Football's inability to avoid scoring own goals when it tackles the issue of racism continued yesterday when an attempt to achieve some sort of closure over a recent incident instead ended in poor sportsmanship, acrimony, scuffles and the intervention of the police.
The scene was the match between Manchester United and Liverpool, and, in particular, the first time that Liverpool's Luis Suarez had come face to face with Patrice Evra, the United player, since serving an eight-game ban for racially abusing the defender last year. The Uruguayan striker pointedly shunned attempts by Evra to shake his hand, and refused again when Evra attempted to pull his arm back. Disgusted by what they had witnessed, the United players Rio Ferdinand and Danny Welbeck refused to shake hands with Suarez moments later as the teams moved past each other.
The incident set the tone for a match where football appeared a distant second to the obvious antagonism between the two sides. Police were forced to separate players amid scuffling in the tunnel at half time and after the final whistle.
Fractious behaviour on the pitch was not helped by attempts at mischief: police seized copies of a Manchester United fanzine, Red Issue, that had printed a cut-out of a Ku Klux Klan hood and the slogan "LFC – Suarez is innocent".
Evra was spoken to by referee Phil Dowd but was reported to have chased after Suarez as the players walked down the tunnel at halftime. According to Sky Sports, a melee erupted outside the dressing rooms, forcing stewards and police to intervene. After the match, an emotional Evra danced in delight in front of the United fans, patted the badge on his jersey to whip up the crowd and - tellingly - ran past Suarez who was trudging off the pitch dejectedly. Liverpool players Jose Reina and Martin Skrtel rushed over to protest against Evra's actions. Stewards and police had to intervene for a second time.
All this at the end of a week in which John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy pending a court case in which he will answer a charge of racial abuse of black player Anton Ferdinand. And just a few days after Manchester City and England's Micah Richards said he was quitting Twitter because of racial abuse he had suffered from posters on the social networking site.
Back at Manchester, the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez was "a disgrace". He said he should not to be allowed to play for Liverpool ever again, and accused Suarez of creating a "terrible atmosphere" that "could have caused a riot. He should be ashamed." He added: "Football's come a long way from the days of John Barnes, when they were throwing bananas at him, to where we are today. We can't go back." Liverpool's manager, Kenny Dalglish, said he had not seen the handshake incident.Reuse content