been heard from that neck of the woods as yet (with an FA Cup tie on the cards between the two teams at the end of this week, that may yet change). All-in-all, it would appear that everyone is simply moving on.

Yet many of us have been left with a bitter taste in our mouths, a sense of injustice that’s difficult to let go of even a month after the final verdict was announced. In truth, I probably shouldn’t even be posting this now, it almost feels like trying to board a moving train. I started writing on 3 January and I’ve only just finished. There was just too much to write about this subject. And maybe I should just let it go now, get back to the football, forget about this entire mess, but I simply can’t. This case mattered, a lot, not only to the alleged victim of racism and everyone concerned with its eradication from the game but to the man whose good name was at stake. This point has been missed by the vast majority. Reputations are forged over years and can be ruined in a matter of minutes. An allegation of racism must be treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated exhaustively lest the accused be branded in the wrong. Despite the Commission’s assurances to the contrary, that does not appear to have happened in this case, hence the bitter taste. John Barnes, though not explicitly giving an opinion on Liverpool’s stance one way or the other, is the only one I have heard in the media explaining this, detailing exactly why it is that the club have maintained their support of Suárez. It is not, as Kevin Keegan suggested, solely because he’s a key player and sometimes that misguides people (from 2:53). I would hope that any player at the club would have been afforded the same level of support in Suárez’s position, regardless of talent.

Yet we have been told by the vast majority that there can be no excuse, that both the club and its supporters were mistaken in supporting Suárez all along, in particular that our support of him since the verdict is deeply wrong and that we are, in effect, backing a racist. In fact, the popular narrative also seems to contain the notion that we are now somehow a racist club. You won’t hear that explicitly said but the subtext is there. Supporters group Spirit of Shankly has even been moved to release a statement on these attempts to tarnish both the Club and LFC supporters with a reputation for racism that we do not feel is deserved. Some have already suggested that the recent incident involving Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi, where a spectator was subsequently arrested by police for allegedly shouting racist abuse at the player, is a case of Liverpool reaping what they have sown. Apparently the impeccable behaviour of our supporters on this score going back many years now means nothing. The club’s defence of language which linguistic experts have agreed may not even have been racist has presumably either unleashed the dormant racism within all Liverpool supporters or invited otherwise decent people to suddenly become racist. To paraphrase the scene in Father Ted: Should we all be racists now? What’s the official line the club is taking on this? Only, the farm takes up most of the day and at night I just like a cup of tea, I mightn’t be able to devote myself full-time to the old racism…

If you don’t understand the frustration still being felt around Anfield regarding all of this, then read on. The arguments and reflections contained within this piece have probably been put forward already on a host of different blogs and internet forums since New Year’s Eve (the day the Commission released its 115-page report), although curiously not in very many national newspapers or television and radio debates (I say “curiously” because there is enough fuel in this report to keep any journalist’s investigative fires burning for quite some time). I’m certainly no journalist, I write for fun, but I did want to say my piece on this for two reasons: (a) to make sure that all of the inaccuracies and double-standards prevalent in the Commission’s report are on the public record and collected together in one place, even if it’s only on an obscure internet blog, since nobody in mainstream English journalism appears willing to do so; and (b) to provide some kind of therapy for myself, a kind of reassurance that I’m not going crazy and that the process which has branded the Uruguayan a racist (the FA covered themselves by suggesting otherwise, but a quick glance through the newspapers or flick through the television channels will tell you a different story) was flawed from the start and its outcome unjust. I have massive sympathy and empathy for victims of racism – I also feel for people accused and vilified in the wrong whose reputations have been shattered solely on the say-so of one person. The efforts of everyone involved in the gradual strangulation of racism in English football since the 1980’s, including both Liverpool F.C. and the FA, are to be commended, but the actions of the club and its fans in supporting the player in this instance do not indicate that they somehow condone it. Simply put, this is not a cut-and-dried case of racism and Luis Suárez is not the monster he is being painted to be. That story needs to be told as well. I will try to tell it here.

Background

I wrote my last proper blog entry on Wednesday 21 December 2011, the day after the Football Association announced the aforementioned ban (and fine of £40,000) for Suárez for misconduct contrary to FA Rule E3 following a two-month investigation of alleged racist abuse against Patrice Evra during the 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on 15 October. Many applauded the judgement, despite not knowing the full facts. My own reaction was slightly more muted. While I agreed with the punishment in principle if Suárez was found to have clearly racially abused Evra and even suggested that the punishment should possibly be worse than an 8-game ban if that was the case, I also wondered whether it is possible to respect an organisation whose actions reek of selective governance, double-standards and hypocrisy? While the minutiae of the enquiry were yet to be released for public consumption and there wasn’t much, therefore, in the way of concrete facts for me to consider, the FA’s questionable relationship historically with ideals such as truth and justice is there in black and white for all to see. In particular, I explored the manner in which English football’s governing body has, in the past, turned a blind eye to both violent conduct (e.g. Alan Shearer kicking Neil Lennon in the face back in 1998, Wayne Rooney kicking a Montenegro player last October) and offensive gestures (Rooney again, Ashley Cole) by its own players when it suited them.

