The booing of Patrice Evra was one of the less savoury aspects of today’s FA Cup fourth round match between Manchester United and Liverpool. And yet it was hardly surprising.
Until last autumn, racism on English football terraces, like violence before it, seemed to be on the way out. Racism (against blacks, at least) has become uncool, inappropriate, passé de mode, and fans were used to their greatest heroes, from Henry to Ferdinand, being black. When racist chanting was in the news, it was overseas: when England played Spain, and in European league games. The Terry-Ferdinand and Suarez-Evra cases were bizarre in that they came out of the blue.
Bearing that in mind, it seems what caused fans to boo Evra today is not so much to do with actual racism: it is doubtful many fans actually believe Evra (and the likes of Glen Johnson and Ryan Babel) is ‘inferior’ due to his skin colour. Of course this does not make the booing acceptable, as Evra has done nothing wrong, whereas Suarez has. The attitude of the booing fans has been copied from those inside Liverpool. This is one of those issues for a football club and its high profile employees where doing the right thing and sending out the right message should have gone above solidarity for a teammate and blind partisanship. Yet Dalglish wore Suarez T-shirts with his players and supported Suarez wholeheartedly, saying “I don’t think it’s ever a disappointment when your team mates and the people you work for give you their undivided support. For me, that’s the least he [Suarez] deserves.” It is possible to offer some support to Suarez, but unacceptable to rule out any criticism of racist behaviour. It is no surprise that Liverpool fans, seeing this reaction, feel obliged to also support Suarez completely, and thus an investigation into what one Uruguayan said to one Frenchman has turned into a black-and-white Manchester United versus Liverpool battle.