THE last time I felt anything remotely like this as a Liverpool supporter was 27 years ago.
39 people had died at the 1985 European Cup final in Brussels, and Liverpool fans were blamed for their deaths.
To this day I am none the wiser as to where precisely the true weight of culpability lay for the Heysel disaster, but I know that my club ultimately took responsibility for it, and that we as supporters remain haunted by the spectre of those events to this day.
Heysel was about life and death. It was more important than an argument between two millionaire athletes, and the loyalties of two warring tribes.
The Suarez and Evra mess, though, has come to echo 1985, for me at least, because there are parallels in terms of the sheer momentum of shame being foisted upon what felt then, and still feels now, like our family.
Modern day LFC talisman, Luis Suarez, is a racist in their eyes. Their report may say different, but their words in print and on screens show us what they think of him, show what they think of Kenny Dalglish, show what they think of us.
After Heysel we were all deemed beasts. They said there was a cancer at our core. It felt so very unfair, but not as unfair as it felt for those who had lost loved ones.
So we silently bowed our heads and accepted the penance.
Again, albeit in clearly less serious circumstances (so don’t shoot me for the analogy), they want to shame us all again.
They want us to withdraw to our fortress of self-righteousness – to man our barricades and dig in for the long siege. They want it, and they are going to get it. Well, at least I hope they are. The time for magnanimity in this affair is over. The barbarians are at our gates and the bridge has to come up. If no one likes us, then how can we care ?
Who are our royal we ? Right now it feels like it might just be a royal me, as the PR men step in and apologising and falling on swords is all the rage. I hope I’m not alone in my anger. I hope and sense that there are more than a few Liverpool reds out there who feel what I’m feeling. In fact I know there must be.
Liverpool Football Club is truly special. There, I’ve said it. I came to know it as a 10 year old living in London in the 1970s who jumped on the bandwagon and never looked back.
I wasn’t brain washed into being a red the way my lad has been, and thousands of other Scouse boys and girls have correctly been by indigenous parents. I co-opted myself into the family as a young and then still objective outsider.
When I first started going to matches I noticed how our people seemed different from their people.
We, seemed to have a different value system. When our team conceded a goal, we raised our song for our team, whilst they went mute for theirs. When our goalkeeper took up position at their end of the ground they booed and brayed at him. We applauded and saluted their man. Whilst they skulked away like wounded beasts in defeat, we stayed behind to clap their heroes if they left our home victorious. We stayed to hail them despite the hurt inside.
We were no angels, but the National Front never set up their tents outside our ground. We didn’t think that we were just marking time supporting our team until Engerlund came calling in the summer either. They were all English. We were Irish, welsh, Scots, Norwegains, Asians and everything else that they weren’t.
We didn’t have cuddly reptilian-oid mascots and giant video scoreboards. We didn’t wear replica club shirts en-masse, or sing other teams songs. We tended to keep it funny rather than cruel, but whatever the chosen war cries, ours were the loudest, the proudest, the very best. We always had our famous atmosphere. We were, we are, legend.
They think we are deluded, self pitying, bolshy, arrogant, provincial and parochial, unwashed mass of chip-on-the-shoulder has-been sentiment. They think we’ve got red shit in our eyes and have no chance of seeing their objectivity for what it is. We’re so partisan, so Kenny, so Shankly, so Scouse, that we can’t tell race from wrong.
They are wrong though. They have been since October last year, when their man, Patrice Evra decided to try and take us down.
Evra was cheating when he disputed a coin toss before a ball was kicked between Liverpool and United that month. He was cheating when he rolled around feigning injury after the lightest of touches from Suarez on 50 odd minutes of that game. He was cheating when he tried to provoke a fight with Suarez in the Kop goal mouth shortly afterwards, and he was cheating when he reported the same man for multiple racist abuse at the match’s conclusion.
They won’t see Evra this way.
They see him as a noble victim. They see him as the man who dared say ‘No ! Enough is enough’. They see him as a cause celebre, as an opportunity, as chance to fly a flag, to adopt a position and to don a cloak of virtue. They are also see Evra as the latest stick with which to beat us with. It feels like that anyway.
We’re paranoid of course. All football fans are. All clubs fans think they get a raw deal from the media and the wider public. As the adage goes though, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean that they aren’t all out to get you.
What are we meant to think? Our boy genuinely feels he’s been done a mischief by their boy. Who knows the truth of that scene that Suarez and Evra played out in that six-yard-box last Autumn. Not me, not you, not us, not the FA, not them. I’m not even sure Suarez and Evra will know where the truth actually lies anymore.
We do know that Suarez feels innocent, and in the absence of sensible evidence, beyond reasonable doubt, we feel the family should back him. Kenny Dalglish understands that more than anyone. He knows what our family stands for more than most, perhaps more than anyone. He showed us that in 1989.
At 60 he is now our venerated patriarch and we rightly take his moral lead.
If Suarez feels the time for smoking the peace pipe with their chap is not yet, that it’s too soon, then surely that’s his prerogative. Being ‘the victim’ is, we are often reminded, a state of mind. As he steeled himself for a bout of unwanted hand shaking on Saturday last, Suarez clearly still saw himself as the abused. Ironic, they’ll say, as he was the one ‘found guilty’ of abusing.
They haven’t been listening to us, or Suarez, that much is evident. We’ve said he’s an innocent man. That we are convinced Evra has lied, that the FA delivered false justice. We told them clearly when we chose not to appeal, that we did so because we were tired of fighting, not because we thought our champion guilty. There was no tacit acceptance of their accusations in that stance.
They wanted him to apologise. He wouldn’t and we told them why. So, why? Why, when Patrice Evra half heartedly puts his hand forward but looks disdainfully away and to the side, is Luis Suarez expected to seek out his oppressor’s palm and humbly and submissively seek absolution?
To many of us, it looks in that moment as if Suarez has thought ‘fuck you and the lying horse you rode in on. Fuck your faux victimhood, and your shameless highjacking and abusing of the ‘kick-it out’ campaign. Fuck your attempt to ruin my career just because you were having a bad hair day. Fuck your manipulating of the weak and opportunistic men. Fuck you for labelling me as all that I despise.’
Or maybe he just didn’t fancy shaking his hand.
On Sunday 12th Feb, Suarez and our MD Ian Ayre issued statements. Suarez was unreservedly contrite and Ayre was unreservedly critical of our man.
Even Kenny said sorry for being mean to that fool from Sky. Good PR by the club, some will surely say. Maybe the men from Boston have spoken, and this is the result. Maybe they see a brand in jeopardy and have stepped in to restore order.
Maybe their course of action will prove a PR success and the fire that is burning media wide against us will now begin to burn itself out. I hope that does happen. I hope too though that behind closed doors the men in LFC suits and ties realise that for many of us the rage induced by recent events will not wane softly in the face of the blinkered shite.
Many of us don’t care about the PR implications for the brand and were ready for the siege. The supplies were in, we were tooled up and ready for all their crap and more.
We know we’re different and special and their scorn only reinforces that conviction. Those that join our bandwagon from all corners of the planet instinctively know why LFC matters and why, through wind and rain, it prevails, and why regardless of sporting success or failure it will remain relevant.
John Henry and his team behind our team need to decide which side of our fortress walls they wish to stand. Are they with us or them?
LFC is the greatest of brands and needs protecting Mr Henry precisely because it will never truly be branded.
LFC is an anti-brand and that’s why we like it.
In fact, that’s why, as the song goes, we fucking love it.