Liverpool left diminished by mishandled case

Dalglish's utter certainty that Suarez was innocent and confusion in the club's defence reflects badly on Anfield, writes Ian Herbert

It is a tale of two testimonies – one of them almost entirely consistent, one of them utterly chaotic. But the account of why Luis Suarez has been convicted of abusing Patrice Evra – laid out in such unsparing detail by an independent commission that we even know that a blue-and-yellow coin was spun for kick-off on the fateful October afternoon Liverpool met Manchester United at Anfield – is also one of two managers.

Sir Alex Ferguson, whose player came to him in the dressing room with an allegation of racial abuse, was the manager who calmly placed the course of the future in that individual's hands – "What do you want to do about it?" he asked Evra – and who then took control of the situation. Ferguson's instruction that referee Andre Marriner ought to take a verbatim note when he and Evra arrived in the officials' room showed an individual who knew just how significant this allegation was.

Kenny Dalglish, the manager who had everything to lose from a flabby defence of Suarez, was far less in touch, although he certainly knew what was heading his way before Marriner's fourth official, Phil Dowd, knocked on the Liverpool dressing room door at around 2.45pm on 15 October and asked him to head for the officials' room.

Walls have ears in the tight back corridors of Anfield and Liverpool's match-day administration manager, Ray Haughan, had overheard Marriner's conversation with Ferguson and Evra. Yet Dalglish responded to Dowd with a joke about the rule preventing managers not approaching officials within 30 minutes of the final whistle and when Marriner later explained Evra's accusation, the manager's response was: "Hasn't he done this before?"

The implication that Evra is an unreliable witness has been rehearsed over and over by Liverpool in the past two months but the Football Association's commission's115-page reasoning for Suarez's conviction reveals it was entirely absent from the Uruguayan's case, put by Peter McCormick QC.

The written note Ferguson suggested Marriner take in that chaotic first hour at Anfield proved deeply significant in the commission's damning conclusion. It described as "implausible" and "simply incredible" Suarez's defence: that his use of the words "por que, negro?" in an exchange with Evra was entirely harmless. If there was one lesson Liverpool might have taken from United on matters like this, it is the importance of intelligent, consistent evidence. When United claimed racial abuse against Chelsea after the so-called "Battle of Stamford Bridge" in 2008, a commission damned the club for the "inconsistent" and "exaggerated" evidence of coaches Mike Phelan and Tony Strudwick.

Liverpool's evidence was worse – incomparably worse – and the club appear to have been blinded by pure contempt that a United player should lay this claim at their door. Liverpool threatened to pursue a defamation claim against Evra within 24 hours of his allegation and when Gordon Taylor, the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive, appealed for dialogue and an apology for any offence caused, Liverpool would have none of it.

It is important to note the allegations first made against Suarez have not been proven in their full, initial enormity and the commission has not found the striker guilty of any form of racism. Evra initially alleged an n-word far more vile than "negro" but now accepts he did not hear "nigger".

In interview, the defender translated negro as the French negre, which translates as both "negro" and "nigger". But the insulting and abusive reference to the colour of a player's skin is still outlawed under the FA's Rule E3(1) for good reason and it has been in their hapless effort to get their story straight on this issue that Liverpool have embarrassed themselves.

There was an attempt to get some facts out that afternoon at Anfield, although it proved to be a fateful enterprise. The commission's report lays out that Liverpool's director of football, Damien Comolli, an accomplished linguist, realised the gravity of the accusation against Suarez, questioned him in Spanish and then related to Marriner the Uruguayan's story of how, after Evra had said, "Don't touch me, South American", Suarez had replied, "Por que, tu eres negro?" (Why, because you are black?) – words corroborated by Dalglish and Dirk Kuyt. Comolli actually spelt out the Spanish to Dowd, Marriner's designated note-taker, though did not appeared to realise that this aggressive allusion to a player's skin colour might be a breach of Rule E3(1).

Perhaps Suarez did, because he subsequently claimed his response to Evra had merely been "por que negro?" (why, black?) positing "negro" as a colloquial Uruguayan Spanish term of affection. When the discrepancies between Suarez and his colleagues' witness statements became apparent, Liverpool clearly realised they had a problem and stories started changing. Suarez claimed a "misunderstanding" on the parts of both Comolli and Kuyt, who agreed that yes, of course, there must have been one. But the commission saw right through that and deemed Suarez's claims that "negro" was a term of such affection that he used it on team-mate Glen Johnson equally hollow.

The commission's commendably exhaustive work included the use of Manchester University linguistics experts to show that colloquial "negro" is equally likely to be a malign term.

In the absence of video to lip-read from, it also analysed the players' body language at moments crucial to the case. There was no endearment about the way Suarez used "negro" – and no evidence that Evra had said "South American" in the first place. The Uruguayan's reliability as a witness collapsed and, in a case which pitted Evra's word against his, the remainder of the Frenchman's accusations were found to be valid.

Evra's reputation was actually enhanced. He admitted he initiated the verbal sparring with Suarez with the phrase "concha de tu hermana", which translates literally as an unprintable slight on an individual's sister, though colloquially as "you son of a bitch".

But obscenity is not the same as dishonesty and the United player's preparedness to admit he had started things – "even though it reflected badly on him" as the commission noted – counted in his favour as an "impressive witness who gave evidence... in a calm, composed and clear manner". The commission tried six times to pin Suarez down on another piece of his evidence, relating to why he touched Evra's head, before he was forced to admit that an initial statement suggesting this had been a conciliatory gesture had been false.

Liverpool's legal team went to remarkable attempts in seeking to explain why Evra would fabricate allegations against Suarez, including the motive of "vengeance" for a sequence of events going wrong at Anfield, including Evra disputing the coin-toss.

The commission was told that Evra, who always calls yellow and never blue – a Manchester City colour – on the Fifa coin was adamant that yellow-side up gave him the right to choose ends, which he badly wanted. "We consider this submission to be unrealistic," the commission concluded.

The driver of Liverpool's blind faith in Suarez has been Dalglish, whose utter certainty before Christmas that the striker would be acquitted and free to play throughout suggests he misread the events of the three-day hearing as completely as the first exchanges that afternoon at Anfield.

Ferguson's only words on the subject, delivered on 23 December, suggest he foresaw the outcome: "Our support of Patrice was obvious right from the word go and that's still the same. The matter is over."

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
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

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn