So, ‘Goofy’ Suarez has copped an 8-match ban and a fine of about half a week’s wages for making racist remarks to Patrice Evra during the October fixture at the Dipperdrome. I actually took the trouble to read large chunks of the 115-page FA Commission report on this whole affair and what struck me most was the level of detail they had gone into over Goofy’s remarks to Evra and his responses. Apparently this was in order to make it ‘appeal-proof’ and the exhaustive investigations into what was said, by whom and what the cultural or linguistic nuances of that might be would appear to leave Liverpool with very little room for manoeuvre.
In any case, it was clear whilst watching the game that Pat was extremely upset about something that Goofy had said to him. He kept looking across to the United bench, as if for guidance. It was abundantly clear that Suarez was trying to wind him up.
All in all, having read large chunks of the Report, there seems little doubt that the case is proven. Suarez probably isn’t any more of a racist than any other footballer, but he did seemingly use racist remarks to Evra on this occasion in an attempt to get him booked (he succeeded) or sent off (he didn’t).
Who knows how many more ‘undocumented’ cases like this happen at all levels of football during any given season? Goofy’s mistake was that he picked on the wrong guy. Gaining an advantage in key games like Liverpool vs United is par for the course and winding up opponents is axiomatic if you think you can needle or unsettle your opponent and provoke them into a rash challenge or injudicious foul. Through the years, there have been a number of high-profile players with ‘short fuses’ – Denis Law, Roy Keane, Joey Barton, to name but three – who have doubtless been on the receiving end of barbed comments from opponents that were similarly calculated to unsettle and enrage. It will be interesting to see if there is an increase in this kind of complaint from now on.
What has been far more interesting throughout this whole affair has been the relative responses of the two clubs and their managers. Fergie and the United camp have been at pains to stay out of it, by and large. This is fair enough; after all the case was being brought by the F.A., not by Manchester United F.C.. Fergie’s only comment on it was that they were supportive of Evra’s standpoint.
Predictably, Liverpool’s response – and that of their manager in particular – has been far more of a comedy turn. The ghosts of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley must have been spinning in their graves at some of ‘Worzel’ Dalglish’s comments.
Apart from trying to discredit Patrice Evra’s testimony due to the totally unrelated incidents that took place at Stamford Bridge in 2008 – whilst conveniently neglecting to mention Goofy’s ban for biting a (black) opponent whilst playing for Ajax in 2010 – Worzel has lost considerable respect among the wider footballing community due to the one-eyed parochialism of his responses. His attempts to plug into Liverpool’s well-documented ‘victim culture’ via Twitter to ensure that Goofy ‘never walks alone’ (yawn…) have recently been in full flow after L.F.C.’s recent defeat at Fulham – in particular his response to the chants of the Fulham fans about Goofy’s behaviour. Suck it up, Kenny, because, thanks in no small part to your public utterances, the terrace wags around the country will be reminding Suarez of his misdemeanours for as long as he remains a Liverpool player, no matter your affronted outrage. The only surprise is that Dalglish hasn’t yet taken issue with the fact that both of the F.A.’s ‘linguistic experts’ who advised on Goofy’s use of ‘Rioplatense’ Spanish were attached to the University of…..you guessed it…Manchester.
United fans, of course, have predictably already developed a parody of Liverpool’s ‘Just can’t get enough’ Suarez song that makes their views on his behaviour perfectly clear. Should he play at Old Trafford in February, we will undoubtedly be treated to lengthy renditions of this.
Then there was the whole business of the Liverpool squad (and manager) wearing cheap-looking Suarez t-shirts before the recent Wigan game. Showing solidarity with a team-mate is one thing, but to do so in such an ostentatiously public display is quite another. Contrast that with the way in which United dealt with Eric Cantona’s ban for assaulting a mouthy idiot in the crowd at Selhurst Park back in 1995. We all knew – and the club publicly acknowledged – that Eric shouldn’t have done it, but we all supported him anyway – if only because it swiftly became clear that Eric’s target was the worst kind of Sarf London moron. However, once the seagulls had abandoned the trawler to his fate, the whole thing was quietly taken in-house and he was supported behind closed doors – a concept that Worzel doesn’t seem to have grasped.
Consider the scale of the screw-ups and the enthusiasm with which everyone connected to The Dippers has managed to paint themselves into a corner over this issue: first, there have been frequent testimonials from Goofy’s team-mates to the effect that he isn’t a racist, but that is something that he was never charged with. Add to this Worzel’s attempts to discredit Evra and engage with all those miserable, self-deluding Scousers who have chips the size of Pier Head on their shoulders and think that everything is an anti-Liverpool conspiracy, plus the sheer embarassment now being felt by Goofy’s advisors who set him up with all kinds of do-gooding anti-racism initiatives in South Africa and elsewhere. It’s almost beyond belief that a major football club could miscalculate so badly over an issue of such seriousness.
Liverpool’s players and staff have publicly gone out on a limb for Luis Suarez, but now the rest of us get to watch them squirm as the penny finally drops and they realise that they are going to have to back down and eat humble pie over this. Their aggressive stance and their belated understanding that they were just making things worse with each successive public statement will make the inevitable, eventual climbdown even more hilarious. If I were Evra, I would insist that Suarez is made to apologise publicly in the middle of Moss Side at 10:30 pm on a Saturday night. I’m sure then that we would see some of the speed and movement for which he is so famous.
Postscript 04 Jan 2012
Well, well, looks like I over-estimated the capacity of Liverpool F.C. to see beyond their own parochial interests and regain a little dignity from a situation that has left their reputation – and that of Dalglish and Suarez in particular – in tatters.
