At least, we might pause to reflect, they didn’t choose to take the matter any further. The small matter of fuss surrounding the charges brought against Luis Suarez finally started to recede this week, after several months of headline-hogging. It passed with a final round of brow-furrowing from two sides of a debate that has become so entrenched as to resemble a First World War battle reconstruction, with the bloodhounds of the press finally being released after Liverpool and Suarez issued public statements themselves. This isn’t, however, a matter which is going to completely blow over. The already fractious relationship between Liverpool FC and Manchester United, which had finally been showing signs of starting to thaw in recent months, has seen any lasting vestiges of detente blown away, and the return of Suarez from his suspension may yet become a celebration of noble ideals and solidarity which have, over the last few weeks, become tarnished in defence of the indefensible. If the now infamous T-shirts worn at Wigan just before Christmas are anything to go by, such an eventuality would come as no great surprise.
We are not going to go back over the verdict of the commission yet again. It has already been done here, as well as almost every other website, newspaper and podcast in the land. Suffice to say that, if we hold it up to anything like reasonable scrutiny, it seems sound. Indeed, the much-maligned FA are to be congratulated on drawing a firm line in the sand on the subject of racially insensitive language on the pitch during matches. Certainly, few amongst us had expected their commission’s report to be as exhaustive as it was. An element of the Liverpool support had elected to play a “wait and see” game over its publication, perhaps on the assumption that it would contain enough holes to give the club room to appeal. When this didn’t happen, most supporters seemed to head in one of two directions. Some chose to dig themselves further and further into the conspiracy aspect of the story, rooting around deeper and deeper into the report’s findings in an attempt to discredit it. Others, meanwhile, saw through the events of the last few weeks and resigned themselves to the ban that Suarez now faces.
To the very end, though, Liverpool Football Club and Luis Suarez remained unrepentent over what had happened or subsequently said. Neither offered any form of contrition towards Patrice Evra over what has become widely interpreted as an attempt to smear the name of a player that was the victim in this case. We could, perhaps, give pause for relief that Liverpool will not be seeking to drag this out any further by going down the route of appealing to the Council of Arbitration for Sport or, as some of the lunatic fringe of their support seemed to want, appealing to the court service of this country.
The ultra-partisan seeking to apportion blame upon the wronged party is, however, unsurprising considering the extent to which tribalism has come to trump everything else in modern football. Perhaps the plethora of available media is such the modern supporter knows – or thinks that they know – every detail about their own club and cares not a jot about anybody else’s. This and the apparent fact that, rather than opening our minds to a world of things that we didn’t already know, the internet has pushed us further and further into virtual worlds that are comfortable and familiar.
It isn’t a criticism of Liverpool supporters or even football supporters in general to suggest that we are all less open to anything apart from that which we already believe to be true. In the case of the Suarez story, a narrative was decided upon and pushed by The Club and the support base from the time that the verdict was announced, including most of the most influential writers from blogs and websites, and this became The Truth, to be defended at all costs. The evidence of the FA commission’s report didn’t fit this narrative, but this hasn’t stopped the idea taking shape that a miscarriage of justice has come to pass. It feels now, at five days’ remove, that there was nothing that the appeal could have said that would have appeased the club or its support.
None of this would matter a great deal were it not for the fact that the fallout from this story will run and run. The relationship between Liverpool and Manchester United has been soured, and the next meeting between the two clubs promises to be a bitter, hostile occasion. This might not have been anything for supporters of the club to be overly concerned about if the team was performing brilliantly on the pitch, but Kenny Dalglish’s team continues to perform in fits and starts this season. Four wins from ten home league matches and just twenty-four goals from twenty league matches tells its own story in that respect. There can be little doubt that the Suarez story has been a distraction, though the extent to which it has had an effect on the team’s performances is unquantifiable, yet it could have been avoided. The club may feel a deep sense of injustice over the verdict, but advertising this as confrontationallly as it has done was unnecessary, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the details of the case itself.
It will also hang over the John Terry case, when that engulfs the media in February. Terry’s case, as a criminal case, is undergoing a different process to that which the Suarez case has gone through. This, however, will not stop frantic speculation over what sanction Terry could – or should – receive from the FA after the trial, whether found guilty in court or not. The FA need to tread very carefully in the eventuality of a guilty verdict in this case, but they also need to do so in the case of a not guilty verdict, since should Terry be found not guilty under the higher burden of proof required by the criminal justice system, there will be plenty that will be wondering whether his behaviour should also be investigated under a lower burden of proof. All of that, though, is for another day, after the trial has concluded.
More than anything else, however, this story shone a harsh light upon racism in Britain in a more general sense. We have learnt that there is still much work to be done in order to tackle it (the racist abuse thrown around on Twitter is proof enough of that, as if it were needed), and that our definitions of what constitutes is are considerably more muddy than we might have thought they were. It feels as if this weekend, that of the Third Round of The FA Cup – is a good time for everybody, whether with an agenda or without and no matter what that agenda might be, to take a short break and for the relative levity of cup football to step into its place. It is a very welcome break indeed.
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