Their track record on instances of on-pitch racism is also curious. In 1994, a case which I briefly referenced in my previous piece involving Stuart Pearce and Paul Ince was, according to Professional Footballers’ Association chief-executive Gordon Taylor (a man who has essentially left one of his organisation’s members, Luis Suárez, twisting in the maelstrom of a witch-hunt over the past few weeks and has even had the temerity to mention this case in the same breath as the racially-motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence), in the heat of the moment and settled with an apology over the phone. Wow, times have certainly changed. More recently, in 2007 Newcastle’s Turkish international Emre was cleared of racism allegations, with the FA’s Disciplinary Commission stating that having heard all the evidence presented, and having regard to the standard of proof agreed with both The FA and Newcastle United, we were not satisfied that the Charge was proved.” This despite the fact that Emre allegedly abused Everton’s Joseph Yobowithin earshot of Tim Howard and Joleon Lescott.” It wouldn’t be fair of me to state anything factual without seeing the evidence in question, but given that Howard and Lescott apparently heard the words used (in their written submissions to the FA, defender Joleon Lescott said Emre had called Yobo a “f*****g negro” while goalkeeper Tim Howard accused him of saying “f*****g n*gger”), it isn’t difficult to see why there was shock and amazement in the Goodison boardroom at the FA’s ruling.” Interestingly, on that occasion a standard of proof was agreed between both the FA and Emre’s club, Newcastle United. This does not appear to have been the case with Suárez and Liverpool.

In a case decided “on the balance of probabilities” (paragraph 31.1) and in which the reliability of one of the protagonists was put forward as a central reason for the final ruling (“Mr Suarez’s evidence was unreliable in relation to matters of critical importance” – paragraph 453 (5)), I think it’s appropriate to state here, at the outset, that the FA have also proven themselves “unreliable” in discharging their duties in the past and its dealings should always be considered with this in mind. Interestingly in the context of the Suárez case, a recent article by the BBC outlined concerns over the fact that the FA’s Independent Regulatory Commission, the same body which investigated Patrice Evra’s allegations against the Uruguayan, has a near-perfect conviction rate of 99.5% in cases heard between December 2010 and December 2011 (471 out of 473). Solicitor and journalist Stuart Gilhooly, a legal representative for the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland, suggested that a body with that sort of conviction rate needs to look at its procedures. It is as if you are guilty until proven innocent and that is not in the interests of justice.” Another lawyer anonymously stated that the FA are police, judge and jury all rolled into one. Your chances of success before them, UEFA and FIFA are virtually nil. I seldom advise clients to have a personal hearing. Sentences can be extended almost without limitation.” These are exactly the concerns that so many of us have with regard to the Suárez case. The FA, as we can plainly see from past examples, is not an omnipotent, infallible governing body, yet that is precisely how they appear to view themselves. All an FA spokesman could say in response to the above points was let’s make this clear – we’re not sending people to prison.” Pathetic. Try being branded a racist for the rest of your life and see how you like it.

Indeed, another point which I considered on 21 December, besides questions over the FA’s credibility, was that Luis Suárez’s reputation is now tainted forever. And while I didn’t want to go too far down the road of idle speculation (there was already plenty of that in the newspapers and on television from that special breed of idiot which really seems to thrive when there’s a good old-fashioned witch-hunt underway), I did express my concern, based on what snippets of information had been leaking out, that this had happened based solely on the flimsiest of evidence, namely the word of Patrice Evra, a man whose evidence against a Chelsea groundsman back in 2008 was deemed “exaggerated and unreliable” by the FA. Indeed, Liverpool FC’s statement on the matter suggested that “we find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone”. This would certainly seem to suggest that there was little other evidence at play here. We won’t know for sure until the FA make their deliberations public, but that’s an extraordinary state of affairs if true. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? All I could do was try and convince myself that the Commission would have realised the sensitivity of this issue for both parties and proceeded with extreme caution and utter meticulousness in their investigation. After all, if Evra had every right to feel aggrieved and hurt by racist comments (of course he does), then surely Suárez’s position needed to be taken into account as well? False or unsubstantiated allegations of racism can destroy someone’s reputation and good name. The Commission simply had to realise this.

