It might be nice if life was simple; if I could talk about say… Patrice Evra in all innocence. If I could simply idle through the only mildly offensive theories generated by my good self regarding his almost unbelievable inability (or will?) to defend. Likewise, if only I could rave naively about Luis Suarez’s rare gift of inventing space within and around the box, his utter confidence, his unbelievably seamless transition into Premiership groovyhood. But I can’t – not now, not today.
Stuff’s really gotten in the way. To the point where the foul blood already slapping the sides of the Manchester Ship Canal collects, minute by minute, further cheap flotsam – further ammunition. And then it gets lobbed at the other side.
Such is the feeling between Manchester United and Liverpool Football clubs. Clubs whose realness and greatness in footballing terms is beyond dispute. Yet the epic scale of their one-eyedness, their capacity to brutally reduce pretty much everything they have in common to a seething conflict currently excels itself. The annual home and away contest the watching world is exposed to – itself a thing of little beauty – has been further deflowered through the ‘conviction’ of Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker in the matter of alleged racist comments made against Evra (United’s left back.)
At the moment of writing there is a depressingly self-righteous gale of protest and allegation blowing east and west. Hot on the heels of a strongly worded statement from the club following the Football Association’s decision to substantially (hah!) fine and ban Suarez, the Liverpool players have released a strongly worded message of support for their man. United meanwhile have spent the recent period belligerently backing Evra. At no time has it seemed likely that anyone from either side would step forward or, more ideally remain quietly in the background whilst advocating calm.
But what might we expect? (And this, for me, is the depressing bit…) The context is generally close to disgraceful.
United-Liverpool games have been effectively brain-dead for ages. There are almost no moments of class in a matrix of brittle abuse. Abuse of the spirit of the game; abuse of the ref; abuse of the real, footballing loving fan. The players almost to a man apparently utterly lack the discipline or will (again) to avoid getting sucked into the ‘heat of the battle’. They aren’t, frankly, big enough to deny the fraud that is the tackle from behind, the accidentally flailing elbow, the ‘follow through’. Season after season – even with the influx of allegedly technical players from around the world – the same violent pantomime persists.
So in one sense maybe Suarez has been either unlucky, or miscast as villain of this piece? For every ‘derby’ match between these two since about 1970 has surely offered up some genuine candidate for an 8 week ban? Sir Alex, burning with furious and career-long need to outdo his rival from Merseyside is certainly culpable in this general amorality – as, of course, are a series of Liverpool managers. Don’t tell me that the players are typically eased into the bear-pit without some reminder of ‘what this one means?’ And whilst I concede the likelihood of a caution that all 11 must remain on the pitch… what we used to call “kick-ball-fly” generally ensues; with malevolent knobs on.
Regrettably and shockingly and predictably, the logical extension of this milieu of Vinny Jonesesque lowest-common-denominator clatteration is mere footballers getting themselves or allowing themselves to get twisted up into a cheap, worrying and important controversy. Difficult to be sure if Suarez dealt in supra-offenses or just the ordinary offensive comments that the derby situation pathetically fosters. If he has racially abused Evra and he and his clubmates are pinched along a scale between outright lies and loyal delusion, it’s outrageous. To me it seems very unlikely that he has done nothing for which he might justifiably be ashamed. However, I am clear that this is no one-sided issue.
Evra, fascinatingly, has previous in the shape of his involvement in a brawl (effectively) at Chelsea, involving a non-playing member of that club’s staff. Ultimately, after investigation, the word “unreliable” was one of many used to describe his evidence on the matter. This may, naturally mean nothing whatsoever; I merely take it as a further sign of the disappointing level of understanding and commitment to responsibilities within the beautiful game.
Returning to my own fanlike/fanlit flames of controversy, I have I confess been more than distracted by Patrice’s extraordinary absences or meagre contributions to United’s defending over a period of about eighteen months. The conclusion has been drawn here that he can’t really be arsed much with stuff happening in the left back zone. Which is strange, surely, for a no. 3?
Returning to er… the letter of the law, I am clear that this whole, unappealing episode may not tell us much more than this – the obvious. That a reasonable judgement might be critical of both protoganists – who seem representative of their colleagues in many respects? – plus both clubs, for their unstinting and continuing work towards undermining our faith.