James Lawton: Managers must come together to drag game back from brink

Ferguson and Dalglish hold key to restoring a great rivalry sullied by shameful episode

Old Trafford

No one died here but in all other respects it was football's version of ground zero. It was where any relish for the game, any love of it for its own sake, its skills and sometimes beautiful rhythm, was likely to be tracked down and wilfully desecrated.

After Luis Suarez had chilled the blood with the coldness of his decision to wreck hopes that this occasion might have carried some semblance of a new start by ignoring the offer of Patrice Evra's hand, and Evra later milked the situation with all the reflective power of a self-congratulatory lemming as he postured beside the departing Uruguayan, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish made a statement so evasive, so detached from the reality of how it had been in the stadium, it was almost beyond belief.

Certainly it left, where we had hoped for some spontaneous decency, a vacuum that was hardly filled yesterday by the apologies from Suarez, Dalglish and Liverpool managing director, Ian Ayre, which came in response to outrage which had never been so intense or widespread at any point in the whole desperate episode.

Dalglish declared: "I think that predominately both sets of fans behaved really well. They had a bit of banter between each other, no problem, right. How many bookings were there? End of story."

The dictionary definition of banter, it may be necessary to remind ourselves, is, "good-natured teasing".

For a moment let us forget that a United fanzine was confiscated by police for its inflammatory images of racism. Or that the black armbands worn by United players on the anniversary of the Munich tragedy could not, for the most practical of reasons, be accompanied by a minute's silence in memory of the lost but magically unforgettable young team.

Such a tribute would have been an invitation to some of the profanity besieging Wayne Rooney right up to the moments he destroyed Liverpool soon after half-time. No, put on one side those depressing facts and consider how it was standing, for just a few minutes before kick-off, in the concourse beneath the main stand, a place filled with fans of both clubs, including many young boys and girls. There you could hear what Dalglish would later pass off as banter.

You could hear United's fans chanting "Murderers" in reference to that other tragedy in the Heysel Stadium.

You could hear the riposte, "Munich scum".

There were cries of "Racist bastards" and "Always the victims, never to blame". And of Evra, from the Liverpool fans: "One lying bastard."

Suarez's Doomsday behaviour was almost beyond comment, more a provocation to seek out a cold shower, but Sir Alex Ferguson said, anyway, that it was a disgrace to the game and that Liverpool should kick him out. He would say that, wouldn't he, but to be fair this was a day that couldn't simply be passed into the great maw of the game's tribal hatred and the growing sense that no one, and least of all some of football's best rewarded players, has either the wit or the grace to cry halt.

Ferguson did at least sigh and disapprove when Evra's behaviour, on the very shoulder of Suarez as he trooped off the field, was described.

This was in sharp contrast to another of Dalglish's statements, the one addressed to a television interviewer, which said: "I think you are bang out of order to blame Luis Suarez for anything that happened here today, right."

We cannot blame Suarez for the historic hatred between the two most successful clubs in English history, no more than the notable rabble-rousing of Gary Neville in the past, but we can say that in less than a year at Anfield he is surely responsible for its most ferocious and wrenching expression.

Suarez, who left Dutch football with the nickname Cannibal of Ajax after biting into the shoulder of an opponent, on Saturday held a day vital to the good health of his adopted football in the palm of his right hand. Having been found guilty of racial abuse, having served his sentence, a simple, universally understood gesture could have indeed signalled a fresh start.

Instead he chose to re-admit all the demons that have congregated so rapaciously in recent months and without any hint of censure from Liverpool, the club of Shankly and Liddell and of a tradition which at its zenith was, both on the field and the terraces, a monument to the most warming spirit of battle and open-hearted love of the great carnival of football.

However cold the night, you could warm yourself at Anfield more thoroughly than on any ground in England. The young star of United, and survivor of Munich, Bobby Charlton would regularly scrounge a ticket and consider the ribbing he suffered as the cheapest price. But then it was a time when banter was banter and not undisguised venom.

The disfigurement which came at Old Trafford on Saturday had its origins and momentum, of course, in the behaviour of Suarez – and even at this desperately late hour it is surely incumbent on his club, and his manager, if on this issue he has retained any ability to distinguish right from wrong, to do what was so clearly beyond the player when his contempt for the man he claimed to have addressed affectionately as "negrito" was so palpable it was as though he didn't exist.

Yesterday's news that the government was about to call a summit meeting on "racism in sport" was hardly a surprise. How better, after all, to nudge the NHS and unemployment figures down the news agenda for a day or two? More productive, hopefully, will be the call of the players' union chief, Gordon Taylor, that the game should take some long-needed steps to heal itself.

Certainly it is not hard to imagine something more likely to encourage a new mood than a summit meeting that would have far more relevance than anything fashioned by Downing Street spin artists.

It is the idea of an authentic football summit meeting between Ferguson and Dalglish.

Older differences than those created by the Suarez affair would have to buried – or at least suspended. There would have to be an understanding that a joint communiqué between the two leaders of their tribes should carry a genuine note of two vastly experienced and iconic football men, saying it was time to do something on behalf not of petty interests but the entire game.

If you were in Old Trafford at the weekend you would have seen that short of such an initiative the poison is running hard into a high tide.

You could not forget how it was when the masters of Anfield and Old Trafford, Shankly and Busby, sparred so affectionately – and when both men spoke of their duty to enhance the lives of their people. Busby's supreme message was always echoed by Shankly. It was not about how many trophies their teams might win but how much pleasure and distraction they created for working men and women.

Suarez, principally, and Evra to a large extent, proved that they were incapable of understanding the nature of the problem that had been created. They were locked into a cycle that was beyond their powers, or their humility, to break.

It means that the requirement is for bigger, more experienced men, who just happen to have gained huge reward and recognition down the years. Men, obviously, like Ferguson and Dalglish, who might just stand shoulder to shoulder and say that they are ready to move the game they profess to love back from ground zero.

If they can't do it, who can?

Sir David Attenborough
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness