Kenny Dalglish has contributed to football in a number of ways, which is why he has been recognised with a knighthood this week. As both a player and a manager, Dalglish has been a champion of England, an FA Cup winner and has lifted European trophies. His career spanned decades.
He was the runner up for the Ballon d’Or, coming a distant second to Michel Platini, as well as winning player of the year awards in England. While his managerial successes were dwarfed by what he achieved as a player, he has still claimed as many English league title wins as Bill Shankly, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.
For many, Dalglish’s contribution to the sport in terms of success is superseded by his response to the Hillsborough disaster, when, as manager of the club, he witnessed the deaths of 96 supporters in an FA Cup tie.
Dalglish attended every funeral and has supported the justice campaign to ensure that the guilty parties were held accountable for their actions that day.
Yet there is still an elephant in the room when it comes to analysing Dalglish’s career, a moment, or several moments, that Sir Alex Ferguson believed cost the Liverpool manager his job during his second stint in charge of the club.
“I wasn’t surprised at Kenny leaving,” he said. “John Henry has obviously looked at that and felt it wasn’t handled in the right way. It certainly wasn’t a nice thing to happen and it must have been part of it.”
Luis Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra by an independent panel commissioned by the FA. Suarez admitted to calling the United left-back a “negro” during an argument in a game between Liverpool and Manchester United. South American language experts determined that, while the term may not necessarily be racially motivated when used between friends, it was clearly racist abuse when used in the context Suarez admitted.
The Uruguayan acknowledged he kicked Evra and an argument between the two ensued. Angry words were exchanged before Suarez used the fateful insult.
In response to the guilty verdict, Dalglish and the Liverpool squad wore t-shirts with Suarez’s picture on the front and name on the back.
“I think the boys showed their respect and admiration for Luis with wearing the T-shirts,” Dalglish said. “It is a great reflection of the man as a character, a person and a footballer that the boys have been so supportive and so have the supporters. He has earned that, has deserved it and we will always stand beside him. They will not divide the football club, no matter how hard they try.”
Dalglish wasn’t the first manager to employ siege mentality when one of his players was under attack but there are some actions that should not be condoned or defended. To suggest that Suarez was the victim in this instance and that the footballing authorities were out to get him, or the club, was misguided and only further fuelled the supporters in behaving in an unacceptable way.
When Evra next played at Anfield, Evra’s every touch was greeted with boos and whistles from large numbers of the home crowd, as well as songs about him being a liar. If the Liverpool supporters had taken the time to read the FA’s report, they would have known that Suarez admitted to using the word Evra claimed he was called.
After the game, Dalglish failed to condemn the fans for this embarrassing behaviour, dismissing their victimisation of Evra as a “wee bit of banter”, while claiming the Liverpool fans were “well-behaved”.
Evra has suffered the same abuse every time he returned to Anfield, as both a Manchester United and West Ham United player. Had Dalglish recognised and publicly acknowledged it was wrong to target Evra for further insult, merely for being Suarez’s chosen target of racial abuse, then maybe this wouldn’t have been the case. He had a responsibility to shut it down but his defence of the indefensible added fuel to the fire.
United supporters have been guilty in the past of singing songs about Wenger being a paedophile. Ferguson publicly criticised the fanbase for this and told them to stop. As a result, the songs stopped being sung en masse. It’s a brave move to lambast your own supporters, but is necessary if clubs want unacceptable behaviour from their fans to change.
That’s not to say that Ferguson has played a perfect role when it comes to racism in football though. In the 1996-96 season, Ian Wright jumped in studs up on Peter Schmeichel, clattering the goalkeeper’s ankle, and a scuffle continued as the players went in to the tunnel, with the Arsenal striker having to be pulled away. Wright claimed that Schmeichel was guilty of racially abusing him.
Months later, after the case had been referred to the CPS for prosecution, it was announced there wasn’t the evidence to take it to trial. Wright had been approached by the CPS on three occasions to make a statement but he declined. No one else on the pitch heard what Wright said he heard.
We don’t know what went on that day and it would be wrong to claim that Wright fabricated it, just as it would be to say Schmeichel was definitely guilty. The former goalkeeper is the only person who knows what he said and if he did use a racial slur it is unlikely he will ever admit that now.
Unlike Evra vs Suarez, where the player admitted to using the racial slur, Schmeichel protested his innocence and there wasn’t the evidence to prove otherwise. Footage had been reviewed and lip readers had been employed but there wasn’t anything shown to suggest that Schmeichel was guilty, other than Wright’s reaction, which was similar to that of Mason Holgate’s after an exchange of words with Firmino last season.