Yet the thought that they had carried out a thorough and fair investigation in coming to their conclusion was also troubling because that would have meant that, as a Liverpool supporter, I had a racist on my team. And although both the FA and Evra himself had apparently suggested that Suárez was not, in fact, a racist, that really didn’t matter. If the Uruguayan had said something as explicit, for example, as “fucking black cunt” (like England captain John Terry is alleged to have done with QPR’s Anton Ferdinand), or some other vulgar racist term, then how could I ever support him again? Opposition supporters may hate the man for his dramatic gestures and theatrics (not to mention his goals against them), but the energetic, never-say-die, ultra-committed manner in which he plays the game (very Keegan-esque in that regard) and the skill with which he regularly graces Anfield means that he is one of the most popular figures at the club and he would be adored by any set of supporters lucky enough to have him on their team. Now he was apparently a racist? Well, if the FA and its Commission had done their job properly and unearthed real, concrete evidence, he was. And that was the trade-off. Did I pray that they had been incompetent (at best) in finding against the player and banning him for eight games, essentially (as I suspected) assuming his guilt before a figurative ball had been kicked and all in the name of being seen to be taking a zero-tolerance line against racism? Or did I hope for the FA or the Commission to have produced some hitherto unreferenced snippet of video that clearly showed Suárez say a certain word to me at least 10 times,” as Evra told Canal Plus after the game, and therefore prove his guilt beyond all denial? A useless, incompetent governing body or a racist star striker. Hell of a choice.

The Report

When the Regulatory Commission finally released their 115-page summation of their investigation on New Year’s Eve and I read through it, I had conflicting emotions. Firstly, there was anger that my fears had been realised and that Suárez had been found guilty based on the most subjective of investigations. How anyone can read that report and suggest otherwise is a mystery to me. The Commission may have put in the hours and written 454 paragraphs on the subject, but the actual nitty-gritty of evidence-gathering and judgement-making was deeply flawed. At the same time, I could at least feel relieved that the player is not a racist. Let me just assure you that I did read through the report – with something this divisive and sensitive, it is important to arm yourself with as much factual information as possible in order to make up your own mind rather than simply parroting such unreliable sources as tabloid newspapers or Talksport. One thing I will give the Commission is that their report does indeed provide a detailed outline of why they came to the judgement they did, so there is no excuse for anyone not to see the deeply troubling inconsistencies and selective nature of evidence-gathering which characterised the entire process – all you have to do is read it. Suárez was, simply put, royally shafted by an organisation (the FA) determined to make an example of someone, anyone. This is implicit in paragraph 408 of the report: “an increased sanction was required both to punish Mr. Suárez and also to ensure that it is widely understood that the FA deprecates and will not accept racist behaviour. In other words, a deterrent sanction is called for”. Contemporaneous comments by FIFA chief Sepp Blatter (that racist actions on the football pitch should be forgotten with a handshake) only added fuel to their fire.

This is the subtext of the entire investigation, as far as I’m concerned, the proverbial elephant in the room – the FA had a point to drive home all along. They had to be seen to show zero-tolerance towards racism. This Uruguayan, resident in England for less than a year and with a limited grasp of English, represented an easy scapegoat for them. He was not to know that they had this agenda. Perhaps the club wasn’t to know it either, although maybe it should have been a little more perceptive regarding the mood of its governing body. In all their dealings with the Commission, both Suárez and Liverpool were honest and open, maybe even naïve, as though both felt that this was a simple misunderstanding that would be ironed out after a fair hearing. Neither party, at any point, seems to have considered that the verdict would already effectively be in before the Commission’s investigation had even begun. It is presumably in this context that Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has recently said maybe wrong place, wrong time regarding both Suárez and the club. The delivery mechanism chosen for this “statement” was a three-man Commission which was independent in name but was nonetheless selected and given its remit by the FA. And while the title “independent” suggests that it considered the evidence before it in a fair and impartial manner, the outline of events detailed in the report casts doubt on this notion. Time and time again, conflicting accounts of various incidents of identical merit and with equal amounts of corroborating evidence are given vastly different weight, and versions of events that fit a certain narrative appear to be accepted right from the start even where there is little to go on besides one man’s word over another. I’m not sure if any of that can be defined as “fair.” Coincidentally, the Commission’s decisions on each individual incident usually find in favour of the FA. We’ll get to specific examples later.

