Saturday 16 December 2017

Liverpool damaged by failure to grasp reality of Suarez case

Dion Fanning

Liverpool's defence of Luis Suarez has at times been portrayed as the 21st century version of Major's explanation of racial nuance in Fawlty Towers "No, no, no, these people are wogs."

Liverpool have fought a pointless battle which many people have described as defending the indefensible. Given their chaotic and ineffective legal response, it would have been better described as badly defending the morally ambiguous.

There is a reality that Liverpool can't escape -- the tone of the debate was set by their intransigence from the beginning. By their refusal to accept that it was possible that Evra could be both a troublemaker and offended, they forced themselves into a corner and then discovered they were comfortable there, snarling at all opponents.

Evra claimed he was called a "nigger" by Suarez when he made his initial complaint. It was perhaps understandable that Liverpool reacted so vehemently to a charge which, if correct, would probably have led to Suarez's dismissal from the club.

So, having established that was false, they set themselves in opposition to everything that came their way. If Kenny Dalglish's presence has at times ruffled Alex Ferguson, Liverpool's ongoing response to the Suarez case demonstrates that Dalglish, too, is obsessed with Ferguson.

According to one report, Liverpool felt that Alex Ferguson, with his "knowledge of procedure", took advantage of the situation.

It might suit Liverpool to portray Ferguson as a giant of jurisprudence with whom they could not compete rather than a man who enjoys watching detective shows on TV and has a keen interest in the JFK assassination.

Liverpool's performance, in contrast, was like an audition for amateur hour. If they suspected the hand of Manchester United behind everything, then they fell for every trick. Liverpool's reputation has been damaged around the globe and Ferguson is the man, as his refusal on Friday to consider talks with Liverpool demonstrated, with all the power.

Anybody who has been in a minor car accident would know not to do what Liverpool did when first informed of the allegations.

Ferguson remains an ethereal presence in the official report. The portrait of Dalglish is vivid. He is sarcastic and the first to utter the falsehood that Evra had previous for this kind of thing, a smear that managed to last all the way to Liverpool's statement the night Suarez was sentenced.

The idea that Suarez was trying to spread peace and love is laughable. Despite the apology and the acceptance of the ban, it remains the bedrock of his defence and the most compelling case for the prosecution. It allowed the FA to transform the case into something more than one man's word against another. Their leap of faith in accepting Evra's version of what went on in the goalmouth was assisted by the inconsistencies of Suarez and his supporting witnesses including Dirk Kuyt and Damien Comolli.

Liverpool have not concealed their hostility towards Evra and this blinded them to the failings of their case and the reality that once Suarez had referenced Evra's colour in an argument, they would have to make some sort of apology.

Suarez could only bring himself to make some sort of watered down apology as he maintained his innocence and it was an apology that came too late.

If you're explaining, you're losing and if you're explaining the linguistic nuances of how you can address a black man in the Rioplatense dialect, then you've already thrown the deeds of your house into the pot and are banking everything on the roll of a dice.

Liverpool have been criticised for their response to the initial complaint and for their response to the response. They are used to defying England's expectations. In this instance, the suspicion that the enemies of their club were out to bring them down blinded them to some of the realities of the situation.

Of course, they have some reasons to be aggrieved. This was not a straightforward case and there was something comic in commentators telling Liverpool to accept the verdict from the three-man panel, only one of whom was capable of delivering a legal opinion, as fact. It's not as if this is a world in which miscarriages of justice have never taken place.

There was, alongside the commendable drive to deal with anything that could be considered racist, some familiar storylines. There was a cultural failure of imagination, a suppressed little Englander tendency that had found an acceptable release in demonising Suarez. An all-white panel and a virtually all-white media told Suarez what he must do if he didn't want to be considered a racist.

Suarez told the panel he will never use the word 'black' again. Columnists said the word 'black' was wholly unacceptable and could not be used on a football field.

If this column was being written in Spanish, we would use the word 'negro', the Spanish for 'black', but to write it in English, as everybody else did, removed it from the context of the conversation which was initiated by Evra in Spanish. So they talked about the word 'negro' when they should have talked about 'black' which is the word Suarez used in Spanish.

Outlawing the word 'black' would make things a little less comfortable to those who were taken over by the 'ecstasy of sanctimony' during the past fortnight. 'Negro' was something other, something so alien to the English way of speaking that it allowed them to make a pure judgement, content that it didn't apply to them. Perhaps they should have decreed that all conversations should take place in English from now on, ideally between Englishmen.

The word 'black' is often unacceptable too. Most people would consider they had crossed a line if they used that word in an argument with a black person.

Liverpool failed to accept this and the club was damaged. The week ended with an Oldham defender claiming he was racially abused by a Liverpool fan at Anfield on Friday night and the sense grew that the Suarez case had done more than just damage the image of the club, it had shaken it to its very foundations.

They have acquired this image mainly through their own incompetence. There were suggestions on Merseyside last week that Liverpool didn't hire a QC because they didn't want to be seen to take the allegations too seriously. It might be the first example of somebody employing a low-powered delegation to deal with an important matter.

If Dalglish refused to isolate Suarez, his loyalty was abused by the club. An impotent legal defence and a failure to comprehend the gravity of what they were facing pushed the manager towards the point of isolation. This was compounded by a self-righteous refusal to consider they -- or one of their players -- could have done anything wrong.

The idea that society is becoming more abusive should be viewed with scepticism when it's put forward by journalists who are finding that society has new ways of abusing them. There is little evidence for any increased abuse in society but there are public platforms for idiots that have never existed before.

Liverpool fans viciously criticised anyone online who disputed their stance. This was most troubling when, say, a black Liverpool fan would voice some disquiet about the unconditional backing of Suarez and be informed through a chorus that he can longer be considered a real fan.

They were cleaving to the qualities of the mob and then becoming outraged when some pointed out they were behaving like a mob. They were comfortable dealing in absolutes, except when those absolutes might apply to them.

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