Thursday, 22 December 2011

My player right or wrong

Yesterday I determined not to comment on the Football Association punishment handed out to Liverpool footballer Louis Suarez. An FA statement set out the terms of the player’s charge and punishment:
"An independent regulatory commission has found a charge of misconduct against Luis Suárez proven, and have issued a suspension for a period of eight matches as well as fining him £40,000, pending appeal. The decision is as follows:
• Mr Suárez used insulting words towards Mr Evra during the match contrary to FA Rule E3(1);
• The insulting words used by Mr Suárez included a reference to Mr Evra's colour;
• Mr Suárez shall be warned as to his future conduct, be suspended for eight matches covering all first-team competitive matches and fined the sum of £40,000;”
The full written adjudication is still to be released and so I felt it would be inappropriate to comment until I had read the reasons for the decision.

Later in the day another footballer, Chelsea and England captain John Terry, was informed that he has been charged with the following by the Crown Prosecution Service:
"threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress which was racially aggravated in accordance with section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998".
Again, I do not know the evidence that has led to this decision and until the trial takes place will not know the full facts about the case.

What I will comment on is the reaction of the football clubs in both cases. Liverpool FC issued a statement which defended Suarez and challenged the findings of the commission. The statement can be read here but this section sums up their response:
It seems incredible to us that a player of mixed heritage should be accused and found guilty in the way he has based on the evidence presented. We do not recognise the way in which Luis Suárez has been characterised. Nothing we have heard in the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suárez is innocent and we will provide Luis with whatever support he now needs to clear his name.
The Liverpool manager has also issued statements about the verdict including the following on Twitter:
"Very disappointed with today's verdict. This is the time when [Luis Suarez] needs our full support. Let's not let him walk alone. KD,"
Then yesterday evening before their match the Liverpool team warmed up wearing T-shirts with a picture of Suarez on them, including Suarez himself, and throughout the match the supporters chanted his name.

The reaction of Chelsea FC to the charge against John Terry was more immediate than that of Liverpool, who at least had the grace to wait a couple of hours before issuing their statement. Chelsea responded with the following:
"John has made it clear he denies the charge and is determined to do all he can to prove his innocence. Chelsea FC has always been fully supportive of John in this matter and will continue to be so.”
The Chelsea manager offered his views on the matter:
"For a player with John's experience, it won't be a problem. The only thing I know is that I will be fully supportive of John Terry, whatever the outcome of the situation."
What I find so disappointing in both these cases is that the respective clubs seem determined to support their players whatever the outcome of the cases. This attitude is mirrored in the reactions of the supporters. The airwaves and internet have been awash with attempts to deny, explain, justify and excuse the behaviour of the two footballers. Guilty or innocent their players will be defended by every means at the disposal of the clubs with the full support of their fans.

To be fair Chelsea and Liverpool are not alone in this. Most clubs see their players as extremely valuable assets and will seek to protect their investments at almost any cost and by turning a blind eye to behaviour that would be deemed unacceptable in wider society. Football fans are tribal animals, fed a strong diet of ‘our club against the world’ propaganda by managers and fanzines alike and so are willing to excuse almost anything one of their players indulges in.

The football authorities also carry a burden of responsibility for these attitudes. The English FA appealed against Wayne Rooney’s three match international ban for violent conduct in order to secure his services at Euro 2012 and successfully had the ban reduced. Thus, they sent out a message to the clubs they seek to govern, encouraging them to use whatever means to enable their players to take to the pitch. (I write this as a supporter of Manchester United and Wayne Rooney.)

And don’t look to FIFA, football’s governing body world wide, for leadership on this or any other issue. I have written about the failure of leadership on racism and other matters offered by FIFA in the past and nothing seems to have changed.

Whatever the final outcome in both these cases the message is clear from clubs and fans alike: We support our players right or wrong. Moral relativism eats at the soul of football, fuelled by money and an unthinking devotion to the gods of the beautiful game. I would say it will all end in tears but it already has on too many occasions as Liverpool FC know only too well.


Peter Kirk said...

Surely we ought to consider the facts in these cases. As I understand it, Suarez has been condemned on the basis of the unconfirmed testimony of one other person, Evra, who has a personal interest in accusing Suarez in order to justify his own behaviour which led to him being booked. It is also in Evra's club's interest to support him.

Such charges are reminiscent of 17th-18th century witch-hunts, and in modern times of the regrettable way in which Christians in Pakistan are regularly convicted of blasphemy on the basis of single uncorroborated accusations by Muslims. While I completely condemn racism, I also condemn any attempts to manipulate others by means of unconfirmed or exaggerated accusations of racism.

By contrast, the biblical standard is that no charge should be entertained unless there are two or three witnesses. According to information available so far, there are no witnesses apart from Evra himself. On that basis the charges against Suarez should not even have been considered.

If the full written adjudication shows that there was real independent evidence to support the accusation, I will change my opinion.

Philip Ritchie said...


I agree we should consider the facts in the case and as neither you nor I have seen the evidence put forward to the commission regarding Suarez, nor the basis of their judgement, I am surprised that you seem so certain about the situation.

I made it clear in my post that I was not commenting on whether either Suarez or Terry are guilty or not. My comment is about the reactions of the clubs and fans and I made it clear that this isn't just confined to Liverpool and Chelsea.

Peter Kirk said...

