Ian Herbert: Liverpool striker Luis Suarez - an ideal pantomime villain for the age of outrage
The nation is not so consumed by apocalyptic horror at his bite as we'd like to think
Just follow the headlines for a real sense of how the nation feels about Luis Suarez. "Same old Suarez, always eating!" "Gnash of the Day". The Sun were more than matched by The Guardian's rather good "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves?" before our "Morning after the bite before". The tone pretty much reflects the tenor of Twitter since Suarez got his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic's shirt – though possibly not into his skin, because that's not been broken, but that's another story.
There's been a #suarezhungry hashtag on Twitter, and a few "Best Luis Suarez bites Ivanovic" on some of those football-themed website repositories. "Eat Ivanovic then ask for Cech" and "All Bran(ovic)". Nice. Even Patrice Evra joined the party with an inflatable arm that he bit into at Old Trafford on Monday.
All of which tells you that the nation is not quite so consumed by apocalyptic horror about all this as we'd like to think. Horror is a sensation provoked by replaying the Roy Keane "tackle" on Alf-Inge Haaland in 1997 and no one was suggesting that he should have played his last game for Manchester United. Let's be honest – this is not so much collective horror as a vicarious pleasure in a perfectly formed pantomime plot, with a clearly defined villain.
Outrage is great for filling up the vast black holes of space in the rolling news era. We're in an age of national outrage, when one footballer can feel another one make to bite him and find police officers waiting for him to disembark from a coach in the middle of the Surrey night, to check his skin for marks. There were none, actually. Suarez did not break the Chelsea defender's skin and we can take Merseyside Police's word for this.
Ivanovic had "no apparent physical injuries", they said in a statement on Monday. What have we actually seen, then? Something encapsulated by Alan Smith's remarks on the Sky Sports commentary: "He must have sunk his teeth in there I think. That's what it looks like. Oh my word." And that really was the most Smith could have said, because the only evidence we have is 44 seconds of inconclusive footage, followed by Ivanovic pointing to his arm.
The Football Association said in its own statement a few hours after Merseyside Police's that "the standard punishment of three matches that would otherwise apply is clearly insufficient in these circumstances". Simply to make to bite someone is disgraceful and today's FA three-man independent regulatory commission must act swiftly and comprehensively when they see today that Suarez has. But "clearly insufficient" in what way? On the basis of a case which is not exactly overwhelmed with evidence, the FA seems to have made its minds up already. The governing body has issued a statement that prejudices the outcome of the tribunal, having ensured, to the point of extreme and understandable secrecy, that last year's tribunal governing Suarez's racist abuse of Patrice Evra was not similarly prejudiced.
It's a cultural thing that has helped inflate this perfect storm. The English football spirit tells us that our national game is a physical game and that to stamp is lower down the scale of the intolerable than the spiteful act of biting or spitting. It's a media thing. Biting is new. It's news, in a way that England hooker Dylan Hartley biting the finger of Ireland's Stephen Ferris last March was not. (A decade has passed since Aussie rules player Peter Filandia's 10-game suspension for biting an opponent's testicles during a game, so don't let's conjure the thought.) It's a Suarez thing. Any other player and it is only news for a few days.
The subplot that links Suarez with Mike Tyson, who we're told has started following the player on Twitter, really is the most incredible part of all. As if there is actually any parallel between Tyson chewing off part of Evander Holyfield's ear and Ivanovic feeling Suarez make to bite him. All part of the pantomime, as is the so-called involvement of "Number 10". David Cameron's spokesman has said: "It is rightly a matter for the football authorities to consider."
Scandal doesn't look like this. Scandal is a Crown Court judge, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, meeting Hillsborough families whose case he was about to consider, in October 1997, and when some of the families did not turn up, making a joke about the Disaster. "Have you got a few of your people or are they like Liverpool fans, turning up at the last minute?" the judge asked Phil Hammond, who lost his 14-year-old son at Hillsborough. The day of reckoning for years of obfuscation, deceit and institutional failings will come a step nearer, with a preliminary inquest hearing in London tomorrow. You can bet the coverage won't hold a candle to the Suarez storm.
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