But no; the wagons have been pulled into an even tighter circle and they have decided to move on without any apology to the affronted party, without any acceptance that Suarez was guilty or that their response to this problem has often been crass and inappropriate in the extreme. It’s not often that I am guilty of over-estimating Liverpool F.C., but here is one such occasion. Mea culpa.
Had the situations been reversed, I would like to think that my club would have had the wisdom and humility to see that more was at stake here than just their own narrow interests and over-developed persecution complex. As mentioned previously, they did so back in 1995 over the Cantona Affair and managed to handle it just about right. When Cantona returned after a much longer ban, it was with a sense that justice had been served and that he could resume his career with a clean slate. He did so and although his absence probably cost us the Premiership Title that year, the following year we did the Double with Cantona scoring a brilliant winning goal in an otherwise drab FA Cup Final against Liverpool. Eric won numerous Player of the Year awards and both player and club were feted for their phoenix-like revival. Football moved on.
Can’t see that happening with Goofy, no matter how good a player he is. Liverpool’s aggressive and unrepentant stance over this sorry affair will ensure that upon his return, Suarez will no doubt be treated as a Martyr and another member of the pantheon of Merseyside Victims at the Dipperdrome, whilst everywhere else he will be treated as a racist, even though he probably isn’t. Last night, the City fans were singing ‘Where’s your racist gone?’ to their Scouse counterparts and this will no doubt continue for the rest of this season and probably beyond. Serves ’em right, frankly.
Dalglish and Co may reject the views of the F.A. Commission, but the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ has already made its mind up and though Patrice Evra isn’t exactly a popular figure outside of Red Manchester, most people – except for Dipper fans – understand that he had a genuine grievance here; one worthy of some contrition and some kind of apology from Suarez and LFC, neither of which it seems will now be forthcoming. This was a moment for Liverpool as a club and for Suarez as a human being to show a little class and even I am surprised at how far short of the mark they have fallen with their intransigence and their arrogant, delusional self-interest.
It will be interesting to see how the F.A. respond to the scorn poured on their Commission by Worzel in particular; if managers can be charged with Disrepute raps for abusing referees, surely Dalglish has a case to answer for his arrogance and contempt towards the governing body? On the other hand, the F.A. may just want to let the whole thing quietly subside.
Another curious aspect of this concerns the total silence of LFC’s American owners over this issue. NES probably have a greater appreciation of ‘race’ issues through their involvement with Baseball in the USA and you would have thought that a little of their accumulated wisdom might have trickled down from on high and into the ears of Dalglish and the players. John Henry will know that this affair has left a severe dent in Liverpool’s reputation, and further damged their relationships with both the F.A. and with Manchester United.
The latter is a real concern as what used to be a healthy local rivalry becomes increasingly toxic by the year. Suarez is due to be back for the Old Trafford game next month and I would imagine that police forces in Greater Manchester and on Merseyside are already gearing up for what is likely to be a powder-keg of a day.
Post-Postscript 14 Jan 2012
To use an over-used cliché, you couldn’t make it up…
Just when the F.A. thought that things couldn’t get any worse, we get what must seem to them to be the F.A. Cup Fourth Round Draw from Hell…..QPR v Chelsea and Liverpool v United. Just when they were hoping that the whole ‘racism in football’ issue would dry up and blow away. No chance of that now. Suarez, Evra, Terry & Anton Ferdinand are back under the microscope.
To be honest, I have been in a state of shock about this for the last 10 days. At the very least, these fixtures – especially the Liverpool/United tie – raise a whole raft of issues that will no doubt mean that any and every public utterance from either side ahead of the Cup game will be subject to intense media scrutiny. From here, with a favourable wind, I can almost hear the sound of sacrificial knives being sharpened in the Street of Shame.
Suarez has issued a half-arsed and general ‘apology’ that satisfied nobody and merely highlights his and his club’s contempt for Evra, the F.A. and Manchester United – and probably in that order. Fergie has commented sarcastically about Liverpool’s predilection for making large and empty public statements. Clearly, his view is that ‘peace talks’ at board level will not alleviate the tribal toxicity that Dalglish et al have let loose – and he’s probably right.
Things are coming to the boil and by the end of this, the result of a couple of football matches (the Cup game and subsequent Premiership game at Old Trafford in early February) may be the least of our worries……
The safest bet – being as ITV will almost certainly broadcast the Cup game live on free-to-air TV – would be to play it ‘behind closed doors’, but that would undoubtedly be seen as an acknowledgement by the football authorities that the fans are out of control and the police and stewards will be able to do little or nothing to control them if there are any flashpoints. No doubt if that should prove to be the case, Kenny Dalglish will be as disinclined to accept any responsibility as he has been throughout this whole sorry mess. Pretty classy for someone who witnessed at first hand what happened at both Heysel and Hillsborough.
If the abuse one (black) Oldham player got from the Kop during a recent cup tie is anything to go by, what kind of reception can Patrice Evra expect to get – assuming he is picked to play? And if he doesn’t play, what does that say about the levels of snarling vitriol that Liverpool FC have effectively sponsored and encouraged throughout this affair?
You would like to think that Liverpool and United fans alike will be aware of the fact that – more than ever – the world will be looking on and that they will consequently show some restraint and some maturity. However, Dalglish and Liverpool have already set the tone ahead of this match and in an atmosphere of resentment, loathing and parochial prejudice, does anyone seriously believe that an outbreak of peace is likely?