A fake handshake for a fake show of respect

Cast your mind back to the time when Luis Suarez was charged. That was about the same time when Sepp Blatter idiotically declared that on-field racism wasn’t a big problem as long as the players shook hands afterwards. Blatter was rightly criticised for downplaying such a serious issue. It’s somewhat ironic then, that people were looking to Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra to put an end to an alleged issue of on-field racism with a handshake.

The football authorities seem to think the game exists in some sort of idyllic world where everyone is nice and pleasant to each other and that any problems can be sorted out using the kind of ‘make friends’ approach that gets used on pre-school children to solve disputes.

That’s not the reality however. Football is a game, at the highest level anyway, that is run (and played) in the majority by greedy, selfish people with all-too human flaws that have no compunction about squeezing every last penny out of those who follow it.

The Premier League and Premier League clubs, enjoy the substantial riches that come from having a massive TV contract. One of the consequences of that big contract is that, because the broadcaster is a subscription channel, they have to generate interest in games that the casual football fan may not want to watch. They do this by turning each game into an ‘event’.

One of these ‘events’ is the pre-match handshake. In the not-so distant past, pre-match handshakes were seldom seen outside of cup finals, and even then it was some dignitary or other shaking the hands of the players, rather than them shaking hands with each other. Now under the guise of the FA’s ‘respect’ campaign, which the FA dropped when it suited them, players shake one another’s hands before a game. It’s purely for the benefit of TV audiences, as the vast majority of the crowd at a game cannot see the handshake.

What I found a little strange about the (non)handshake at Old Trafford is the it was Liverpool walking down the line of Manchester United players. Usually it’s the other way round, where the home team ‘welcomes’ the away team to their ground by going to shake their hands. As I’m sure you’re aware, Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of Patrice Evra, and I do believe it was Suarez who refused Evra’s hand rather than the other way round that some are claiming.

Post-match handshake’s have meaning. It’s a chance to congratulate or commiserate your opponent. It’s also a chance to settle any disputes or issues, or make a statement by not doing so. Pre-match handshakes are meaningless; with players usually focussed on the upcoming game rather than the person in front of them. Rio Ferdinand said he decided not to shake Suarez’s hand after watching him refuse to shake Suarez’s. Fair enough, but if the handshake is all-about respect, why was Ferdinand looking down the line at Suarez rather than looking at the person shaking his hand? That isn’t very respectful in my opinion.

It was foolish for anyone to believe that Evra and Suarez would shake hands and all would be forgotten. There is lingering bad feeling on the part of both men, and what people wanted to see would have been any handshake, even a fake one would have done. That evidently was what Suarez decided not to do; he decided to show his true feelings by ignoring Evra’s offered hand. That was a naive move, as it left him, and Kenny Dalglish after a stupid attempt at deflecting blame, open to even more negative press than he has already gained.

Alex Ferguson described Suarez as “A disgrace to Liverpool Football Club” and added that he should never play for the club again. As nice as it is for Sir Alex to decide his club’s biggest rivals should sell their best player, anyone with any sense would see his comments for what they are. This was a classic smokescreen to try and deflect attention away from the conduct of his own players, which I’ll be polite and describe as ‘questionable’.

Only the most myopic of Liverpool fans can say that in the whole Suarez-Evra aftermath, the club handled it in the right way. There is nothing wrong with the club defending Suarez, but the way it was done came across as ill-conceived and crass and the whole thing has been a PR disaster.

But, only the most myopic Liverpool-hater can say that there isn’t more to the story than the one-sided reports that have dominated the media. Only a moron can equate defending a player against charges of racism, and a verdict that they don’t agree with, with condoning racist behaviour, which is a charge that many lazy journalists have levelled at the club.

Only the most myopic person can claim that there isn’t a debate to be had about what happened and that Liverpool and their fans are entitled to ask why not. That Liverpool fans are entitled to know why so much airtime and attention is being given to journalists and people in football who have an axe to grind with the club and no attention is given to those who go too far in their criticisms.

People like Football Against Racism in Europe’s (FARE) Piara Powar, a man who has had plenty to say about Liverpool, and none of it good. Powar recently called an Asian Liverpool fan a ‘coconut’, which can be interpreted to be a highly offensive term, for asking why both he and FARE has kept silent on the Manchester United fan arrested for racism, when he had been very outspoken about the entire LFC fanbase.

This issue may well continue because there’s still no definitive answer as to what happened between Evra and Suarez. There probably never will be. People who hoped for any definitive answers from the report were sadly mistaken. It’s a report filled with so many inconsistencies, suppositions recorded as facts and confusing reasoning, including a verdict that is seemingly at odds with the reports own conclusion, that it simultaneously lends credence to those who believe that Suarez was guilty and justly punished, and those who believe that Suarez has been used as a sacrificial lamb by the authorities to show that they are ‘tough on racism’.

The seeming desperation to beat Liverpool with the racism brush for their support of Suarez lack of self-flagellation after the verdict against Suarez has reached new heights. Suarez serving his punishment hasn’t been enough for many, and any reasonable argument has been drowned out by baying for blood. Liverpool are easy targets and open season has been declared on the club and its fans.

I was at the recent FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Manchester United. I watched the highlights of the game that evening, and ITV confidently reported that a fan had racially abused Patrice Evra with a gesture, a comment that was repeated in many other news and media outlets all over the world. The big problem is that it was a completely false assertion, that idiot in question made the gesture at half-time and in the direction of the United fans, Evra had long since left the pitch.

There were some journalists who claimed that Evra was booed at the recent game at Anfield because he was black. Nonsense. Evra wasn’t booed because he was a black person who had had the temerity to report being racially abused. He was booed because there are many Liverpool fans who believe that he fabricated and exaggerated his testimony and the commission and press lapped up every word. Are we to assume then, that the only reason Suarez was booed at Old Trafford was because he’s mixed-race? Of course not, it’d be preposterous to think so.

I lost all hope that there could be any balanced reporting about Liverpool following the shameful incident where Oldham Athletic’s Tom Adeyemi was racially abused at Anfield. I read in many newspapers and other media outlets that Adeyemi had been abused by a group of fans in Suarez t-shirts. Many of these stories were written and posted hours after the game, when the true story

I knew that no arrests had been made less than an hour after the game when I arrived home. A simple internet search led me to a police statement saying no arrests had been made and that they were still investigating. If I could do that and find the real story, any professional journalist could have done the same.

However the temptation to write another salacious story was evidently too tempting to pass up. Those journalists showed that their outrage and righteous indignation was all false, as if it wasn’t, they’d have cared more about telling the true story rather than going for the cheap headlines.

Suarez and Dalglish have apologised for their parts in the handshake row, but seemingly only doing so when the hierarchy at Liverpool stepped in. The hierarchy seemingly only stepped in when sponsors got nervous at the amount of negative press Liverpool are getting.

But it’s actually quite fitting. A fake apology to stop the fake outrage about a fake handshake that is a fake show of respect.