Philip, as I understood it, in the Suarez case the evidence is supposed to have been made public, and the evidence which has been made public is insufficient. If there is in fact further evidence which the FA has considered, which was wrongly withheld from the public, and this adequately supports the verdict, then, as I wrote, I will change my opinion. But for now I support those who support Suarez in what appears to have been a miscarriage of justice.

Philip Ritchie said...

What do you mean by 'as I understood it'? Does that mean you haven't seen the evidence? If you have I'd be grateful if you would direct me to the place where you have seen the evidence in the case.

I have seen plenty of comment, selective leaking and speculation about what the evidence may have been but I am not aware of the evidence having been made public.

The case was not heard in public and the written witness statements have not been published to my knowledge. The commissions deliberations have not yet been published.

I hope you haven't based your assertions on the musing of football pundits and journalists, that certainly wouldn't accord with the standards of Biblical evidence you have commended in your previous post.

Peter Kirk said...

Fair enough, Philip, I am basing what I said partly on news reports, and these are not always 100% reliable. But then surely your post is also based on news reports. And I am also looking at the official statement from Liverpool FC which states the following:

"We find it extraordinary that Luis can be found guilty on the word of Patrice Evra alone when no-one else on the field of play - including Evra's own Manchester United teammates and all the match officials - heard the alleged conversation between the two players in a crowded Kop goalmouth while a corner kick was about to be taken. ...

It appears to us that the FA were determined to bring charges against Luis Suarez, even before interviewing him at the beginning of November. Nothing we have heard in the course of the hearing has changed our view that Luis Suarez is innocent of the charges brought against him and we will provide Luis with whatever support he now needs to clear his name."

This report from a non-journalist, although obviously not a neutral source, gives an account of the evidence actually presented at the hearing, and states clearly that there was none other than the word of the two players in question.

Philip Ritchie said...

Ah Pete,
So your opinion is based on Liverpool FC's reaction to the case which they issued soon after the judgement.

By 'obviously not a neutral source' you mean the club supporting the defendant who have presented their version of some of the, as yet unpublished, evidence.

Thanks for clarifying.

MisterDavid said...

Good post. I think this is an important subject, and not just because it exposes football clubs' and fans' instinct to prioritise their tribe over truth.

eg. Did you see Mitt Romney in the States last week say, "I will never apologise for America!" - translation: my team is always right, regardless of whether it is right.

This is 'party spirit' par excellence, and it is EVERYWHERE. Government policies are routinely praised or trashed simply because of who makes them. The Church is a family full of siblings that don't talk because of our petty cliques. It's all 'us and them': no objective critique, just lame tribalism! Where are our brains? Or our consciences?

Ps. Suarez admitted using a word, 'negrito', which he regards as non-racist (so, Peter, it wasn't one person's evidence, it was two - Suarez & Evra).

Peter Kirk said...

David, I have seen the suggestion that Suarez used a form of the N word. But do you have any clear evidence, rather than journalistic speculation, that he admitted to using this particular word? The Liverpool statement seems to imply something different, at the very least that there was a conflict of evidence over exactly what was said.

Sam Norton said...

OK, then pretend that a football club is God - just for a second - and consider God saying "The only thing I know is that I will be fully supportive of John Terry, whatever the outcome of the situation". I rather hope that He'd say the same of all of us.

More broadly, I was pondering writing something on this, but this comment will have to do: getting rid of racism is essential, and given the relevant histories I personally hope they throw the book at Terry (if he's found guilty) giving him an 8 match ban as well. It will help combat what goes on in the terraces (seats!)

Having said that, I think there is a very large difference between what he and Suarez have done and something like the BNP and what they get up to. I can't imagine that Terry objects to sharing the field with Dider Drogba/ sharing manhugs when he scores etc etc. So however odious the language has been, at least their behaviour gives the lie to it.

Next thing to tackle - the gay taboo in football (Justin Fashanu RIP)

Anonymous said...

From what I've seen and read the Liverpool/Suarez case seems much more complex than you've suggested and Liverpool seem fully within their rights to defend what they see as a miscarage of justice.

When you have a word that isn't an insult in Suarez's county you have to, as Viv Richards pointed out, take that into consideration. Plus the fact that Glen Johnson was pictured wearing the Suarez t-shirt.

The impression I get is that if it had been a white scouser who knew full well that they were being racially abusive then the club would have thrown the book at them.

Seeker said...

I have thought a bit about your post since first reading it. Am not a fan of football myself - although my husband is and I have heard a lot about this matter!!!!

Although what you say makes sense, you have completely ignored the duty of an employer to support his employees, at least until such time as wrongdoing has been indisputably proven. Every employer should reward loyal service with loyalty in times of trouble.

I know you may well be right that these clubs are only thinking of their own interests in defending their players, but I still think that abandoning them at the first hint of any scandal would be a failure of duty to look after those who have given them their time and effort(albeit for obscene amounts of money in this particular case!).

Philip Ritchie said...

In both cases the clubs seem to be saying they support their players whatever the outcome. Can you tell me in what other walk of life a person would receive the unequivocal support of their employer for an offence such as racial abuse even if found guilty? This isn't about 'abandoning' their players, there is a refusal to accept that their players could in any way be in the wrong. I haven't suggested that the clubs dismiss their players, only suggested that the knee jerk reaction of both clubs doesn't serve the interests of the clubs or the wider game.