The clash between two titans of the English football game, Manchester United and Liverpool should provide us plenty of drama and excitement tomorrow at noon. This fixture is regarded as the fiercest, most competitive of all in the English Premier League.
The two teams both hail from major cities in the North-West, separated by a short stretch of motorway. Both clubs have fervent world-wide bodies of support.
Liverpool,the more successful of the teams from the former slave-shipment port on the edge of the River Mersey, has recently struggled to regain the supremacy which it enjoyed over 2 decades ago when it dominated the top tier of English and European competition. Recently, it has been Manchester United who have been the unquestioned premier team in England, winning trophy after trophy. Whenever these two clash, tribal tensions and jealousies are at their most manifest, the chanting seems more vehement, the tackles on the field seem more biting, players seem to acquire an extra yard of pace, of irascible intent. It is unusual for such a match to end without the referee being obliged to show several yellow (and, not infrequently red) cards.
It was against this background that the two sides met last autumn. Patrice Evra, Manchester United's stand-in captain and defender, a Black Frenchman, complained to Sir Alex Ferguson, his manager, that Luis Suarez, Liverpool's oleaginous Uruguayan striker,had been insulting him racially throughout the match.
Ferguson, the erstwhile shop steward from the tough shipyards of Glasgow, took the matter seriously enough to pass it on to the football authorities. The Football Association set up a committee to enquire into the case, with an experienced barrister in the chair. The committee did not rush to complete its task. In spite of the clamour from Press and public alike, we had to wait for nearly three months for a 125 -page report.It was detailed, professional, and impartial.
It transpired that Suarez had used the words “negrito” or “negro” something like 12 times within a
space of five minutes. He admitted this, claiming that it was done in a friendly way---no racist intent was meant, even though he told Evra that he” doesn't talk to Negroes”.
The committee, after taking all their evidence into consideration, decided that Suarez was guilty as charged of using racist language against his opponent. Having interviewed several of the other players,and having weighed up the testimony of the two protagonists, they decided that Suarez was not telling the truth.
In other words, he was found to be a liar, as well as a racist. His punishment was a suspension of eight matches.
There then ensued a truly jaw-dropping display of stupidity. The day after the sanction was made public, the Liverpool team were training in preparation for another match.There was a larger than usual contingent of Press photographers waiting and watching the team going through their paces. The whole team, led by their manager, Kenny Dalglish, bore t-shirts over their usual gear----bearing the image of Luis Suarez!
It hurts to say it, but this is when Kenny Dalglish showed himself to be a fool of quite Everestine proportions. What did he think he was doing by making his players prance about in those t-shirts? What message was he sending out to the thousands of Black and Brown fans who have supported his team through thick and thin? What effect will it have on the “Kick Racism Out of Football” and other such campaigns? Does he know? Does he care? By making his players wear that t-shirt he gave a thumbs-up to every inadequate moron who craves the anonymity of the crowd to utter the most vile racial expletives. He has stuck up a finger to the “Respect” Campaign.
It was with a touch of irony that we read that in their following match at Anfield, their home ground, an opponent (I believe he played for Oldham), a young man of mixed-race, nearly broke down in tears as a result of racial abuse from a Liverpool fan.
Dalglish must bear responsibility for this , as well as any further such acts. He is still persistent in his belief in his claim that Suarez “should never have been banned”, still obdurately sides with racism. Indeed, there are many otherwise decent White Britons who, confronted with the reality of racism, automatically assert: “Oh, he doesn't like us”!
At that moment, they identify themselves to be on the side of racism, totally indifferent to the victims thereof.