You, like me, are, no doubt, very bored of the media and bloggers delight in tweeting, discussing, writing and pictorially dissecting the events of THAT day and THAT handshake. However, for me, that day struck something inside that I've since come to dislike intensely. Blind loyalty, pride, ignorance, inherent prejudice. I'm not talking about racism, I never agreed with anything that Luis Suarez may or may not have said. The prejudice I felt was against anyone who wasn't a Liverpool fan.
I've had to delete and block many tweeters whom I followed religiously, simply because I disagreed with their slant on the events, their perception of the handshake, of the report, of my club. I was unsure why I felt like this, what was this powerful new feeling? Was it disbelief at how the world had turned on my club, my hero Suarez? Was it stubbornness, never allowing myself to think that he could be a racist?
Very early on, I tweeted that, if found guilty, I would welcome a hefty ban and an apt financial punishment. I would have also expected a full, frank and honest public apology to Patrice Evra, Manchester United and Liverpool, the club and fans. When found guilty I immediately tweeted my disgust and laid out my demands for his repentance. I was woefully unprepared for the backlash from my own fans. I was called out for being a coward, a disloyal [insert expletive] and an idiot. I am none of those things. I am a sensitive man, one who dislikes the abuse of others, who dislikes his heroes becoming human.
Amidst the travesty of the events, there began grassroots revolutionising. Suarez was fast becoming a cause celebré amongst the Anfield faithful. Pilloried by the press, immortalised into martyrdom by the fans. I became swept along on the fervour, the report was published amidst a storm of criticism from a small minority in the press and virtually all of LFC fans. It was hard to get away from the fact that there are enormously glaring inconsistencies in the report. It reads like an attempt to force the square peg of racism into the circle of fumbling idiocy. For me, there is a huge difference in the attempt of Suarez to make a conciliatory remark to resolve a tense situation and the maniacal, spittle frothing racist remarks of an inherent bigot. I do believe that Suarez meant the word to have friendly connotations, however the context he allowed himself to say it in is the pincher.
Suarez's reputation isn't a sweetheart story, he came from Ajax after serving a lengthy ban for biting the shoulder of Bakkal after he had stamped on Suarez's foot. The press had been hammering him about his diving and his ease of going to ground. Evra had just been fouled by Suarez and was legitimately asking for a reason, whether Evra goaded him or not at this point is utterly irrelevant. What was uttered by Suarez, whether in a conciliatory manner or not, was based purely on something that Evra has no control over. The connotations of the racist remark outweigh anything that can be said to anyone. It truly is heinous and selfish to expect anyone to absorb that and remain unmoved. Regardless of Suarez's intent when using that word, he should have taken responsibility for using it. Instead, there was a creation of a moral vacuum between player, club and victim.
When anybody receives a racist word, it is up to that person to perceive or interpret the context, the connotation, the denotation and the intent of it. Evra chose to take it as a way that is befitting of his right, his universal right to never be judged on the basis of his skin colour, exactly the same right that Suarez enjoys. The mere fact that Suarez admitted to using the word compounded the decision that was to be made by the independent panel. Objectivity or subjectivity, IE, do they judge Suarez based on utterance of the word or what he meant by the word. Reading the rules, (E3(1) and E3(2), you have to agree with the panel in their assessment to use objectivity, as in they judged him on using the word and when he admitted to it, it was pretty much over for Luis.
I could point out all the inconsistencies in the report, but I'm not going to. Why? Because to do so would be pedantic. I know he isn't a racist, you know he isn't a racist, Liverpool Football Club know he isn't a racist, furthermore Patrice Evra has stated he isn't a racist. So we have established that Luis is not a racist. Well, what was with the remark? A stupid, silly, heat of the moment mistake. Something which should have never seen the light of day, did. Luis and Patrice knew that it shouldn't have been said and they were both failed by what happened over the ensuing months.
With a salivating, xenophobic press, who only less than a year earlier lambasted Evra and the French World Cup squad for their staged walkout in South Africa, turned on another foreigner. I don't believe there is anything truly sinister in the way the media witch hunted Suarez, they have a business to run and they will use any means necessary to keep a story shifting the copies. However, I do believe that the media were responsible for making the incident far more global than it need have been.
The first point I want to make about the media is that it was all handed to them on a plate. With a swift public apology on the official LFC website, most of what happened could have been downplayed and kept to a minimum. The utterly bizarre statement that LFC released on their site was appallingly written, lacking in tact and was saturated in self pity. Did LFC really believe that the media would swallow that statement whole? Within minutes of its release I had to leave twitter as it became unbearably territorial and hostile. LFC had given the fans a legitimate reason to hate Evra and Manchester United.
The second point being that, rather than running an anti-Liverpool agenda, which is incredibly arrogant, the press just love a good old fashioned bad guy. Love him or hate him, he is a talented footballer who will have a superb career at Liverpool, yet he is a divisive and controversial figure who regularly polarises opinion based on his performances. Did he dive, did he play act, was he fouled, was the referee just judging him on what the papers say. The more the fans scream outrage, the more the papers will flex their muscles. Like I said, it isn't sinister, it's brazen business. Give the public what it wants, salaciousness. Sensationalism is a dirty word, yet it's filthy rich.
