Liverpool, Suarez and the football bubble.
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.