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Wednesday, January 04, 2012 

Liverpool, Suarez and the football bubble.

At the best of times, it often seems as though football, or at least top-flight football operates within a bubble. This can indeed be a source of strength: long may it continue to be the case that at three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon the problems of the outside world can be temporarily forgotten about, the sheer artistry of 22 individuals on a field overwhelming everything else. At the same time, it's impossible to do so when those outside problems are mirrored on the pitch itself. Thanks to the work of groups such as the Kick it Out campaign and others, racism has for the most part been eradicated both from the pitch and terraces. There is still work needed to ensure it doesn't return, as well as to raise the overall level of respect both players and fans have towards one another, at least within reason, but for the most part the situation has improved massively over the past two decades.

This is why the incidents between Luiz Suarez and Patrice Evra, and John Terry and Anton Ferdinand have cast such a pall over the game. Most of us thought we'd got beyond the point where massively paid international footballers, regardless of how a minority have conducted themselves off the pitch would ever think it acceptable to racially abuse one another on it. While Terry is innocent till proven guilty, and it must be said it is thoroughly regrettable that the police have become involved in his case, the case against Suarez has been overwhelmingly proved. Even so, everyone has rightly been at pains to point out that regardless of what Suarez has been found to have referred to Evra as in the heat of the moment, no one is even beginning to suggest that he is a racist. The FA has stated they do not believe him to be a racist; the independent regulatory commission found in its exhaustive report that he was not a racist; and more to the point, Evra himself said in his evidence that he does not believe Suarez is racist (paragraph 232 of the report).

Both Suarez and Liverpool as a football club seem to have completely ignored this crucial point: that making a racist comment does not instantly make the person who made it genuinely prejudiced, let alone a supremacist or as both seem to fear, a potential pariah. Ever since Evra made his complaint, both have dug themselves ever deeper into a hole when all that was really needed was for Suarez and his club to recognise that he had breached, perhaps even through ignorance, the FA's rules, accept the charge and make an apology to Evra. The FA would have taken this into account and most likely given a less harsh penalty than the 8 game ban and fine of £40,000 that he's received, as they did in the case of Reading's John Mackie, who had 5 games of his ban suspended. Instead, and to what should be their shame, they've contested the charge with such a vigour that they've brought both themselves and the game into disrepute.

From the very outset, when Dalglish's second comment on being called to see Andre Marriner and Phil Dowd after the game was to ask hadn't Evra "done this before" (paragraph 145) it seems as though their strategy, rather than being to recognise Suarez might have gone beyond the pale was to stick to him blindly, and far more ignobly, accuse Evra of making the whole up. Evra has not, despite common belief, made accusations of racism before; when he was involved in a ruck after a game at Chelsea with a groundsman it was Mike Phelan and United's goalkeeping coach who claimed the word "immigrant" had been levelled at the player.

If the hope was that through rigorously contesting Evra's evidence it would be found wanting, then the approach failed miserably: over a quite incredible 115 pages, almost every part of Liverpool's case is destroyed. If the FA had really wanted to be vindictive, they could have said that one player calling another a negro was by itself completely unacceptable in the English league; instead, the commission instructed two independent experts, both of whom painstakingly go through all the linguistic connotations and found that if Suarez said what Evra says he did, it would have been offensive even back in Uruguay, while if it was the other way around, it wouldn't have been (paragraphs 167-202).

Most remarkable of all is that Liverpool have kept up this pretence even after Suarez told the commission that he wouldn't be using the word "negro" again (paragraph 454). Their statement yesterday, making clear that they wouldn't be appealing the judgement, is typical of the bluster of football managers when they want to cover over a poor performance. Everything according to them was subjective, even when time and again it's clear the commission went out of their way to be fair to Suarez. It's true that their decision was made on the balance of probabilities rather beyond reasonable doubt, but this was always going to be the case when the evidence they had to decide upon depended so much on how their individual accounts stood up. It could be that United coached Evra better, and that he made a better impression as he gave his evidence in English while Suarez's had to be translated, yet it's also the case that both Damien Comilli, Liverpool's director of football, and Dirk Kuyt thought that Suarez had told them he had used words he subsequently denied saying (paragraph 376).

