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.
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?
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 times” according 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 fervour” by 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.
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.