LIVERPOOL sensibly decided to stop walking alone on Tuesday. They stepped back in from the cold, rejoining the footballing community but further remedial work is required and sorry still seems to be the hardest word.
Kenny Dalglish and the club have done the right thing, electing not to appeal against Luis Suárez’s eight-game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, the real victim in all this. There was little chance of winning any reprieve for their Uruguayan for directing the word “negro” at Evra.
Liverpool must move on, also moving to improve relations with United. Make no mistake: the Suárez case has highlighted and heightened the tension between England’s greatest two clubs. Tasteless chants from both sides’ supports have been going on for too long.
Rivalry is healthy but hatred embarrasses both Old Trafford and Anfield. It’s undignifying for teams who have contributed so much glory and entertainment to English and European football.
Both Dalglish and Sir Alex Ferguson must urge their fans to show some restraint, working in tandem to lower the temperature.
The mercury will soar next month. When Suárez returns, whether against Spurs or United, he will be vilified. Manchester City fans chanted “where’s your racist gone” during Tuesday night’s game with Liverpool at the Etihad. United supporters have certainly built up a caustic song list, judging by recent matches.
Amid the tribalism tainting English football there will be fears of Suárez being driven out of the game in this country, although there can be little sympathy. Evra is the one who has suffered.
Yet Suárez and Dalglish are close and the striker sounded more passionately embedded in Anfield than ever, thanking everyone at the club and saying that he now “understood more than ever what ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ means”.
Uruguayan flags were held aloft by Liverpool fans at the Etihad. Suárez’s name was sung. The final chapter in this unpleasant saga has yet to be reached.
Suárez reiterated his “cultural differences” defence, observing that “in my country, ‘negro’ is a word we use commonly, a word which doesn’t show any lack of respect and is even less so a form of racist abuse”. Yet the reality remains that this is English football, that the word “negro” is utterly unacceptable. Even one mention is one too many.
He needs to analyse his situation more deeply. He needs to apologise to Evra, however much he may be enraged by some of the Frenchman’s comments at Anfield on Oct 15 and in front of the independent regulatory commission. Suárez has been involved in past anti-racism campaigns and he needs to immerse himself in them again.
On a day of uncompromising statements from Merseyside, Liverpool’s continued vocal support reflects Suárez’s popularity at the club, his importance to their trophy aims and Anfield’s lingering resentment over the perceived injustice. Liverpool refused to go quietly.
They accused the FA of deliberately constructing “a highly subjective case”, damaging “the reputation of one of the Premier League’s best players”, and questioned the panel’s independence. They assailed Evra’s credibility and, most provocatively, suggested this case created a “template” on how to get a rivals’ star banned.
The polemic was toxic. Liverpool’s feelings towards the FA are clearly riddled with contempt. That is all very well, and may make Liverpool feel good in the short term, but such emotions are of little use to them in the long run. Liverpool now need to work hard on finding influence within the governing body.
They must recruit a senior executive with experience of dealing with officialdom, also of presenting the club in a better light. Isolationism is pointless.
United boast David Gill on the FA board, allowing them to read more swiftly and accurately the governing body’s fluctuating mood on certain issues. The FA’s mood on racism, particularly in the wake of Sepp Blatter’s laughable comments, was rightly condemnatory.
Eight games in Purdah reflected that zero tolerance. A tariff has now been set for racist comments, and the FA must adhere to it, being consistent. Liverpool will be watching.
Anfield’s statement on Tuesday stirred discomfort in many quarters, not least because of the absence of any apology, but it was designed for domestic consumption, for Kopites and for Suárez himself. The first half of the statement was borne of the club’s anger yet the second half contained some pertinent points.
The club sought to broaden the debate about racism. “English football has led the world in welcoming all nationalities and creeds into its Premier League and its leagues below,’’ read the missile of a missive from Anfield, “and Liverpool Football Club itself has been a leader in taking a progressive stance on issues of race and inclusion.”
Good. Now Liverpool must reaffirm such a stance by highlighting their work promoting diversity. Liverpool also urged all parties “to work together to stamp out racism in every form both inside and outside the sport”. A joint initiative with United would be a start. Over to you, Kenny and Sir Alex.