Suarez and Evra were used by the media to expose everything it hated about the modern game. It needed no nudging, it ran every angle it could. Who can blame them? They most certainly aren't any body's friends. they will turn on anyone if it will shift more papers.
A lot of the blame lies with LFC, my god it pains me to write that. However the sparsity of remorse that has been shown throughout this whole debacle is quite cringe worthy. Where is the apology? Where was the handshake? Where is the RESPECT? Dalglish went missing for about three months, in post/pre match interviews he seemed to actively avoid the questions, there were ideal opportunities for the club to say something diffusive, something conciliatory, regardless of how they felt personally, they are all paid professionals. Players, manager, managing director, chairman, they all failed one another and the club. The silence across the Atlantic was deafening, the silence from the manager was deafening, meanwhile the catcalls were deafening. Why didn't someone stand up and take responsibility for what was happening?
Did LFC not think to guide Suarez through this process? Wasn't there a press officer or PR employee given over to foresee the case? Where was the polished statement, or the newspaper article of remonstration? Where was the pitiful face of Suarez asking for the fans respect back? Quite a few LFC fans reading this will no doubt be fuming at my treatment of Suarez right now. Yet, you should all realise that this is a football match, this is a man who is paid a lot of money to represent his country, his club and his adopted city. When he uttered that word, in friendliness or in hate, he chose to disregard everything that we all hold dear. A society that believes that nothing can stand in your way, especially the colour of your skin. We, in Merseyside, believe in nothing more than our modest attitude, a humble society that receives you based on how you receive us, never based on how you look or which country you are from or your race.
The many failings of LFC have been exhausted by me now. I see a way forward now, Suarez has to lick his wounds, along with LFC, and come out fighting on the pitch. There has to be a concerted effort to stop the rot that this incident has encouraged within, not just the regional game but the national and international. Articles lose their cultural nuances when travelling and Suarez will be known amongst the world's English football fans as a racist. He must put his story out there and make amends, get across to the world that he is remorseful, he will build bridges, he will make a concerted effort to Kick It Out. Many will see this as a charm offensive, it may well be, but there is a bigger picture than the face saving of LFC. Football, the game whom most young boys and girls grow up watching, became a seething hotbed of racial tension, especially with the case of Terry and Ferdinand. We can ill afford to put the subject of racism back on the table in a light to be excusing it.
With the arrest of the 'fan' making monkey chants and gestures at Anfield during the FA Cup third round tie, we have shown children that it is not acceptable. With the ban and fine for Suarez, we showed the world that it isn't acceptable to use language like that in a culture that takes no messing around when it comes to racism. However, we have also shown the world that it's ok to kick our toys out of the pram if we think we are innocent, instead of maintaining dignity and a sense of respectability, we will spurn the hand of a victim in reconciliation and instead bring international condemnation and outrage upon the institution that we always insist, is bigger than any one man.
Listening to the Anfield Wrap it was pretty evident that I had gotten many of my opinions and gut feelings about this incident and subsequent events utterly wrong. I listened intently to Earl and Daniel, guests on the podcast, as they talked about their qualifications on the issue of racism and South American cultural nuances, respectively. Earl coaches a young team of footballers from a racially diverse background, including African and Latin players. He is also used to mediate any issues of racist abuse within the Liverpool County FA's jurisdiction. He had a variety of opinions and solutions to the incident, good solid ideas on how the post match affair should have been handled. It was a revelation hearing him, a LFC fan, talking sense on the topic, holding the club, the player and the press accountable in measures that befitted their responsibility to the game. Daniel is married to a Brazilian and has first hand experience of the kinds of situations in which the type of word that Suarez used is normally brought up. He swung my opinion by clarifying my suspicion that all along it was a truth that he had used the word and that it can be taken both ways, however it is more likely to be taken in offence if the people barely know each other.
There have been some excellent pieces written on the educational side of the racism debate. John Barnes talked extensively on talksport and wrote a piece that appeared in The Times, it was eloquent and superior in its ability to clarify the position that all people should take. Gabrielle Marcotti has written a piece in Blizzard which tackles racism. Are these pieces extraordinary? Do you need to go and download the Anfield Wrap, er yes you do, but not for the reason of listening to Earl and Daniel. We should all be thinking like that anyway, John Barnes, Earl, Daniel or Marcotti do not posses a secret book of knowledge on the essence of racism, what they posses is an ability to be able to tap into their humanity and use that to guide them through any maelstrom like THAT day at Anfield.
So what now for me and my love affair with LFC? I'll continue to blog about the youth of Anfield and will continue with Loan Sharks. Yet there is something missing now, the pedestal that I held my club up on has grown so much smaller than it used to be. I'm a working class lad who believes in the socialist foundation that the club was built on, I know it's moved on from there, yet I identify with the club, now I question my identity. The title of the piece is a play on the book written about the massacre at Little Big Horn where Colonel Custer betrayed the Native Americans and ran them all down. There is something within that narrative that I identify with, not the killing or the physically endangerment, but the morality that I posses has been ridden roughshod over. In not shaking Evra's hand, and it is Luis' right to not do so, he betrayed the club and made the situation bigger and more global than it ever need have been. I can imagine Shankly saying, "It's not your hand that you should have used to shake Evra's, it's Liverpool Football Clubs hand." That moment when I watched it back on Match of The Day, I buried my heart at the gates of Anfield. I buried my wounded pride.