James Lawton: The campaign to kick out racism is being swamped by football's tribal loyalties

Comment

Even on Merseyside, where some have long claimed that victimhood is not so much a tendency as a vocation, doubts are emerging about the wisdom, not to mention the morality, of the decision of Liverpool Football Club to dress their players in training tops depicting Luis Suarez.

The hero, the brilliantly gifted Uruguayan forward, has drawn this ferocious support from his employers despite being handed an eight-match ban after being found guilty by a regulatory commission of racially abusing the Manchester United player Patrice Evra.

Somewhere deeply buried is the conclusion of the panel, chaired by a QC, that Suarez is indeed guilty of provoking his opponent with multiple references to the colour of his skin. In the fiercely partisan debate this seems to be the first casualty. One respected local commentator says: "The concern is that the club have gone too far in their support of a player who has been found guilty of a racist offence – they have acted before receiving the written report from the chairman of the FA commission, a QC. Losing such an important player for eight matches is a big blow, but of course there are issues – and they are rather important."

Particularly dismaying for anyone removed from the Liverpool trenches is that the unequivocal support for Suarez has been largely marshalled by Kenny Dalglish, the club manager and one of the most iconic figures in British football.

Another bleak conclusion is unavoidable. The Suarez case, and the one being prosecuted by the Metropolitan Police against Chelsea and England captain John Terry, who is accused of racial abuse against Queens Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand, has exposed extreme and deep-seated divisions of opinion. They can be categorised easily enough. Almost everything, it seems, depends on which team you happen to support.

Suarez was booed throughout Liverpool's game at Wigan on Wednesday night. Terry suffered the same fate at Tottenham on Thursday. Both players, however, have been given unequivocal support by their clubs and a huge majority of supporters.

Inescapable for the campaigners of Kick it Out, a pressure group dedicated to rooting out the remnants of the racism so rampant in English football in the 1970s and 1980s, is that the issue they raise is in danger of being swamped by football's tribal loyalties.

So many supporters appear to have adopted the old patriotic slogan and adapted it to "My club, my player – right or wrong". This is the most dispiriting development in what was supposed to be the last assault on racial prejudice in England's leading football league.

It is a residue of blind support, sanctioned by one of the nation's most famous football clubs.

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