I am hoping for civility at tomorrow’s game between Liverpool and Manchester United. While I’m surely far from the only one hoping that the game itself is interesting enough to get people talking, my real wish is that people simply didn’t behave like this. Imagine if, instead of spending ninety minutes abusing opposition players and fans, both sets of supporters were to cheer their team on.
As a Liverpool fan I am concerned that any animosity towards Patrice Evra will be pigeonholed as “racist abuse” of the Manchester United defender. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is such a lazily drawn conclusion, but I will. What happens if Antonio Valencia is booed? Do Liverpool fans stop being ‘racist’ because Valencia is not at the heart of a divisive issue between the clubs? What if a black Liverpool fan boos Michael Carrick? Is he then a racist?
I have a strong dislike for Patrice Evra, for Dwight Yorke and for Nani; as well as for Wayne Rooney, Alex Ferguson and Paul Scholes. The only thing that this makes me is a fan of their greatest rivals, and I reserve the right to hate United players without it being for the colour of their skin.
I can’t help wondering whether large swathes of the press and public are actually hoping – in a frankly sick and twisted way – for more off-field unpleasantness and scandal. We have spent time, money and effort on this invaluable cause, but over the past 3 or 4 months there has been the troubling sensation that everyone is really rather enjoying all of this.
Because of course there is nothing worse than racism; except for unsold papers. This is an issue which needs debate, education and condemnation. But frankly, those in a position to lead this debate – through sport, the press and the government – have let us down badly.
Oliver Holt, Chief Sports Writer of the Daily Mirror, has been a vocal critic of Liverpool during this period, but rarely for the very valid reasons that exist. Amongst his many simplistic and uninformed ideas on the topic of race has been support for the ‘Rooney Rule’, essentially a quota system for the inclusion of black managers. This idea in itself is worthy serious of discussion at the very least.
But I would put it to him that until his own paper has its own quota of regular African, Asian and South American columnists and opinion leaders; those stones are better left unthrown. Fleet Street’s legions of middle-aged, white men and women are not what are needed to drive and debate race policy inside or outside football. Not before they stop telling Glen Johnson what he should and shouldn’t be embarrassed about wearing on a t-shirt in a way that suggests he is somehow unable to determine his own views: black men, if you weren’t aware, all think the same.
I am of the view that football, as with all culture, is the product of our society. And we all live in this society together, sharing responsibility for it. For those who believe that this a problem with a single club, or even one which exists only within the game of football: why not start to look at how our society has been able to produce this mess on our watch.
Football can lead on this issue, but it cannot solve it. For now, perhaps when we are sitting back tomorrow in frantic anticipation of ugly chants, squabbling managers and self-righteous press reports, we can all take a look at ourselves, and wonder what football might be like if we spent a little more time watching the damn game. Let’s hope for a good one tomorrow.