The Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish declared last night that football required specific guidelines about what language was considered racist, at the end of a week in which his striker Luis Suarez has been dealt an eight-game ban and his former team-mate Alan Hansen has been engulfed in controversy over his use of the word "coloured".
Dalglish, who fully expects Suarez to face a torrent of abuse from opposition fans with Liverpool possibly several weeks away from receiving the written explanation of his FA charge for his abuse of Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, said: "It would be helpful to everyone if someone gave us some guidelines about what you can and cannot say." The manager's request came during a discussion of the criticism Hansen has received after using "coloured" twice on Wednesday night's Match of the Day, although he feels it applies equally to the case of players' language.
The manager's tone was markedly softer yesterday, two days after the FA's independent regulatory commission verdict, and his message was the one Liverpool would have been well advised to adopt 48 hours earlier: that they would not discuss Suarez's conviction until they have received the full written detail on it.
The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, broke his silence yesterday, insisting it was a straightforward conviction for racial abuse rather than a matter of club rivalry and that both sides should move on.
But Dalglish is concerned about the abuse Suarez will receive in relation to the FA charge, with at least five Manchester United fans' chants already in circulation. He said he expects the authorities to be as decisive in their judgement on the fans of offending clubs as they were on Suarez, who has also been dealt a £40,000 fine. "Where [the FA] have to be more supportive is the reaction from people – and then antagonism of the crowds – towards Luis," Dalglish said. "It could be problematic. That is the great problem."
Ironically, Liverpool would need to contact and work with the FA if they want assistance to counteract abuse, much as Tottenham Hotspur did for the systematic purge on homophobic and racist abuse at Thursday's match with Chelsea – though the Anfield club have positioned themselves vastly removed from the FA in their response to Suarez's charge. The FA is unlikely to be able to offer any guidelines on acceptable language, given that the response to specific words is subjective. Liverpool must apply their own sensibilities.
Dalglish has received most criticism for the decision to wear a Suarez T-shirt at Wigan on Wednesday night, 24 hours after the Suarez ban was announced, though he stood by that decision and by Liverpool's statement questioning Evra's reliability as a witness. "The statement couldn't have caused anybody any trouble. I don't think the players have caused any trouble with the FA either with their statement or by their support with the T-shirts," he said. "If we are not in any trouble, we will just leave it at that before we do get into any trouble."
Asked if Liverpool would have been better advised to wait until the written judgement, rather than attacking the commission's decision on Tuesday, Dalglish said: "We don't know what the [written] judgement is and why they came to that judgement. We only know what we know. We came out with what we did from the knowledge we had, and based the statement on that. I think if everybody waited until the statement is written and shown on the FA website, you will have a better idea for why they came to their reasoning."
It is conceivable that the written judgement will be released by the commission chairman, Paul Goulding QC, before the new year – and, if not, very early into 2012. Contrary to the popular impression, it is Goulding who will decide when to release the document to the case's two interested parties – Liverpool and the FA. Despite the FA's battles of the past 12 months with Sir Alex Ferguson, United see out 2011 with the respect of the FA for the dignity with which their manager has avoided any vitriol over Liverpool's renewed attack on Evra. Whether United would have acted in the same way had the decision gone in Liverpool's favour is another story.
Dalglish said Suarez had been "emotional" about the players' support for him and that he had no intention of removing him from the line of fire, given his own relentless desire to play.