The match did not conclude well for Patrice Evra, with the Manchester United captain allowing Dirk Kuyt to run inside and score Liverpool’s winning goal at the Kop End on Saturday. Indeed, by the end of a tortuous 90 minutes Evra looked mentally and physically shattered; beaten both by his opponents and fatigue. Yet, at no moment was the French defender defeated by the melting pot of vile – at times overtly racist – hatred directed by Liverpool’s supporters. Standing proud to the end, Evra’s side may have lost an FA Cup fourth round encounter, but the defender completed the game riding the highest of horses.
Catalysed by Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool’s hierarchy, Anfield’s regulars jeered the United number three’s every touch. This much was expect given the extent to which Liverpool has sought to, and largely succeeded in, regressing race relations at the club over the past three months. Few stood back from the organised cacophony; hate was not only directed at Evra, but deemed universally acceptable.
“There’s only one lying b*stard,” sang the Kop, echoing Liverpool’s ongoing defence of Luis Suárez – that Evra simply fabricated an allegation of racial abuse in October. This was a song delivered without irony, given that Dalglish, Suárez, Kuyt, and director of football Damien Commoli were each caught changing their stories to the independent Regulatory Commission that sat in judgement of the Liverpool striker.
Yet, it was no surprise that Liverpool manager Dalglish chose to categorise 90 minutes of abuse as nothing more than “friendly banter.” After all, the 60-year-old Scot has proven to be as unreconstructed as they come, having chosen to smear Evra, as Dalglish’s own evidence to the Commission demonstrated, right from the very start of the affair back in October.
While the atmosphere was deeply unpleasant, far worse was to come from Liverpool’s once proud supporters than mere noise. Shortly before half-time one supporter was caught on camera aiming a ‘monkey gesture‘ towards Evra. It was an image posted on this site, and to Twitter. Within minutes the picture had spread throughout the football community.
Merseyside Police confirmed on Saturday evening that a 59-year-old man from North Wales was arrested following an ‘alleged’ incident at the match. The supporter was taken to a local station for questioning.
Yet, there has been not a word from Liverpool about the incident. So quick to launch a smear campaign against Evra, the Football Association or any other party deemed to have wronged the club; so reticent to decry racism in genuine terms.
One wonders whether the club will ever come to understand the very real damaged caused by its reaction to Suárez’ sanction. Liverpool, and Dalglish in particular, not only failed to apologise for the striker’s racist abuse, but the club has now sponsored a new wave of race hate among its fan-base. The latest incident is the third this season, beginning with Suárez, and including the disgraceful abuse of Oldham Athletic defender Tom Adeyemi earlier this month.
In keeping with the pattern, Dalglish praised Liverpool’s supporters on Saturday.
“The fans are entitled to support their team, absolutely no problem,” claimed Dalglish on Saturday.
“I don’t think there was anything there that was untoward. I think both sets of fans were a magnificent advert for their clubs. Both clubs can be very proud of the fans they have here. There was a good bit of banter between both fans, which is brilliant because you don’t want to take that away.”
But the genuine concern is that Evra’s contemporaries will now be less inclined to report incidents of racial abuse given the furious reaction extracted from Liverpool supporters by their club. It is a concern touched on by a media community now growing restless at Liverpool’s approach to race relations.
“I found it horrible, I found it a very difficult day to report on,” Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Northcroft told Sunday Supplement.
“I live in Liverpool and my partner is black and she’s found this very uncomfortable. We know black friends who are Liverpool fans and they’ve also found it very uncomfortable. What we had yesterday was a black player being booed and barracked and targeted by the Liverpool fans and called a liar. And for what? His crime was to have complained about racial abuse the last time he was at the stadium. That particular case was upheld by an FA commission, but he’s being targeted and treated as a villain.”
Meanwhile, Evra, although clearly drained by the fixture’s intensity, reacted not once to the bile from the stands. Indeed, the 30-year-old has behaved with a quiet dignity throughout, keeping largely silent in the face of supporter-driven hatred, and media scrutiny.
But Evra’s silence has only been in the public sphere, behind the scenes the Frenchman proved not only to be a forthright and credible witness, but a genuine leader. Yet, with the defender so heavily abused just a day after QPR player Anton Ferdinand was sent a bullet in the post – presumably by a disgruntled Chelsea supporter – questions will be asked about football’s ability to deal with racism in the future.
“Are we saying if you make a complaint about racial abuse you’re going to get a bullet sent through the post to you or you’re going to get called a liar by 40,000 fans?” added the Mirror’s Oliver Holt.
“We’re trying to empower black players not to put up with this any more, and yet we are in danger – because of the reaction that has happened and the vilification of players who have done nothing except complain about being racially abused – of pushing things back to a conspiracy of silence.”
In this Liverpool is highly culpable, as is the FA for allowing one of the country’s most venerated club’s to become a force not for unity, but division.
“Football at times can be like pantomime, you can boo the referee if you feel he makes a bad decision and you boo a player if you feel he has feigned an injury or made a bad tackle and you can live with that,” PFA chairman Gordon Taylor told talkSPORT.
“But when you are booing a player because he has made a complaint that was upheld by an independent panel, you worry that it is going to put off anybody complaining again because of the backlash and furore we have seen.
“That’s just what we don’t want because there is no point in having a campaign to eliminate such a highly sensitive issue as racism if it is going to get drowned out by the backlash.”
In that there is a lesson. Suárez’ punishment may have sent the proverbial message that racist abuse on the pitch is not acceptable. Perhaps it is now time for the Uruguayan’s club to face a similar judgement.