I DOUBT I’m alone in feeling not just delight at Liverpool’s comfortable FA Cup win over Brighton, but a certain measure of relief.
For the first time in months it felt like the game was free from subtext, that Liverpool’s number 7 was a footballer rather than a media sensation made flesh, that the sting had been drawn from much of the bitterness and rancour surrounding the club in recent weeks and months.
This, I assume, is what people have meant by all concerned ‘drawing a line’ under the Suarez row.
We get football back, we get to focus on at least one cup final to come, we get to read a LFC match report without handshakes, Rioplatense Spanish and Patrice Evra being mentioned anywhere.
Most parties, the FA included, seem happy to let the issue rest now Liverpool have issued a few apologetic statements. Everyone can go on making money, Suarez may or may not remain a Liverpool player, there’s little else for the media to work with so the fire will dwindle to nothing.
On the one hand I’m glad, exhausted as I am with the whole thing. On the other it feels as if a golden opportunity could slip away if the process of ‘drawing a line’ is seen as closure, without any fundamental change for the better.
This doesn’t mean we should necessarily go on discussing Suarez/Evra in detail. The case was dealt with, punishment served. Personal lessons may or may not be learned. The micro-analysis of a single incident can only tell us so much.
While football as a whole should use the opportunity to introduce a comprehensive programme, an induction process if you will, in the rules and their interpretation for newcomers to the English game, for Liverpool FC the affair could be a wake-up call when it comes to its own community relations. Suarez/Evra can be a referent without having to be the focus.
One of the most telling contributions to the debate came in The Anfield Wrap episode 29, when youth worker Earl Jenkins spoke about the sense of alienation many fans feel from the club.
When ticket prices take them beyond the reach of most of the city’s young people, perhaps this process is inevitable.
Intentionally or not, it discriminates disproportionately against Liverpool’s non-white population. The gentrification of the club, of the game as a whole, has served to keep out traditionally excluded groups even as PR campaigns such as the laudable Kick It Out seek to have the opposite effect.
So what’s to be done? There are no easy answers, but any Liverpool fan interested in the issue and its historical antecedents could do worse than to pick up a copy of Out of His Skin: The John Barnes Phenomenon by Dave Hill.
Setting out to explore the impact of Barnes’s move to Liverpool and what the reaction exposed about racism in football and on Merseyside, it was given a mixed response by fans on its publication in 1989.
Many saw its expose of racism on the terraces, and the club’s often lax approach to tackling it, as a direct challenge to Liverpool FC.
Others appreciated the book’s honesty and the thread of affection for the club, city and Barnes himself which ran concurrently with some bleak assessments of the state of our society and our national game.
The reaction of former chief executive Peter Robinson was ‘“when someone throws a brick through your window, you don’t invite them in for a cup of tea”.
This time round, perhaps the club should be more ready to see criticism of its community relations not as some form of vandalism, but as a useful tool in helping build a sustainable Liverpool FC for all its fans.
Dave was kind enough to answer some questions about his book, the reaction it provoked and the parallels and differences between then and now.
SG: In your 2001 essay From Barnes to Camara: Football, Identify and Racism in Liverpool, you identified the signing of and reaction to John Barnes in 1987 as ‘dramatising submerged racial issues on Merseyside and in English football at large.’ To what extent do you feel this dramatisation was helpful in changing attitudes both in Liverpool and more widely?
DH: It’s hard to precisely quantify the impact of Barnes’s signing, of course, but no one can doubt that his very presence and the reactions to it brought the issue of racism to the surface. It could no longer be ignored and could no longer so easily be dismissed as “just banter” or the same as making fun of someone for being red-haired or a bit overweight. It began to be talked about, not just on the street but in the media too. People who’d been repelled by racism in football for years or who had perhaps just felt something was wrong but couldn’t articulate it found their voices. That had to be beneficial. Black players too felt they’d been given a kind of permission to speak about an issue they had previously felt bound to keep quiet about for for fear of the consequences.
SG: Seemingly every piece written on this issue has included an obligatory paragraph along the lines of ‘football has taken great strides in this area’. Has it? Writing in 2001 it felt as if you were unconvinced that the real root of the problem had been tackled sufficiently.
DH: Black players have become so established in English football that dressing room racism was bound to be eroded, as were the prejudices of “old school” managers. This, and the recognition of terrace racism and the introduction of sanctions against it had the effect of establishing a taboo. All this is good. But while I think there has been change for the better the worry remains that some of the bad stuff just goes underground rather than disappearing altogether. I think football needs to remain vigilant.
SG: Is there scope for the Suarez case to become a positive turning point for Liverpool and for football in general?
