The Empire Strikes Back

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Brian Durand comments on the recent Luis Suarez case, and the handling of the affair by the FA…

So we waited all day on Thursday and Friday for the verdict, to no avail. After a weekend of further deliberation the FA ‘Independent’ Team kept us on tenterhooks throughout Tuesday. As the day moved into dusk, the cynical amongst us predicted on twitter that maybe they would wait until the evening’s two vital Premier League games were under way before issuing their verdict – and lo and behold at 2 minutes past eight came the news that Luis Suarez, Liverpool FC and it’s supporters had feared but had not believed possible.

Luis Suarez was found guilty of misconduct and banned for eight matches along with a fine of £40,000.

Reaction

My reaction was one of disbelief and fury. However, we had not been in the hearing room, so it was possible that the snippets of evidence that had been leaked did not tell the full story. Maybe El Pistolero had over-stepped the mark to a degree beyond that which we had been led to believe.

It did not take long before this thinking was blasted clean out of the water. Liverpool Football Club wasted no time in issuing a statement that left no stone unturned in making absolutely clear that Luis Suarez would be backed all the way in the quest to clear his name. The fact that the statement was obviously penned by persons that had been present during the presentation of evidence over three ten-hour days, spoke volumes about how much of an injustice the club perceives this judgement to be. Liverpool FC certainly responded with both barrels.

In contrast the country’s media and pundits, generally piled in with a diametrically opposite view. So called leading journalists praised the FA for its actions. Despite the FA and Evra (in his statement to the panel) both accepting that Luis Suarez is ‘not a racist’ banner headlines proclaimed him as such.

At a guess I would say that those lazy journalists and headline editors rushed to the presses a little early and the strength of Liverpool Football Club’s response may well have caused a ripple of concern at the prospect of ‘defamation of character’ libel actions.

I applaud the club for their unequivocal response. I wrote in an earlier blog about the possibility of a smear campaign orchestrated by our old adversary, with a view to hounding Luis out of the country into the eager arms of Barcelona or Real Madrid. In order to counteract this possibility I think the club have done exactly the right thing. Kenny Dalglish used one of his rare ventures on to twitter to reinforce the backing asking his legion of followers to ensure that Luis will never walk alone. I am sure that the red army will not let Kenny or Luis down.

It is not the length of the ban that bothers me. Yes, Suarez is our talisman but Liverpool’s squad is stronger than for many years, and we can compensate for a month or so without any player. Consider that the team that won on Sunday had, amongst others, Maxi, Dirk Kuyt, Andy Carroll, Martin Kelly, Jamie Carragher ready to step in- and with our skipper returning soon, the strength of our squad should be able to cover for the loss of players for a spell.

No, it is the good name of Suarez that is paramount here. The lad was convicted on his own evidence by all accounts. He told the commission what he had said. Without this co-operation, and with a total denial instead, it is hard to see how even this cockeyed kangaroo court could have come up with a guilty verdict.

Severity

Notwithstanding the validity of the verdict, the severity of the ban must also be questioned. Reading’s John Mackie admitted racially abusing a Sheffield United player using words much less ambiguous and much more abusive, and his sentence was …. a three game suspension.

So, is the length of the ban a political slap around the face towards Sepp Blatter, after his recent ‘shake hands’ utterances? Can the FA justify suspending an English player for 3 games, whilst banning a Uruguayan for almost three times the term? Or is it the old chestnut of using a high-profile player to make a statement of intent and using him as an example?

Surely that would not happen. Surely the Football Association could not use a player’s reputation and blacken (oops) his name in order to meet their latest agenda? Surely there is no history in this regard?

History

In 1974 Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner were both sent off in the inaugural Wembly Charity Shield. In those a days sending off was a rarity, even more so at Wembley. The normal suspension at the time was two to three games. Keegan and Bremner were both given ELEVEN match bans, for no reason other than the game was an FA showpiece at Wembley. Hard to justify, but Liverpool accepted the decision.

In the 1978 League Cup Final replay, Liverpool were beaten 1-0 by Nottingham Forest thanks to a John Robertson penalty. Television proved that Phil Thompson’s tackle on John O’Hare was a couple of feet outside the box. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsc0bn52xiw In his post-match interview Thommo admitted deliberately fouling O’Hare but was adamant it was outside the area. In the first case of it’s kind the FA saw fit to charge Phil with bringing the game into disrepute and he after a grovelling apology (on the orders of Bob Paisley) he was given a fine. Liverpool accepted the decision.

In March 2008 there was great controversy when Chelsea’s Ashley Cole turned his back on a referee who was trying to issue him a yellow card, and generally displayed contempt for the official. A media outcry followed and the FA decreed that a new RESPECT campaign would be launched. The following weekend Liverpool visited Old Trafford and before the break Javier Mascherano was shown a second yellow card (for dissent). His dissent was clearly visible on tv. He repeatedly asked ”What for?” to Steve Bennett, and Mr Bennett chose not to engage in conversation, instead he branded the yellow, then red, cards. It should be remembered that Mascherano was the first LFC player to be dismissed that season, at the later stages of March. Javier and his team mates had been complaining to the referee throughout the half about the rough treatment being dished out to his team-mate Fernando Torres. Typically, the United assaults on Liverpool’s number 9 went unpunished. Torres was eventually booked for complaining, and Mascherano stepped in to ask the ref why. Red card.

The FA had made their mark. Once again a Liverpool player was used as an example. Mascherano’s ban was increased from the usual one-match suspension to three games. Liverpool again accepted the decision. (Although Rafa referred to it in his famous ‘facts’ press conference)

As far as I can recall, Javier Mascherano was the lone victim of the FA’s much heralded Respect Campaign.

It seems that on this occasion, Liverpool Football Club has decided that simple acceptance does not bring any benefits, and I for one read the statement with pride. It spoke for all of us.

Liverpool FC’s statement says more than I could ever say on the subject. They know the facts. The club is supporting Luis Suarez. As is Kenny Dalglish. As are his fellow team mates. Tonight the nation’s viewers will see the extent of support that Luis has from his adoring fans.

Luis Suarez is not perfect. However he is one of us and until anyone can PROVE that he is guilty of anything sinister he will get the full backing of the supporters. For every cheap shot directed towards our number 7, we will increase our vocal support.

Whilst we get behind the lad, maybe others should admit that their philosophy is “If you can’t beat him, FRAME him!”

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