The whole affair hasn’t done them any favours

The timing was exquisite. As the nation prepared to drown itself in a sea of alcohol and spend the following day feeling very sorry indeed, the FA decided to release the 115-page document explaining the reasons behind the 8-match ban for Luis Suarez for making racist comments to Patrice Evra, also documenting the full process from beginning to end.

What was clear having ploughed through its contents was that the FA and the independent panel had done their homework. Every angle had been covered, every piece of evidence obtained, every possible witness spoken to, every ‘i’ dotted, every ‘t’ crossed. Nothing was left untouched, including the ramifications of the final decision. What was even clearer (to me and surely millions more) was that the actions of Liverpool immediately after the size of the ban was announced have ensured that this great club’s name has been thoroughly dragged through the mud.

All fans are blinkered to some extent towards the discrepancies of their own club, players, manager and fellow fans. But a section of Liverpool fans have simply refused to accept that the decision was just, or even that their player did anything wrong (something the player himself has admitted). Predictably, since the allegation was first made, a lot of fans have settled on their viewpoint along club lines. With little or no evidence available, they decided it was a disgrace, or entirely justified. Liverpool fans were dismayed that he could be banned for one person’s word against another’s. Suddenly they were all experts in South American linguistics too, having hastily read on the internet whatever arguments backed up their individual viewpoint.

What staggered me most though was Liverpool’s response to the initial ban. To call it ill-advised would be doing it a disservice. Staggeringly, flabbergasting, moronically ill-advised might be closer to the truth. The club may not have agreed with the decision (for reasons that escape me), but there is a way to deal with such things, and that wasn’t it. Surely the sensible option would have been a quick statement, expressing their disappointment at the decision, and that they would make further comment on release of the official document. United, and Alex Ferguson, recognised that it was best to keep quiet and let the process take its natural course.

But not Liverpool. They somehow decided that full-frontal offensive drive was the order of the day. Their statement was a horrible mishmash of flimsy evidence, spurious claims and mistruths.

‘It is also our opinion that the accusation by this particular player was not credible – certainly no more credible than his prior unfounded accusations.’

The assertion in their official statement that Patrice Evra “has form” for this sort of thing is quite simply a lie. It needs repeating, again, that the two past allegations of racist abuse against Evra were not made by the player himself. One was made by a deaf United fan who had lip-read comments, another was overheard by Mike Phelan. Such a distortion of the truth can be expected in some quarters, but a football club with a PR department and legal representatives should perhaps be setting their sights a tad higher. It was a claim Dalglish first made to the referee when first hearing about the allegation post-match.

‘We find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone…’

Oh dear. As we shall see, all parties accepted the case was not a case of one man’s word against another’s, thought it was of course at the heart of the allegation. More lies.

‘It is key to note that Patrice Evra himself in his written statement in this case said ‘I don’t think that Luis Suarez is racist’. The FA in their opening remarks accepted that Luis Suarez was not racist.’

Well done Liverpool – you have realised that he was not banned for being a racist. What point beyond this were they trying to make?

‘Luis himself is of a mixed race family background as his grandfather was black…He has played with black players and mixed with their families whilst with the Uruguay national side and was Captain at Ajax Amsterdam of a team with a proud multi-cultural profile, many of whom became good friends.’

The barrel is now truly being scraped. My “best friends” argument is one that reeks of desperation. And proves nothing anyway, being irrelevant to the case, except for the mention elsewhere of the panel wanting to have a very strong burden of proof.

‘We would also like to know when the FA intend to charge Patrice Evra with making abusive remarks to an opponent after he admitted himself in his evidence to insulting Luis Suarez in Spanish in the most objectionable of terms. Luis, to his credit, actually told the FA he had not heard the insult.’

And now the barrel has been scraped out of existence – having run out of arguments, let’s try and blame the other guy instead eh? And we are expected to give a player credit for admitting to have not heard something??!

And then there was the T-shirts. Just thinking about  them makes me cringe. Let’s be clear, the judgement was not that Suarez was inherently racist, but that he made a racist comment, which is a different thing altogether. And the document’s findings took away any doubt. The panel that came to pass judgement was independent, and was approved by Liverpool. The panel hired two experts in South American linguistics. Lawyers aplenty were involved, as always. Other players gave evidence. Dalglish openly criticised the delay in a decision in a press conference – yet Suarez’s representative had asked for a delay in proceedings so that they could collate evidence – which the FA mostly granted. The FA didn’t grant the full period delay asked for as they argued it was in the player’s interests to conclude matters as soon as possible.

