Happy new year. Before we get into the proper articles and stuff, a bit of shameless self promotion. I was very pleased to see that Back Page Football has listed Regista as one of their blogs to follow in 2012. Just over one year after I started, it’s a nice way to start the year.
Speaking of new year, the FA decided to get the party started early by dropping the Suarez/Evra written evidence on our laps as a parting shot for 2011. Their handling of this unpleasant affair will not be recorded as a case study in strategic excellence. However, finally we had what we had all been waiting for, and the endless speculation and mud slinging could cease. To date, I had not written anything about this issue, and I wasn’t intending to until I read a couple of pieces on the Anfield Wrap that riled me to the point of no return. To be clear, I have nothing against the Anfield Wrap or anyone who writes for it, but I found myself so fundamentally opposed to the views expressed in these two articles, I felt compelled to address them directly. I also realised my latest column for Surreal Football was due. It was clearly a sign:
The Anfield Crap [this article first appeared on Surreal Football - I can't take credit for the snappy title]
In English football there are few institutions more emotive and seductive than the cult of Liverpool. The club’s slogan ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a strap line for collective solidarity. This can be a source of great strength and a force for good, such as the ongoing campaign for full disclosure of Cabinet discussions on the Hillsborough tragedy. The Liverpool identity that is promoted by the club sets them apart and the best examples of the Anfield atmosphere are remarkable. It may be one of English football’s great clichés (I’m looking at you, Clive Tyldesley), but when the Kop is in full voice it remains the most impressive display of noise you’re likely to experience in the Premier League. Deep down, most of Liverpool’s rivals know this, and they reveal their jealousy by mocking and deriding the hysterical nature of Liverpool fans. It’s understandable that the Anfield hierarchy is keen to promote the Liverpool identity and defend it from attacks. However, the lengths that their followers will go to preserve it are stretching credulity way beyond breaking point, and in the process creating a legacy that will damage the reputation of Liverpool for years to come.
This train was set in motion by the club’s infamous statement in support of Luis Suarez, but I’m more concerned by the musings of Liverpool fans, eager to take up the cause laid out by their masters. If you thought the official Liverpool FC line was built on shaky ground, then the Anfield Wrap website is very much the house made of straw.
Two of their contributors, Jim Boardman and Rob Gutmann, have posted recent articles in defence of their man, Luis Suarez. The crux of both articles suggests their interpretation of the case is a more sophisticated approach to understanding racism than has been considered by the public or the FA. This is bollocks.
In their pre-emptive strike, (Suarez: why we must stand by our man) published shortly before the FA’s evidence was made public, Gutmann claimed, “it has been unedifying to see how this issue has armed so many with a sense of courage to keenly spot a clear wrong from a right.”
I can only assume Gutmann believes the public have jumped on a ‘hang him high’ bandwagon without considering the evidence, and their outcry is therefore misplaced. He’d have a point, if he and so many other Liverpool fans weren’t guilty of exactly the same response. As Gutmann continues, “This is about justice and politics, and about the pernicious persecution of a good man.” He’s not exactly holding back, despite being in possession of zero evidence. This is powerful stuff, and it is also very wrong.
The position of the Anfield Wrap and that of Liverpool FC is that Suarez didn’t use any language that could be construed as racist. But, in arguing about the failure of everyone else to understand the nuance of what Suarez said, they are ignoring their own subjectivity by promoting their own interpretation above all others. Who are they to tell Patrice Evra what is and isn’t offensive? Thankfully, that wasn’t their job; it was that of the FA’s independent panel.
The credibility of Gutmann’s speculative argument was destroyed by the evidence (that he hadn’t seen). It describes how the Panel was required to consider all of the evidence and take an objective view, as is made clear in paragraph 50 of the written reasons:
“In particular, is it sufficient to prove that in a case such as this, the words or behaviour are objectively speaking abusive or insulting in the judgment of the Commission (the objective test)”
Alas, Gutmann had already speculated that Suarez was “more likely to be referencing the harmless diminutive version, ‘negrito’”. I think we can assume such an arbitrary description of a word as ‘harmless’ would comprehensively fail the objective test.
We now have the evidence, so further speculation is redundant. Depressingly, the Anfield Wrap has chosen not to moderate its views, but to attack what it describes as the ‘When In Rome’ nature of the rules designed to protect against racist abuse (see ‘Out with old, in with the new’). On this issue, they have spectacularly missed the point and torpedoed their credibility in favour of promoting this ridiculous position. The regulations are in place to protect players from racist abuse. To attack them for failing to grasp cultural relativity takes you into very dangerous ground. It is unclear what Jim Boardman is advocating as an alternative, should the rules on racist abuse be amended to apply only to English born players addressing other English born players? Does Patrice Evra have no right to be offended? The evidence describes Evra’s shock at the abuse he suffered from Suarez:
“As the players went into the dressing room at the end of the game, Mr Evra was really angry and upset. Valencia said he could see it. He explained that Mr Evra is not normally angry after games. Mr Evra said that he was angry because Mr Suarez had insulted him.”
I refer you once again to Mr Gutmann’s assertion that Suarez most likely referenced the ‘harmless diminutive’ term, negrito. Bear in mind that Boardman proceeds to chastise the arrogance of England. A more ironic statement you’ll struggle to find.
We know from the evidence that other insults were exchanged, and Boardman is alarmed at the inconsistencies in the evaluation of Evra’s initial exchange with Suarez. His argument is that the FA accepted that the literal translation of Evra’s comment was more offensive than when used in its native Spanish context, but they didn’t accept the same of Suarez. You can argue that point from now to eternity, but you won’t be able to argue that “Concha de tu hermana” is racist abuse. And that is the point that the Anfield Wrap’s authors consistently fail to grasp. This was a trial to determine whether words that were exchanged could be considered as racist abuse. I don’t think this is a difficult concept to grasp, yet still there are Liverpool fans refusing to accept it.
Boardman isn’t finished yet, though. He signs off with a warning that the Panel’s judgement will act as a deterrent to foreign players coming to England, as they “might decide it’s better to play in a country with a cultural background closer to their own”. They might, or they might think, ‘here is a league that takes racist abuse seriously, where the authorities will protect me from being racially abused, and where I won’t be subjected to disgusting, primitive monkey chants as I might be in Italy or Spain’. To argue that the FA are damaging the reputation of the Premier League abroad by penalising Suarez for his behaviour is the most pathetic and embarrassing argument of the lot. If this argument continues, the only reputation likely to suffer lasting damage is that of Liverpool FC.