On Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher finally spoke out against the t-shirts that the Liverpool squad and manager wore in support of Luis Suarez after he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra.
In their roles as pundits for Arsenal’s defeat against Sheffield United, a discussion about racism in football began between Carragher and Evra, with the latter talking about his disappointment over Liverpool’s decision to wear the shirts.
“I was so disappointed after the ban, when the team and Kenny Dalglish came out [with the T-shirts] in support of Luis Suarez,” Evra said. “I saw [the T-shirts]. I was watching the game. I was like, this is ridiculous. It is unbelievable. Even for the club, you put your own club in danger when you do those things. I understand you always have to support your player because this is your team. But this was after the ban. If it was before the ban and you are waiting for the sanctions, but he got the ban. So what message are you sending out to the world when you do that? Supporting someone who has been banned for using racist words?”
Nobody who wore those t-shirts that night in Wigan has ever before acknowledged that it was the wrong thing to do. Liverpool’s current captain, Jordan Henderson, was among the players wearing them but spoke out in unity of Raheem Sterling following the racist abuse he suffered while playing alongside Henderson for England. While this was applauded by many, there were still those, myself included, who pointed out the hypocrisy in doing this after backing Suarez in the same way. Supporting victims of racist abuse counts for little when you supported the abuser before and have never spoken out to acknowledge how wrong that was. Henderson’s view on racism in football seemingly depends on which team the victim plays for.
Yet Carragher has finally spoken out to apologise to Evra, which is the right thing to do, although it’s hard to imagine how else he could have handled the situation, with the Frenchman sitting in front of him. Lifelong Liverpool fan and journalist Tony Evans spelt out all the reasons why Liverpool were wrong to support Suarez in an article last week. There was no avoiding the long overdue apology to Evra.
“There is no doubt that we made a massive mistake,” he said. “That was obvious… I don’t think everybody within Liverpool thought that we were doing what was right. But as a family, as a football club, your first reaction – no matter what someone does – is to support them even if they are wrong. And that is wrong. I am not condoning it, but that is the first reaction. Apologies. We got it massively wrong.”
While I’m pleased to see someone finally taking accountability for Liverpool’s appalling actions, even if Carragher doesn’t represent the club in any official capacity, there are a few mitigating factors.
Eight years have gone by, so what has prompted this sudden realisation that supporting someone found guilty of racially abusing an opponent was wrong?
Could it possibly be the fact that Suarez is no longer a popular figure at Anfield anymore, following his over the top celebration of a goal he scored against them for Barcelona? The club dragged their name through the dirt in support of him, numerous times, but after five years in Spain, the striker let the scousers know how little respect he has for them. They defended him to the hilt when he was one of theirs but now he’s made it clear that he’s not, it’s easier to turn on him.
“I don’t think it will be as warm as he would have hoped,” Carragher said after Barcelona’s victory. “He was Luis Suarez. You love him when he is in your team and you hate him when he plays for the opposition.”
Also, Carragher implies that he didn’t really want to wear the t-shirt but just wasn’t brave enough to speak out about it at the time. He reckons other players felt the same way.
“What I would say is that maybe I, as an individual, lacked the courage to say I wasn’t wearing it,” he said. “Because once the squad has decided… I have to look at myself. I didn’t have enough courage. Maybe there were others.”
The notion that the captain, Steven Gerrard, and vice-captain, Carragher, could be pressured in to doing something they wholeheartedly disagreed with seems fairly flimsy. They were the main voices in that dressing room so it’s hard to believe they would get dragged in to something they didn’t want to be a part of.
When Chelsea captain John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand, there were several players in his dressing room who opted against signing statements in support of him ahead of his trial, including Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Mikel John Obi and Chelsea’s Kick It Out ambassador, Florent Malouda.
It’s strange then that everyone, including the manager, all opted to wear the shirt, even though they knew it was wrong and, interestingly, according to Carragher, didn’t know where the idea first came from.
“I just remember in the team meeting, I don’t know whether it was the manager or Steve Clarke asking one of the players: ‘Are you still wearing the shirts?’ That was the first I had heard of it,” he continued. “I am not lying on that and saying ‘I wasn’t a part of it’ because as a club, we got it wrong and we were all part of it. I was vice-captain. But that was the first I had heard of it that afternoon. So I am not sure who was actually behind it. I know you mention the manager, but I don’t think Kenny had anything to do with it.”
Whether Dalglish was behind it or not, he certainly wasn’t having any doubts over whether it was right to wear it or not. He bloody loved those t-shirts and wore his with pride that evening.
“I think the boys showed their respect and admiration for Luis with wearing the T-shirts,” Dalglish said at the time. “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 deserves it and we will always stand beside him. They will not divide the football club, no matter how hard they try.”
A few weeks later, after a public outcry in the footballing world over the t-shirts, Dalglish had the opportunity to distance himself from them if he, like Carragher suggested, wasn’t behind them. Instead, he opted to double down.
“If one of your guys was in trouble would you help and support him if you knew it was the truth and you knew it was right?” he asked. “If they want to show their support for their team-mate, what is wrong with that? I think it is a fabulous statement to make visually of your support for a guy who is endeared in the dressing room.”
Liverpool fans displayed a flag during their Wednesday night game, which the Liverpool Echo described as “anti-racist”, but it’s not really, is it. It is Liverpool fans trying defend themselves and the club after their prior poor behaviour has been in the news again. Behaviour, I might add, they’ve never expressed any regret over.
I think it’s bigger than Jamie Carragher, it’s the club,” said Rio Ferdinand. “Yet eight years on and still the apology hasn’t come from Liverpool.”
Carragher has said sorry, and I’m pleased that he has, but the club has a long way to go if they really want to redeem themselves and show themselves as genuinely anti-racist. The former vice-captain has tried to distance himself and Dalglish from much of the fault, in an apology that reads something like, “I’m sorry for what we did, but…”, although it looks as though this is as close as we’ll ever get to the scousers admitting that they were in the wrong here.