So the arguments are done, the verdict filed and the report offered: all 115 pages of it. And the ban – eventually – accepted by Luis Suárez and Liverpool for the Uruguay international’s racially motivated abuse of Patrice Evra on 13 October. Except they haven’t. Not really, with club and player still protesting innocence, defaming the Football Association and Patrice Evra in the process and, in full conspiratorial mood, suggesting evidence was deliberately missed by the independent panel. No genuine apology has been offered or ever will be by the Merseyside club or player for Suárez’ abuse of the United defender 10 weeks ago.
The truth, as established by the Independent FA Regulatory Commission is that seven times Suárez aimed abuse at the United player. Seven times he did so by referring in derogatory terms to the colour of the Frenchman’s skin. The facts, as former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez once famously said, are no longer in doubt.
But the truth, it was once said, should never get in the way of a good story. Indeed, it has been one of the most disgraceful episodes in Liverpool’s history as the 119-year-old club set about deliberately prejudicing the most sensitive hearing the FA has held in years. From the get go, so the FA’s report tells us, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish slandered Evra, accusing the Frenchman of “doing this before” – an erroneous and offensive, but widely spread, piece of misinformation that the Senegalese-born Frenchman had made previously false accusations of racism. He hasn’t. Ever.
Meanwhile, the club issued a series of media briefings aimed at winning not the hearing, but in the court of public opinion, while constructing a case that we now know was built entirely on a lie. The lie that in Uruguay all instances use of the word “negro” is acceptable. The Commission, aided by two linguistics experts, systematically dismantled the excuse over 115 pages of the most thorough investigative report English football governance history.
Yet, Dalglish and player are steadfast in their refusal to fully apologise; utterly insistent that a widespread conspiracy, involving Manchester United, the FA, an Independent Commission and the media has taken down their man. Injustice they cry! It is has become a cult of total denial; a collective mental illness, led by the clan leader, Dalglish, who is taking hordes of followers with him.
“Ask a linguistic expert, which certainly I am not. They will tell you that the part of the country in Uruguay where he [Suárez] comes from, it is perfectly acceptable,” Dalglish told the media on Tuesday night.
He deliberately ignored the two linguistic experts used by the Commission that contradicted this position. The mind boggles.
“His wife calls him that and I don’t think he is offended by her. We have made a statement and I think it is there for everybody to read. Luis has made a brilliant statement and we will stand by him. We know what has gone on. We know what is not in the report and that’s important for us.
“I think it is very dangerous and unfortunate that you don’t actually know the whole content of what went on at the hearing. I’m not prepared, and I can’t say it, but I am just saying it is really unfortunate you never got to hear it. That’s all I’m saying. Wrong place, wrong time. It could have been anybody. I can’t answer for the FA, you ask them.”
Readers may be forgiven for thinking that, out-of-context, this is the rant of a madman, fuelled by suspicion, hate and delusion. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Except this is no madman; Dalglish is quick-witted and in full control of his faculties, but still prepared to spread disinformation to the last. It is far more insidious than mere paranoia.
Almost universally outside insular Liverpool’s confines, the world of football has condemned the club for its stance. After all, Liverpool is a world renown institution that is a flag-bearer for English football. The club’s management should know better. And while United supporters can watch, dumbstruck by the utter ineptitude down the East Lancs Road, it is to football’s discredit that Liverpool has set out to destroy much of the work done to eliminate racism in football.
Voices of reason
Yet, the voices of reason will still hope that a recalcitrant Dalglish, perhaps prompted by the embarrassingly silent owner John W Henry, will eventually see sense. History suggests those voices do not hold their collective breaths.
“An apology would certainly help things because hen people do apologise it certainly moves things on,” Show Racism the Red Card chief executive Ged Grebby told Goal.com on Wednesday.
“I think that it would help the situation no end if he accepted that he had done wrong and personally apologised to Patrice Evra. If there was an element to this that he did understand the language differences then the easiest thing to do would have been to apologise.
“I think that Liverpool Football Club owe Patrice Evra an apology. They raised this issue about him having previous over the Chelsea incident when, if you look at that, it was two members of Manchester United’s staff that reported it. It was a legitimate incident. It wasn’t a red herring.
“The FA have sent out a really strong message to say that it is not acceptable in the game for there to be any kind of abuse where you are using people’s skin colour, religion or culture.”
Support for this position has come from across the football world, including those outside of a often parochial England. Indeed, for once the FA has set an example for which European nations can learn much. While racism is endemic in Spain, for example, the FA has taken a strong step in England.
Pressure from the FA?
And that is apparently a key tenet of Liverpool’s paranoid attack. That in seeking to take a strong line against racism, the Independent Commission has been pressured by the FA executive to, essentially, fake the findings of the report, an erroneously sanction Suárez. It is a nonsense that few outside of Liverpool’s fraternity will pay any heed to.
“Racial abuse between players on the field of play has been an unspoken taboo for too long, an area that has been unsatisfactorily dealt with by English football despite many cases over the past ten years,” said Piara Powar, Executive Director of Football Against Racism in Europe.
“We would also call on Liverpool FC to think again about their public campaign to dispute the charges and contest the principles involved in the case. As a club with an international standing the vehemency of their campaign is unquestionably causing them reputational harm, and has lead to Liverpool fans to become involved in a backlash of hatred on web forums and other public arenas.”
That backlash has included some of the most obscene racist and deluded thinking ever experienced in the English football community. Racism, it seems, is more alive than ever if the content created on social media sites by Liverpool supporters is a barometer. The sad irony is that those Liverpool supporters subjecting Evra, Stan Collymore and others to racist abuse, do so in the name of ‘supporting’ a player accused of the very same crime.
Liverpool has much to answer for. The storm of vitriol, deliberately whipped up by the club and Dalglish, has intensified because of United’s involvement. Victimisation is well practised in Liverpool, but ‘injustice’ at United’s hands could never be accepted. Dalglish’s tweet, for example, when the panel’s verdict was announced shortly before the New Year that Suarez should “Never Walk Alone” pandered to the masses in crudest fashion.
It is a dangerous time for the game, concludes Professional Footballers’ Association chairman Gordon Taylor, who warns that racism is a curse that football must collectively challenge. Seemingly, in spite of Liverpool’s intransigence.
“Some issues are bigger than a player, the club or the game and racism is one of those. We have to learn from it and there should be no misunderstanding or ambiguity in the future,” adds Taylor.
“You don’t want such issues to divide clubs or society. We’re all in a football family but we’re all under the law of the land. Once a penalty has been paid and carried out we move on in a positive manner to make sure the penalty acts as a deterrent. The educational process continues.
“We all know the word ‘negro’ can be taken to mean a very inflammatory word. Any reference to the colour of a person’s skin has to be eradicated. In the heat of battle things can be said, but sometimes they go beyond what’s acceptable. We have had 20 or 30 years of campaigning against racism. I hope we can move on from this and learn our lessons.”
Sadly, it is a lesson unlikely to be heard on Merseyside if the past two months is a barometer. One of England’s finest clubs, mired in hate and paranoia. Now devoid of dignity, barren of respect, and when it comes to race relations, without a shred of legitimacy.