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Suarez case highlights problems with the family values of football

Nothing that has happened in the Luis Suarez affair should obscure the fact that English football has come a long way from the dark days of the 80s. But while that is no small thing, Liverpool’s reaction shows that football still has some way to go before it is in step with the rest of society.

I can speak with some authority on how racist English football was and how it pretended that racism had nothing to do with the game.

I was then a football reporter for the Sunday Times, often the only brown face, not just in the press box, but often in the entire stadium, apart from a few black players on the park. The racist abuse that was hurled at me by football supporters was much worse than what Suarez said to Patrice Evra. I have written about this at length in the past, but let me recall one occasion when I was chased down a train by football supporters shouting, “Hit the coon over the head with a baseball bat.” This was then a popular football song. On another occasion I was very lucky not to be badly beaten because of the colour of my skin.

At the time when I wrote about it, and let me say I got great support from the Sunday Times, there were some who responded by telling me I was mistaken. The incidents, they said, had nothing to do with race. At least one thought it reflected historic British class attitudes. This was on the basis that one of the attacks on me had come as I was travelling in a first class compartment.

In that sense, the Suarez affair shows how much football has moved on. Just as the convictions in the Stephen Lawrence murder shows how our society has changed for the better, so the fact that the argument in the Suarez affair concerns how many times Suarez may, or may not, have used the word negro, indicates that football is not blind to racism as it was in the 80s.

But if this is a welcome change, what is not is how the whole affair still reflects how football clubs feel they must cling on to the so-called family values of the game. Liverpool clearly sees what has happened to Suarez as an attack on the Anfield family. For a club that made ‘You’ll never walk alone’ its great anthem, such a family bond is clearly important.

And in a team sport like football, keeping the team together and showing solidarity with a comrade who has hit the rocks is important. We all know winning teams are not just eleven of the best players in the game, but the eleven who can combine the best. However, football is not the only activity where teams have to bond to get success. That is also required in business and in many other walks of life. And in business or other spheres of life, had such an incident happened then the body concerned would have made sure it distanced itself from the person accused of wrong doing until the matter was resolved.

Liverpool are in danger of damaging their reputation by backing Suarez's case so publicly. Image courtesy of PlayUp

Let us say this had been a charge against a policeman or a journalist. We would expect the police authorities, or the media organisation concerned, to distance itself from the person charged. Yes, give him or her all the support he or she needs to present his defence, but also make sure you do not became part of the defence.

This is what Liverpool has failed to do and has led to the club looking so ridiculous and so out of step.

Liverpool is clearly unhappy about the procedure the FA has followed and they may have a point there. One reason they have adopted this stance is the fear that Suarez may decide to walk alone and leave Anfield. But in so tying themselves to Suarez, they have shown a lamentable lack of maturity and demonstrated that they have not moved with the times.

Football and society has come a long way from the dark days of the 80s and 90s, but Liverpool’s reaction shows football clubs still have a lot to learn on how conduct themselves in such situations. Until they do, real progress cannot be made on explosive issues such as race.

      

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