DH: I think the useful by-product of the extremely messy Suarez affair is that it has reminded people that there is still an issue and that it needs to be addressed. It would interesting to know if Suarez had been told on his arrival in England that certain things that might (according to some accounts) be thought normal in Uruguay are not acceptable here and why that is the case.
SG: Were you surprised by the reaction to Out of His Skin from the club and fans? Reading it back today it seems incredible that such a clear-eyed examination could be treated so dismissively.
DH: I think the club probably thought it needed to defend itself but also didn’t really “get it” about racism in football or indeed in Liverpool as a city. Those were different times.
SG: In 2001 you wrote that Barnes, having inititally been dismissive of the book, had suggested he might one day read it. Any news on that score?
DH: I imagine it was important for him at the time to play down the significance of the book and disassociate himself from it, and I understand why. I don’t know if he ever read it. I just hope he appreciates that the book’s intentions were good and that he emerges from it pretty well.
SG: In recent weeks Barnes has acted as an unofficial spokesman for Liverpool’s approach, generally articulating the nuances of the situation better than the clumsy statements coming from Anfield. Are his clearly-expressed views on race and willingness to speak on the issue surprising to someone who observed his sometimes reticent approach in the 1980s?
DH: I haven’t followed the story all that closely – busy with other things – so I don’t know what JB’s been saying. However, he’s now in a very different position from the 1980s. He can speak freely!
SG: On the Anfield Wrap podcast recently, Liverpool 8-based coach Earl Jenkins touched on the enduring importance of Howard Gayle to the community. Howard emerges as something of a hero in Out of His Skin. What do you feel his experience at Liverpool tells us about the club and some of its traditions?
DH: It’s all in the book!
Buy Out of His Skin here.
We really do need to can this now. As soon as dies down some bleeding heart wants to pour petrol; on the blaze.. Liverpool has no disadvantaged white support then ?
You obviously haven’t read Chris Bascombe’s disgraceful ‘report’ of the Brighton match in the Telegraph.
This arsehole has been throwing petrol on the Suarez/Evra saga day in day out for weeks and this morning it is no different.
Understand this fella used to work for the Echo before selling his soul to Murdoch and joining the NOtW. After getting laid off there he ends up at the Daily Telegraph.
The hierachy at the club should ban the bastard from anywhere near Anfield – even on matchdays.
One things for sure you can bet he wouldn’t dare write anything vitriolic about United, Ferguson or anything to do with them or he wouldn’t get within 100 yards of Old Trafford for the rest of his career. We should do the same. Scum.
One thing’s for sure
or maybe this one? again though i don’t really see anything in this to get angry about. maybe i am missing something.
Is this the report you are referencing? i have to be honest mate i cannot find anything in it to prompt your comment.
“Four minutes after his miss, the striker made amends by heading home Liverpool’s sixth. First the mistake, then the redemption – it’s becoming a recurring Anfield theme. ”
“This was a cameo of the twin imposters of accusation and adulation Suárez must deal with as he seeks to restore his reputation in English football. Isolated one minute, idolised the next, Anfield remains his sanctuary from the critical gaze of those detractors who would like to deport him for his most recent crimes against PR and agitated sponsors.”
“Suárez has a multiple personality that needs to be controlled if it is to be accepted. There are moments he looks languid, others when he is flailing his arms in frustration and others when he claims for non-existent fouls or handballs. Then the ball falls at his feet and he is just marvellous.”
Needless comments about Suarez. The focal point of the game, in my opinion, was not Suarez – in fact, it was all about moving on from “Suarezgate” and yet reports like this repeatedly bring it back up. Are we still going to get comment like this in 2 or 3 months time? Let us move on and repair the damage rather than going through the wreckage over and over
Think we all want a line drawn under it. I think Kenny last night, making Suarez take the penalty, was a bad sign though. Remember though, there has been no resolution to the initial incident. So when they play each other again and when the parliamentary inquiry takes place, the same things will come to the surface.
Suarez and Kenny (and certain writers online) have to admit Suarez did something wrong and stop suggesting conspiracies or that Evra invented the whole thing. If they don’t do that they can’t move on and worse still they can’t make the case against the handling of it or the harshness of the penalty.
Trouble is, it’s gone too far now and Suarez would have to admit he wasn’t totally honest. Would be big of him though and then he could at least talk about how it’s all been blown out of proportion considering how he meant it.
Suarez didn’t lie, he just tried to wriggle out of it, which is probably natural. Evra didn’t lie either in my opinion, but he took it to be a lot more offensive than it was intended. I think everyone really has to accept those two things because that’s the most likely truth of the situation. Shame everyone needs to choose a side….
