James Lawton: This whole sorry mess will bring new levels of vigilance


Liverpool still don't get it, not completely, but they have offered a degree of apology – and so has their player Luis Suarez. Given all that has gone before, all the churning self-interest displayed by one of the great clubs of Europe, the deadening sense that the issue was something less than fundamental to the good name of English football, we probably should be grateful for the concession.

It means that the door on at least one half of the racism controversy that erupted around Suarez and Chelsea and England captain John Terry can be closed with some measure of relief that an extremely valuable point – and precedent – has been achieved. While Liverpool still harbour criticism of the Football Association following the eight-game suspension of Suarez, after an independent regulatory panel decided he had racially abused Manchester United's Patrice Evra, the mood at Anfield has clearly become more placatory.

Though neither Suarez nor the club can bring themselves to a direct apology to Evra, there is regret that "anyone" was offended and the club now acknowledge that their response to the crisis was rather less than perfect.

For football's Kick It Out anti-racism campaign there are certainly grounds to believe the whole fraught business has brought one huge bonus. It lies in the sense that any complacency that the problem here has long been resolved has been swept away in the weeks of angry debate. If this is true, Kick it Out may well conclude that a turning point came when Liverpool's players and their manager appeared in training tops emblazoned with the name of Suarez.

Kenny Dalglish (left) has been intransigent in his belief that this was nothing more than a statement of support for a valued team-mate and friend but calmer judgement has, we have to believe, taken into account the widespread revulsion.

No doubt the Suarez-Evra collision has sorely taxed the disciplinary resources of the FA, but it is also true that among neutrals there is a powerful feeling that on this occasion at least the ruling authority turned its back on the easier options. Its reward, it seems certain, will be new levels of vigilance by both match and club officials. Both Liverpool and Suarez have paid a price for the player's belief he could say what he wanted without any challenge to his interpretation of what consisted of inoffensive familiarity and what at least one recipient considered outright racial taunting.

This, as the disciplinary panel acknowledged, was a difficult case, demanding the most rigorous effort to get to the truth. Suarez's apology for the language he used, however partial it is, thus amounts to some considerable reward.

If the implications of remorse are not huge, there is recognition of the need in the future for a more decent use of language. So can we say this resolve has really been worth all the trouble and the strife? Yes, because it is more than a satisfactory result. It was always the whole point of the exercise.