Rather than it being the FA that has damaged Suarez's reputation, as they charge, it's been the approach of the club and Suarez, both denying everything that has led to this point. Little more would have been said had he accepted he was in the wrong to begin with; far more damaging in the long term is not that he strayed beyond a line through genuine ignorance, but that then he subsequently gave unconvincing evidence about it. On yesterday of all days, someone ought to have read the statement they put out, especially the mealy-mouthed part that follows the accusations against the FA, of how they're not continuing "a fight for justice in this particular case" as it would only obscure their support for putting an end to any form of racism in English football, and decided to strike it all out and make as low-key an announcement as they could, even if they still didn't accept guilt.

The greatest shame of all is that while everyone has come to expect unfettered, unapologetic arrogance from Manchester United, such is the way Alex Ferguson has long conducted himself, the team we didn't begin to imagine could react in a similar fashion has gone completely off the deep end. And as an Arsenal fan, and someone who has long admired Liverpool, it deeply pains me to find that if only this once, it's United that have been on the side of righteousness.

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Did you actually read the report? In the end it is one man's word against another's. Nobody but Suarez and Evra heard any of the conversation, although it happened in a crowded goal mouth. Despite the presence of lots of cameras, the supposed abuse by Suarez was not caught on camera.

The reasone why the FA panel found Suarez guilty is that they thought Evra was a more credible witness than Suarez. However, there are lots of reasons to doubt that eg Evra claiming to be in a "state of shock" following a very minor foul from Suarez, Evra telling some Giggs he had been called a black then telling Ferguson he had been called a ni**er. And while Evra hadn't made an accusation of racism about the Chelsea groundstaff he was found guilty by the FA of violent behaviour and given a four match ban. The FA also called his evidence in that case "exaggerated and unreliable". The FA panel just glossed over Evra's inconsistencies but went to town on Suarez's.

I don't see the case proved one way or the other.

No, I didn't read the report. That's why I liberally made reference to specific paragraphs in the report throughout the post, despite not bothering to read it.

If you'd properly read the report, you'd have seen that not only does it dismiss the notion that it was one man's word against another's (paragraph 214) but that Suarez's representative also accepted that it wasn't (215). It turned heavily on their word, yes, to quote from it:

"We agree that at the heart of this case is a dispute between Mr Evra and Mr Suarez as to
what was said. Before reaching our decision, we assessed the credibility of those two
individuals and examined all the other evidence with great care to see whether it
supported or undermined Mr Evra's or Mr Suarez's account. We asked ourselves which
account was more probable. We kept in mind the seriousness of the Charge, and the
burden and standard of proof."

Yes, there were inconsistencies in some of Evra's evidence, but apart from the 10 times bit in his initial interview to Canal+ which I don't think is entirely explained by his saying it's just a French expression, his explanation for his confusion of whether it was nigger or black was due to his uncertainty about the Spanish, which was perfectly explainable. Also convincing was the evidence on how he was in the dressing room afterwards with the other Manchester United players, whereas with Suarez it seems both Dirk Kuyt and Liverpool's director of footballer thought he had said exactly what Evra says he did, before they changed their accounts in line with that of Suarez's subsequent one. I really don't believe in this instance this is some vast conspiracy by United to get Suarez by making up accusations of racism, as some Liverpool fans and even some at the club itself seem to imagine.

Thanks for the reply but there are inaccuracies in it. Regarding Suarez's rep accepting it wasn't one man's word against another's it should be remembered that this is the wording of the report that found Suarez guilty. There is no transcript of the actual hearing. The Liverpool FC official statement reads "We find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone when no-one else on the field of play - including Evra's own Manchester United team-mates and all the match officials - heard the alleged conversation between the two players in a crowded Kop goalmouth while a corner kick was about to be taken."

As for your statement, with Suarez it seems both Dirk Kuyt and Liverpool's director of footballer thought he had said exactly what Evra says he did, before they changed their accounts in line with that of Suarez's subsequent one. This is simply wrong. The words you are referring to are "porque eres negro" (because you are black). However, Evra says those words were said in response to his question "Porque me diste un golpe" (Why did you kick me, (the whole conversation was started in Spanish by Evra who apparently doesn't know the word for black)) in the penalty area. Comolli (a Frenchman) and Kuyt were referring to the incident after away from the penalty area when they had been spoken to by the referee.

Comoli said that Suarez told him that Mr Evra told him
"Don't touch me, South American" to Suarez said he had
replied "Por que, tu eres negro?". Kuyt gave a similar version though they had spoken in Dutch. Suarez maintained he had only said "porque negro" (why black guy). However, the FA panel decided that this was an inconsistency that made Suarez unreliable.

