By Michael Banks.
Tribalism is inhibiting the fight against racism in English football. The automatic response of some clubs and fans when their player is accused of racism is to leap to the defence of their player, and in the case of some fans, abuse the accuser/alleged victim. Brighton left-back, Gaetan Bong, was subject to abuse on social media from West Brom fans after he accused their forward, Jay Rodriguez, of racially abusing him. This is why players are often shy to speak up about racism; fear they may be abused or accused of playing the ‘race card’.
In 2011, both Chelsea and Liverpool chose to inexplicably back their players, John Terry and Luis Suarez, when both were accused of racism. Both clubs appeared to prioritise their players over the fight against racism in football. Liverpool, in particular, dealt with allegations against Suarez horrendously and their staunch and defiant defence of the Uruguayan, even after he was found guilty, made me feel extremely uncomfortable as a black Liverpool fan.
Liverpool, to their credit, handled the recent Firmino/Holgate situation with much more class and decorum, releasing a statement after the game in which they said that they would fully cooperate with the investigation. It appears lessons were learnt from the Suarez/Evra debacle and Firmino, in particular, should be applauded for allowing the investigation to run its course before commenting.
Whilst Liverpool’s senior staff, management and players have learnt from the Suarez/Evra debacle, it appears a sizeable minority of their fans have not. Some Liverpool fans want Mason Holgate to be punished retrospectively because he dared to accuse one of their players of racially abusing him. The investigation found that Holgate’s accusation was made in good faith, the Brazilian striker has been exonerated, and that should be that.
The fact that Holgate is being investigated by the Football Association (FA) for inappropriate tweets from over 5 years ago does not sit well with me, as these tweets were dug-up by Liverpool fans trying to smear his name in the direct aftermath of his accusation against Firmino. I’m in no way justifying his tweets, but they would not have been dug-up had he not accused the Liverpool striker of racially abusing him. Why is the first reaction of some fans to defend their player instead of feeling some sympathy for the accuser? After all, racist abuse can be extremely damaging to the mental wellbeing of the victim. Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster recently spoke of the emotional toll the racist abuse he has suffered had on him.
Liverpool players supported Kick It Out – an organisation that plays a central role in the fight against racism in English football – prior to their 4-1 win against West Ham last Saturday, only to be let down by a section of their fans taunting Patrice Evra by singing the name of Luis Suarez in the first-half of the game. Evra’s every touch was booed and jeered by some throughout the game. This was justified by some, claiming that they were booing the Frenchman because he was a former Manchester United player, but Liverpool have played against several ex-Manchester United players this season and none were on the receiving end of such treatment.
The fact that there are still a significant number of Liverpool fans who believe that the former Manchester United left-back was not racially abused is bemusing. The FA carried out a thorough investigation into the matter and it was found that the former Liverpool striker used the word ‘negro’ SEVEN times in around 2 minutes during an exchange between the pair on the 15th October 2011 in a game at Anfield. In a 115-page report released by the FA following the verdict, it was noted that the evidence provided by Suarez was ‘unreliable’ and ‘inconsistent’, whilst Evra was described as a ‘credible witness’.
The evidence is conclusive. Nevertheless, some Liverpool fans are putting tribalism and their loyalty to the club and a former player above fairness and justice. This is counterproductive and not only undermines the progression made by the club in tackling and dealing with racism, but the very core values of the city of Liverpool. Fans of all clubs need to put tribalism to one side, and realise that tackling racism in football is far more important.
Mike is a Politics PhD student and takes a keen interest in social issues, all things British politics and Liverpool FC.