On the details of the case itself, we will have to see the full details of the FA’s investigation before passing any comment. We can, however, say with a degree of certainty that the reaction was as hysterical as might have been predicted and that oil has been poured onto an already raging fire by an official club statement from Liverpool Football Club itself which the club may yet come to repent at leisure.
There can also be no doubting that the disciplinary action taken against Luis Suarez after having been found guilty of misconduct, regarding “using insulting words towards” Patrice Evra during the match between Liverpool and Manchester United in October, was far from lenient. An eight match ban is a lengthy one, although it is worth pointing out that trying to draw equivalences between this verdict and others from the past (and especially, in the case of John Terry, whose name has been thrown around as if the allegations made against him have any bearing whatsoever either way on this case) would appear to be barking up the wrong tree. After all, if the FA are as blindly incompetent (or, as some are claiming this evening, somehow under the influence of Alex Ferguson) as many Liverpool supporters seem to think this evening, then who is to say that previous judgements that they have passed down were all correct, or that their future judgements will be?
Kick It Out, the campaign to eradicate racism from football, has already issued a public statement on the matter stating that, “The FA has shown leadership and intent through what has clearly been a difficult and complex complaint to deal with, and invested time and expertise to ensure this outcome.” If we cannot trust many people to comment with a degree of level-headedness on this thorny subject, then we should surely be able to trust the organisation which exists to rid racism from the game to be able to see the wood for the trees on this matter. Otherwise, this evening has seen club loyalties conclusively trump common sense and, in some cases, common decency, if the comments made by some people on Twitter regarding the matter have been anything to go by. This, however, is to be expected. As mentioned above, this was a no-win case for the FA and it is likely that a similar level of opprobrium would have heaped upon them from elsewhere had they reached a different verdict.
What was truly remarkable, however, was the official statement that Liverpool FC issued through its website last night. The relationship, such as it is, between Manchester United and Liverpool is a difficult enough one at the best of times, and Liverpool Football Club has only served to further inflame it this evening. At points, the club’s arguments are merely inconsistent – it follows a comment that, “it is our opinion that the accusation by this particular player [Patrice Evra] was not credible” by stating that, “It is key to note that Patrice Evra himself in his written statement in this case said ‘I don’t think that Luis Suarez is racist'”, to which one can only respond by arguing that Patrice Evra can’t be credible when he is says something that supports Liverpool’s case and then “not credible” when he doesn’t. The club also blots its copy book by asking “when the FA intend to charge Patrice Evra with making abusive remarks”, which, considering that in this case Evra was the victim of the abuse that was before the committee, is unhelpful and irrelevant, to the point of being childish.
It also states that “He [Suarez] has played with black players and mixed with their families … many of whom became good friends”. The “he can’t be racist, some of his best friends are black” is an argument which is unlikely to do their case a great deal of good or win the club much sympathy from the outside. In their current combative state, the club and its supporters may well feel that they will take on anybody about this, but there isn’t a great deal of support outside of Liverpool FC for the idea that Suarez was hard done by, other than for the length of his ban, and this may be reduced upon appeal.
This case isn’t over yet, and the club has already confirmed that it intends to appeal the decision that has been reached. As such, what the club hoped to gain from issuing such an inflammatory statement so quickly is unknown. If the phrase “least said, soonest mended” has any merit to it, then Liverpool Football Club, in making statements such as, “It appears to us that the FA were determined to bring charges against Luis Suarez, even before interviewing him at the beginning of November” has effectively accused the Football Association of a systematic bias against Luis Suarez once the allegation was made. They might have been well advised to bear in mind that sanctions can also be increased as well as lowered upon appeal, and that public statements are usually best advised to be written with the head rather than the heart.
There is a place for a debate over the length of the ban that has been passed down, and those that made the decision should explain the reasoning behind it precisely. To not do so would only fuel what are – on the basis of what we actually know rather than idle speculation – baseless accusations of bias against the Football Association. It certainly seems likely that there will be plenty of time to do so, since this seems unlikely to be a story that will be going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Perhaps this morning, when heads are a little clearer, Liverpool Football Club will seek to clarify some of the allegations and insinuations made in tonight’s statement. Perhaps a bunker mentality is what the club is seeking, in the hope that it will focus attention within the club towards somehow proving somebody – the FA? Manchester United? – wrong by qualifying for the Champions League for next season. It certainly seems like a high risk strategy, though.
Ultimately, racist and racially-inflected abuse are a zero tolerance issue in this country and this is one of the few areas of the modern game that we should be proud of. Whether this was a case of the FA cocking a snook at Sepp Blatter is unknown and almost certainly unprovable and regardless of this Luis Suarez spent four years in the Netherlands and should know the risks of using any sort of language that could be construed as being racially sensitive. Liverpool supporters are standing no truck with any aspect of the allegations made against one of their players this morning, and judging by their club’s statement, their club isn’t either. They can issue threats, express their anger and do or say whatever they wish, but ultimately, until there is anything concrete to back up the conspiracy theories of the support and the allegations made by the club itself, it feels as if this is a battle that Liverpool Football Club is going about in completely the wrong way.
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