In the same report this is stated:
In the extract
below, LS is Mr Suarez, HP is the interpreter, and JK is Jenni Kennedy of the FA. We
include the Spanish words only where relevant to this point.
"JK: And can you tell me, in Spanish, exactly what you said to Patrice?
LS: Por que negro?
HP: Why, Black? Why because your (sic) black.
JK: "Por que, negro?" no other words?
LS: No.
75
HP: Solamente? Por que negro?
LS: Por que negro.
HP: Just "But why, Black?" But I think the meaning is, "Why, because you're
black?" (inaudible) in English, it doesn't make sense.

So, even the official FA interpreter misinterpreted what Suarez said. The FA panel refused to see that this could support Suarez's claim that he had been misunderstood. They examined the claim but dismissed with a piece of sophistry. No benefit of doubt for Mr Suarez. This happens all the way through the report.

There are also questions about the process. Apparently, at Evra's first interview he was allowed to watch video recording of the incident but Suarez wasn't. Suarez subsequently had to change some testimony when shown the video, perhaps this made him look more unreliable.

I can carry on all week with counter arguments if you wish. I think a key point is that Evra mistranslated negro for nigger as this would explain his wild reaction outside the penalty area. According to Suarez this was the first and only time he used the word negro. However, according to Evra, Suarez said negro five times in the penalty area yet there is no similar reaction. However, that is conjecture. I don't say for sure that Suarez is innocent but I stand by my claim that there was little more than one man's word against another's.

As for claims of a vast conspiracy, can we have some quotes to back this assertion up? I'm sure that there lots of Liverpool fans saying this but that is little more than pub talk/internet chat.

So the report that finds Suarez guilty is subjective but Liverpool's official statement isn't? Please.

We could continue going through the parts of the report we're willing to accept and which parts we're not, but I think it comes to down to this in the end: apart from those loyal to Liverpool, and the odd person like Gus Poyet, everyone else seems to find it extraordinary that Liverpool have continued to defend to the hilt a player who admits he called Evra a negro at least once, regardless of how he was addressed. I simply don't believe Evra or Manchester United would have taken this all the way unless something very approximate to that Evra claims was said was said, even if he slightly misinterpreted it. All this could have been sorted, as I wrote, if Suarez had apologised at the very beginning and Liverpool had taken a more reasonable position.

It is after all fine to stand up for one of your players to the very end, but not to continuously criticise the FA while they're hearing the evidence and then putting the report together as Dalglish did. The FA is not above reproach it's very true: their refusal to allow the appeal for Joey Barton's red card last weekend was baffling. On this occasion though I can't see how they could have been more open with how the decision was reached.

"So the report that finds Suarez guilty is subjective but Liverpool's official statement isn't? Please. "

Ahem, where I have said it isn't? I would agree that Liverpool's statement is subjective. I quoted the statement in response to your point "you'd have seen that not only does it dismiss the notion that it was one man's word against another's (paragraph 214) but that Suarez's representative also accepted that it wasn't (215)."

I would also agree with you that Liverpool have handled lots of aspects of the affair very badly. However, I did take exception to your point that "almost every part of Liverpool's case is destroyed" and I remain unconvinced by the verdict. I would hope to say such a thing is not to be an apologist for racism and I would also like to make it clear racism in the UK is far more serious than the occasional false accusation of racism.

Anyway, all the best, you're a good writer and I appreciate the blog.

What you're saying, unless I've misunderstood you, is that because the report finds Suarez guilty and you're unconvinced by the verdict, you can't even accept that Suarez's representative agreed that it wasn't a case of one man's word against another. That would seem to me to be incredibly sloppy on the commission's behalf, to so wilfully misquote or twist the words of the lawyer. Liverpool might well have said something different afterwards, but then that fits in (in my view) with the way they've approached the entire case. They might not have agreed with the representative either, but the report's only making clear what he said at the time.

All of this is baffling when their response to the abuse Tom Adeyemi apparently received on Friday has been exemplary. There was no need to apologise for the stupidity of one fan, but they've done so anyway. Sadly, it all seems to have come down to the fact that the incident with Suarez happened against United, and no quarter can be given against them. Thanks incidentally for the kind words.

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