Even if the terms Suarez admitted to using are acceptable in Uruguay, it is not a valid excuse. Suarez was not in Uruguay, and what’s more has been in Europe for five years, so should have some idea by now about what is and what isn’t right. He admitted to the panel that it wasn’t acceptable, and he wouldn’t do it again – that’s what is commonly known as an admission of guilt. A key point in the decision was the simple fact that Suarez was seen as an unreliable witness. And the key example of this was his account of pinching Evra on the arm. Suarex claimed initially in his statement that it was done to diffuse the situation – but at the hearing, after being asked six times, that this wasn’t the case. This changes everything, as it discredits the claim that Suarez said the word negro in a friendly manner in the middle of a heated argument – this claim is simply close to unbelievable, as the report mentioned. The changing of accounts made matters worse – Liverpool blamed it on “bad drafting” yet Suarez’s representative had already commented on what great care had been applied to constructing the statement. The 115-page report makes clear references more than once that Suarez’s account of events was inconsistent with the video evidence, unlike Evra’s, and what they repeatedly mention is that no attempt was made to explain away the discrepancies. What’s more, Suarez’s account in his witness statement contained three differences in all to his account given at the hearing in November.

And it wasn’t just Suarez. When Comolli (Liverpool’s Director of Football) reported to the referee after the match what Suarez claimed to have said, there were further discrepancies with Suarez’s own account of what he said. And yet despite all this, the club continue to claim it is the FA’s errors that have led to this outcome. But as the report said: ‘
‘The impression created by these inconsistencies was that Mr Suarez’s evidence was not, on the whole, reliable. He had put forward an interpretation of events which was inconsistent with the contemporaneous video evidence. He had changed his account in a number of important respects without satisfactory explanation.’

The Liverpool party used Suarez’s background as part of his defence – he had a black grandparent, his wife called him negro (due to hair colour though), he has black friends, has black team-mates throughout his career and has never had any problems previously. However, this defence also helped strengthen the final decision of the panel, as they were aware because of his heritage that they would need an even stronger burden of proof to find him guilty of the charges – thus, their final decision became even more “appeal-proof”. The commission found clear evidence that Suarez did not say the word negro just once (important in determining his intentions). They found him to have said it seven times. And the experts conclusions? Suarez’s remarks would be “considered racially offensive in Uruguay and other regions in of Latin America”.

The club have dug themselves a massive hole. If they had appealed after the release of a 115-page document that most sane and sensible people have agreed shows the ban to be just, then they would rightly be open to indignation for backing a player found guilty of racist comments. If they didn’t appeal, it will lead to a host of questions as to their ill-advised response to the original ban. Effectively they are admitting everything they did was wrong. Even so, that’s surely their best option available, surely their only option available. And it is thankfully what they did. But rather than move on, they just kept on digging.

Another statement was soon forthcoming from the club, some of which is detailed below.

‘In its determination to prove its conclusions to the public through a clearly subjective 115-page document, the FA panel has damaged the reputation of one the Premier League’s best players, deciding he should be punished and banned for perhaps a quarter of a season. This case has also provided a template in which a club’s rival can bring about a significant ban for a top player without anything beyond an accusation….. In America, where Liverpool ownership resides, there was a shameful bigotry that prevented black athletes from competing at the highest levels for decades….. ……..Continuing a fight for justice in this particular case beyond today would only obscure the fact that the Club wholeheartedly supports the efforts of the Football Association, the Football League and the Premier League to put an end to any form of racism in English football. …..It is time to put the Luis Suarez matter to rest and for all of us, going forward, to work together to stamp out racism in every form both inside and outside the sport. It is for this reason that we will not appeal the eight-game suspension of Luis Suarez.’

Another laughable release. They must be taking a lot of people for fools if they think that a 115 page document has left out vital areas of the investigation. Or if they think that we should believe that they are aware of other information that would change everything but aren’t going to release it or appeal. For what possible reason would the FA try and set up Suarez and Liverpool? Yes, Liverpool say the Football Association is to blame for damaging the reputation of a man that was found to have used the word “negro” seven times. However strongly Liverpool felt over this, surely they realised the need for some apology, even for unintentionally causing offence? Damage limitation was necessary, but not forthcoming, bar a vague apology finally from Suarez yesterday. As Martin Samuel commented in the Daily Mail, this has been a PR disaster, a legal disaster and a sporting disaster considering an eight-match ban may have been avoided with greater contrition from the start.  Liverpool are upset that he seems to have been convicted on areas of probability rather than absolute proof, but with ample video evidence that we won’t have seen, we must assume there was the aforementioned strong burden of proof. And either way, there was a way to deal with this whole affair professionally. What could be most damaging is the perception of a club known around the world, that has been in existence for well over a century.

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Article title: The whole affair hasn’t done them any favours

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