I was initially horrified upon reading through the report to finally see, staring back at me in black and white, the allegations which Evra had made against Suárez: “because you are black,” “I don’t speak to blacks,” “okay, blackie, blackie, blackie” (paragraph 5). Shocking, vulgar, shameful stuff. It immediately occurred to me at this stage that Suárez must have said these things. This was, as explicitly stated at the start of paragraph 5, “the FA’s case”. They surely could not have accused him of such overtly racist comments without good cause. My heart sank. Horror turned to revulsion mixed with betrayal. Yeah, yeah, I know – drama queen, right? The fact is, I love this club. I have done for years. I love its ideals, its values. For Suárez to say these things was nothing less than a betrayal of those same ideals and values, and it was all the more stark given how strongly the club and its manager, Kenny Dalglish, had backed him. How could he? In my despair, however, I turned to the refuge of common sense, something which has certainly been in short supply over the past couple of weeks. The club’s statement of 20 December 2011 had categorically stated that it was disappointed with the decision of the Football Association Commission to find Luis Suárez guilty of the charges against him and expressed surprise that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone when no-one else on the field of play – including Evra’s own Manchester United teammates and all the match officials – heard the alleged conversation between the two players in a crowded Kop goalmouth while a corner kick was about to be taken. The statement went on to say that it appears to us that the FA were determined to bring charges against Luis Suárez, even before interviewing him at the beginning of November,” which is the same elephant in the room that I mentioned earlier, and that nothing we have heard in the course of the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suárez is innocent of the charges brought against him.

Think about that for a second. One of the main players in this case (Liverpool Football Club), which had been privy to the proceedings all along, had come out strongly in the immediate aftermath of the judgement and said that it did not believe that the Commission had sufficient grounds to make this decision based on the evidence to hand. This was before a single shred of paper had been made public. Nothing we have heard in the course of the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suárez is innocent of the charges brought against him. Of course, some were quick to say that this was strictly business, an example of a club looking after its own interests, refusing to admit the culpability of its prime asset, unwilling to say that it was wrong to back him in the first place. I never believed that. It was always my assertion that if any real evidence of wrongdoing existed, then the club would have never backed the player so strongly. It would have been a PR disaster of epic proportions if they had. The club was never anything but open throughout this whole process. They never briefed Suárez to keep his mouth shut, nor did they ever (to my knowledge) seek to impede or slow down the investigation. The player, too, had been honest from the start regarding his use of the Spanish word “negro” (pronounced “negg-grow” as opposed to the English “knee-grow”). Neither Suárez nor the club ever sought to hide anything or play games. Maybe the player wouldn’t be sitting out eight games now if they had? In actual fact, it was nothing more sinister than the utter dearth of any real evidence which ensured that Suárez maintained the complete and vociferous support of both his employers and supporters before, during and after the investigation, not as a means to obscure or manipulate the truth. And so it was that I proceeded through the rest of the report with an ominous sense of foreboding that, to paraphrase the aforementioned Liverpool F.C. statement, there would be nothing in it to prove Luis Suárez guilty of the charges brought against him.

I want to just state for the record, before I go on to consider the Commission’s report, that I cannot prove that Luis Suárez did not racially abuse Patrice Evra seven times. I have no interest in doing so and I totally accept that he might have. Likewise, I have yet to see the proof that he did racially abuse Patrice Evra seven times or that he even intended to on the one occasion to which he admits saying the word “negro.” Read through the report yourself and try to find the evidence – there is none. All that any of us can go on, including the Commission, is gut feeling – this suggests, that suggests, the other suggests. Probably, possibly, perhaps, plausibly. That’s it. We can argue until the cows come home over technicalities and circumstances, and I will do so simply because that’s exactly what the FA’s Commission did. The terrain of the Suárez case was set out in exactly these terms, so how else are we meant to consider the merits of the case against him? Everyone who would voice an opinion needs to fully accept that there is virtually no concrete evidence of anything. It is a 50/50 split, one man’s word against another. It is under these terms that this piece will be written. In my view, and the view of many others, Luis Suárez should have been penalised for saying the word “negro” once, nothing more. Whatever that penalty ended up being, so be it, but there was no proof that he said anything seven times, only suppositions and possibilities and maybes. Well ok, if the Commission charged with investigating this hugely important case chose to do that, then I will do exactly the same. Based on what the report puts in front of me, I will suppose what happened in the full knowledge that only Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra will ever know what truly happened. In doing so, I will illustrate that the evidence used to find the Uruguayan guilty of the charges against him could just as easily have resulted in a much more moderate punishment, one which might have resulted in him missing only two games or even none and, if handled correctly, may have avoided the unfortunate aftermath. However, as Rob Gutmann has pointed out on The Anfield Wrap, it is obvious, that unless Luis Suárez’s accuser, Patrice Evra, could be shown unequivocally to have bare-faced lied, that there would be far worse repercussions for the sport and the FA if justice was miscarried against Evra rather than Suárez.” Guilty until proven innocent then, effectively a prophesy truly self-fulfilled.” 

[The report, incidentally, is available here. I will be referring to it extensively from here on and I would be here until next year if I tried to link every quote. You can trust me that I have quoted faithfully from the report, but if you need to be sure or just want to see it with your own eyes, maybe just download it and read the two in conjunction]

© 2012

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