Bascombe isn’t a red, not in the way we see it. He’s happiest when he’s got something to criticise the club, or someone at the club, for.
He’s an outcast in the stands and an outcast in the press box. Best ignored, best forgotten.
Sorry but this article should be removed i find it offensive
I’m trying to understand how ticket prices discriminate against non white people. Is there a different wage structure or social security payment structure in the UK for whites and non- whites? have I missed something here?
The city’s poorest areas, particularly Liverpool Riverside, are also those with the highest non-white population. So if, say, 80 per cent of people in that area can’t afford to go to Anfield on a matchday, a higher proportion will be non-white than if you excluded 80 per cent of people from West Derby or Garston and Halewood (I’m using parliamentary constituencies as they’re what poverty and child poverty in particular figures are based on). High ticket prices exclude the poorest. If more of the poorest than the richest are non-white (and they are), that’s disproportionate. I’d like more people from Riverside and other poorer areas to be able to afford to come to matches, whatever colour they are.
Essentially, if you encourage more people on low incomes to have access to the ground you also remove a barrier to the club’s relations with many different parts of the community. This also includes pensioners who feel they’ve been priced out and 16-24-year-olds of all ethnic backgrounds. I get the feeling a lot of people aren’t interested in any of that but the club was built on a broad coalition of ordinary people from all backgrounds coming together to support it. Keeping a sense of that idea is a worthwhile goal.
Steve, thanks for the reply and whilst I understand I would say that ticket prices are moving beyond the reach of most on what were once termed “the working class”. How many of your average working fans can afford to go to two home games in a row these days?
I note in your response you mention encouraging people of low incomes to attend the game and I feel this and not the racial issue should really have been the basis of your story.
I’m not sure you can disconnect the two – the wider problem of poorer people being excluded from games has the knock-on effect of also excluding more black people. It’s an issue that inevitably comes up when you talk about Liverpool and race.
But I agree the wider problem is at the root of it and should be tackled, not just by LFC but the Premier League as a whole. When the side at the top of the league can’t sell out even for big games there is clearly an issue. City had thousands of empty seats for the League Cup semi – if they could find a way of filling those seats with people who normally couldn’t afford them that would be good for the club and the game in the present and the future.
I agree that this subject seemed to be retiring back into the shadows, being eclipsed by better fortunes on the pitch. Unfortunately, as I was unable to attend the match, being an OOT and all that, I had to put up with Mark “Lawro” Lawrenson commentating on 5live.
I’m sure that he’s been referenced before on here, but some of his comments were much more inflamatory compared to Bascombe’s. In particular, his revelation that Kenny has already had a word with him about one of his hypothesis – which he then went on to repeat (that Suarez has engineered the whole thing as a “get out” because he’s not settling in!). He was continually mentioning the report, Suarez’s “previous”, and the initial commentator was happy to prolong the discussion. Alan Green was more interested in complaining about the little “Egyptian” who kept fouling Carroll.
Personally, I think that he’s irked that, unlike Aldridge, he is no longer part to privileged information, and uses his “Lawro” persona to air those gripes in a subversive “nice uncle Lawro” way… and his crap, pre-prepared “ad-lib” one-liners.
As a player, he was great. As a pundit, mediocre at best. As a spokeperson or representative for LFC – turd.
I dont want to sound controversial, especially around the senstivities that still surounding Hillsborough.
But once the Taylor report was published and recommended All Seating, Football was only going to go one way and that was price out some of the lower earning famlies as football becomes more and more mainstream to “middle” class familes.
You only have to look at the car park on stanley park to see exactly this, the number of high end cars makes Monaco look poor.
I disagree with some point made in the article: While i am not sure of the exact demographics of the anfield crowd, I think the 18-24 make up a decent portion of the crowd.
If they have a job even at the minimum wage, i am would suggest they are cash “rich” with little outlay for a high proportion of them.
But moving age upwards into the older bracked 24-35, other life events start to take a toll on the cash flow: Mortgages/Rent, Car, babies, Bills.
For a Dad and Lad to go the match these days and the surrounding cost this is were people become priced out from watching Liverpool in my opinion for working class famlies.
I know this is what happened to me.
So going back to my orginal thought:
By bringing back standing, of course in a control and suitable way “think German stadia” then we can start to think about connecting football back to the local communities around anfield which are some of the most disadvantaged by a reduced ticking pricing.
The added effect of brining back the atomsphere back to premier league stadiums.
This is never going to happen especially in the short term and probably never. Do big clubs really care about the demographic of its crowd as long as its a sell out?