Sunday, February 12, 2012

Now is the winter of our discontent

"He's a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club. Some players should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again. With the history that club's got and in a situation like today, he could have caused a riot."Sir Alex Ferguson on Luis Suárez, Saturday 11 February, 2012
Have we had enough rancor yet? Or do we need more? If so, we surely don't need two of the most famous football clubs in the world supplying it.

Fabio Capello's petulant flounce from the England job this week may have become expensive collateral damage in the Ferdinand-Terry race row, but there was no requirement for anyone - least of all Liverpool's Luis Suárez, Manchester United's Patrice Evra or their respective clubs and managers - to reopen football's other simmering feud, with it's distasteful undercurrent of open and implied as well as accidental racism.

Things were bad enough two weeks ago when Evra was booed by Liverpool fans every time he touched the ball during the clubs' FA Cup tie. Players get booed like this for the most petty of reasons: Ashley Cole, who still gets booed by Arsenal fans for accepting the Abramovich coin in 2006, added Newcastle supporters to his fan club when he cheated on his Geordie wife, Cheryl Cole (the apparent singer, talent show judge and national sweetheart once found guilty for assault in a racially-tinged incident involving a Surrey nightclub's toilet attendant).

It is a normal part of player baiting, one has to accept. But booing a black player for making a complaint about an opponent making a racistly malicious remark? Different league. Likewise, did my own fellow Chelsea supporters really need to boo Rio Ferdinand for being Anton's bigger brother? Nope.

With the memory of their toxic last encounter only two weeks cold, Liverpool and Manchester United needed to tread very carefully before their league meeting yesterday at Anfield, given that it was also the reverse fixture from the game in which Suarez made his original remark to Evra, and since he was banned for eight games for the offence. If you then ice the cake with this North-West derby being one of the most contentious rivalries in sport, everyone needed to be on their best behaviour.

So, the sight of Suarez refusing to shake Evra's hand during the increasingly pointless pre-match love-in was probably one of the most brainless things I've ever seen a footballer do (and let's face it, there are plenty of brainless acts from which to choose).

However, the thing that troubles me more than else is the lack of club management in this issue. Kenny Dalglish - one of the most hailed figures in the modern game - has been relentlessly criticised for his lack of condemnation of Suarez in the first place. You would have thought he'd have gone the extra distance yesterday to tell Suarez to just get on with playing football and not inflame things further.

If it was disappointing seeing the idiot Suarez blanking Evra's handshake - itself an offer of profound significance - it was as disappointing to, again, find Dalglish implicitly supporting his striker by his lack of guidance and his lack of admonishment after the game.

There was, for years, a whiff of unfounded racism around Liverpool, with suggestions that the club had a policy of not signing black players, despite signing Howard Gayle in 1977 at a time when there were still few black players anywhere else in the-then First Division. Dalglish has done his club no favours at all by standing by Suarez by not saying anything about his behaviour towards Evra.

Liverpool isn't a racist club, and Sir Alex Ferguson's barbed reference yesterday to "...the history that club's got" didn't help, not that anything the Manchester United manager says when on such viperous form ever does (although I go some way to agreeing with him that Suarez was a disgrace for not shaking Evra's hand -  small gesture that would have travelled a thousand miles).

I don't believe that racism exists on any institutional level in football. It can't, surely? True, apart from the occasional Korean or Japanese player, there is a distinct lack of Asian players in the senior echelons of the game. But the idea of racism still being an ingrained problem, given the immensely black and white make-up of most professional teams (a fact that has hardly needed pointing out in recent years) is nonsense.

It would, though, be foolish to dismiss the signs of its lingering presence: the exit of Micah Richards from Twitter following the posting of racist comments against him, and the utterly vile comments posted yesterday against former Liverpool player and now talkSport presenter Stan Collymore show there is no shortage of morons out who are either racist, or stupid enough to think anonymously sending racist comments to black sportsmen and media personalities is clever.

British football is possibly teetering on a precipice when it comes to race: the next England manager will, potentially, have to deal with a team split between the anti-Terry lobby and those who can't care less. We don't need the remaining four months of the domestic game mired in a worsening atmosphere of poison.

1 comment:

  1. How ironic that the gaffer leading our boys out against Holland is the self same Psycho who did a Terry long before the term was coined (ask Mr. Ince). And whose brother heads up the East Midlands' branch of The EDL. Engerlaaand!