Still, Wright later claimed that Ferguson had accused him of “playing the race card” which, if true, would be unacceptable. There’s no reason to suspect that Wright wouldn’t be telling the truth here, so this is an example of Ferguson getting it totally wrong.
Yet if Schmeichel had been found guilty of wrong-doing and Ferguson had behaved in the same way as Dalglish did, claiming the club had been targeted, and showed up on the telly in a Schmeichel t-shirt, maybe we would have a comparison worth talking about. But that obviously was not the case.
Another mistake Ferguson made in this area is when he criticised Rio Ferdinand for refusing to wear a Kick It Out t-shirt in the 2012-13 season.
The FA are founding and funding partners of Kick It Out which unfortunately means they have a conflict of interests. It is the FA that dish out punishments for racism so it is part of KIO’s responsibility to tackle them on this. When you consider Joey Barton received a 12 match ban for going nuts on the final game of the 2011-12 season at the Etihad, which is equivalent to Luis Suarez and John Terry’s bans for racism combined, it highlights the issues of the FA’s handling of racism.
In response to Terry’s ban, KIO released a statement, but Ferdinand felt the organisation should have done more. But will they bite the hand that feeds them? Will they tear a strip off FA for their handling of racism? Possibly not if they want the FA to continue funding them.
Ferdinand, like several other players across the league, felt that simply wearing a t-shirt in a warm up wasn’t enough to tackle the problem. He didn’t want to show support for an organisation he didn’t believe were doing enough.
Jason Roberts, Joleon Lescott and every player at Swansea and Wigan apparently agreed. “It seems like the authorities don’t have the stomach to take this on, and if the players don’t take it on then nobody will,” Roberts said. “I find it hard to wear a T-shirt after what has happened in the last year. I won’t wear one. I’m totally committed to kicking racism out of football but when there’s a movement I feel represents the issue in the way that speaks for me and my colleagues, then I will happily support it.”
Yet after the game, when Ferguson was asked about Ferdinand’s stance, instead of showing support for his player, or trying to understand the point Rio was making, he instead talked of his embarrassment.
“I am disappointed,” he said. “I said on Friday that the players would be wearing it in support of the PFA and that every player should adhere to it. It is embarrassing for me.”I wrote at the time about my frustration over Ferguson making comments like these. Of course football is about tribalism, and of course we may defend things that one of our own does that we would criticise a rival player for, but there are some issues that have to be bigger than football.
Thankfully, having spoken to the player after the game, Ferguson realised the error of his ways and took on board Ferdinand’s feelings on the matter.
“The issue is pretty simple,” he said. “There was a communication problem. He felt I should have spoken to him on Friday and I didn’t anticipate there would be any problem in the dressing room as far as the T-shirt was concerned. I have listened to the conviction of Rio and I think it is quite compelling. I can understand his stance.”
Still, Ferguson being out of touch doesn’t mean his behaviour should be equated to that of Dalglish’s.
From start to finish, the Liverpool man handled the Suarez-Evra situation appallingly. Immediately after the game, Dalglish was in the referee’s office at Anfield claiming that the left-back had made a false accusation of this nature before. This was an incorrect statement but is further testimony to his desperation to paint Evra as the guilty party in the exchange, even if that meant blaming the victim.
This wasn’t the first case of racism that Evra had been involved in before, but it was the first time the player had made the claim himself.
In 2008, a Chelsea groundsman was accused of calling Evra an “f**king immigrant” after United players took part in a warm-down following a game at Stamford Bridge. The insult is something two United coaches claimed they heard, while Evra himself never made the accusation. The FA report read: “Mr Evra has never claimed to have heard such a remark on that day.”
Two years earlier, Evra was involved in another incident where deaf fans reported racist abuse against the player by Steve Finnan after lip reading an altercation between the players. As in the case with Chelsea, Evra didn’t make any complaint of racism.
Dalglish has made a significant contribution to the sport and many will argue that he deserves recognition, despite his poor handling of Suarez’s case of racist abuse.
Where you stand on the issue will likely depend on how much you love Liverpool and, or, how strong your stance against racism is. Should the support of someone found guilty of racial abuse rule you out from receiving a knighthood? Quite simply, yes. But worse characters than Dalglish have been bestowed with the honour before now. You could argue that the time for any Order of the British Empire has been and gone.
The love-in for Dalglish is understandable. It’s at times like these that you expect all his impressive contributions to be reeled off. But the stark absence of acknowledging any of his previous misdemeanours in the write ups this morning shows the ongoing issues racism still plays in football.