In October 2011, Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra in a game between Manchester United and Liverpool. The Uruguayan striker was found guilty and banned from playing for eight games. In Suarez’s own evidence he admitted to calling Evra “negro”, which South American language experts confirmed was a racist comment. They conceded that if the word was used in a friendly way between mates that there may not be racist connotations, but Suarez was deemed an unreliable witness when admitting the term was used in the middle of an argument after he had kicked Evra. Suarez was then seen pinching Evra’s skin, which he claimed to be a conciliatory action, which again was deemed nonsense and further evidence of the racist abuse he had just dished out.
In the official United podcast, Evra has reflected on what happened during the game, and how the referee, Andre Marriner, told our former left-back to play on after he reported the racism.
The referee came over and asked what was happening with us two. He’d seen my eyes change and he asked if I was okay. I told him he racially abused me and he said: ‘Okay, we’ll talk after the game. Keep playing and don’t do anything silly’.
I remember, during that game, I was talking to myself saying: ‘If you punch him now, people will see you as the bad one. People will forget about what he said’. I was talking to myself: ‘Don’t do… do it…’ I wasn’t focused for the game.
When we went to the hearing with Luis Suarez and he started lying and saying when he says ‘negro’, he means ‘friend’. I said: ‘That is not my name. My mum gave me a name, not a colour’. I know that, in South America, when some fans see a black player they will call him ‘negro’ and sometimes it’s nice, sometimes not nice. Anyway, my name is not ‘black’, it’s Patrice. So we argued, but Sky have some good footage where you can see him actually say it. In the end, he admitted it and he was banned for eight games, and he had a massive fine.
In response to Suarez being found guilty, alarmingly the Liverpool squad and manager went in to their next game wearing t-shirts in support of the striker.
I remember after that, Liverpool played a game and they all wore the T-shirts saying ‘support Suarez’. He had been banned for racist abuse, had been fined and they support him that way. I was confused and upset.
In Evra’ first game against Liverpool, as was the case in every game he has played against them since, whether for United or any other team, the Anfield crowd booed his every touch and chanted about him being a liar. Kenny Dalglish afterwards claimed the fans were very well behaved and it was just a “wee bit of banter“.
One man was even spotted in the crowd doing a monkey impression and was given a four year ban from attending football games.
Yet this shameful behaviour continued when Evra was at Juventus and West Ham. Suarez was long gone, having left for Barcelona, yet still they continued to jeer Evra for being the victim of racist abuse.
Manchester United received so many threatening letters about me. People said: ‘We’re in jail, we’re Liverpool fans. When we get out, we’re going to kill you and your family’. For two months, I had security everywhere I went. They were sleeping in front of my house. Everywhere I went, the security followed me. It was a tough time, but I wasn’t scared. My family were scared: my wife and brother, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why people hated me so much.
Throughout this time, no apology from the club was ever offered to Evra, other than when Suarez refused to shake his hand ahead of kick-off the next time the clubs met, and their t-shirts were swept under the carpet.
When Suarez scored against Liverpool in the Champions League, celebrating wildly against his former club, some Liverpool fans began to look at their behaviour.
When Jamie Carragher joined Evra as a pundit on Sky Sports, he claimed that the t-shirts had been organised by the Spanish players, and that he and Steven Gerrard went along with it. The idea that the two main leaders in the dressing room could have been convinced to do something they didn’t agree with was fairly laughable. Still, Carragher, now with no official link to the club, apologised to Evra.
With the club having been publicly shamed again, years after the initial incident, Liverpool wrote to Evra to apologise.
When I did the punditry on Sky and Jamie Carragher apologised after eight years, I was so surprised. He said they made a big mistake that day and he apologised. It really touched me and now I will respect Liverpool as a football club because, when this happened, I was really disappointed with the club. I received an email from the chairman of Liverpool apologising for what happened nine years ago. He said I was welcome to come to Liverpool if I need anything.
It really touched me because it’s better late than never. But I was surprised that Liverpool supported that kind of attitude. When you have those kind of problems, people around you just think you are crying. Even when I said: ‘You will see the report’, people thought I was still talking about it. I wasn’t still talking about it – I even named Suarez Player of the Year that year. I could evaluate Suarez on the pitch and know the person he was. It was a tough, tough, tough time.