It is important to consider the position of black Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the Luis Suarez race row, writes Janice Allen-Brade
I am a football fan, I have lived in Liverpool for 14 years and I am black. The controversy over the racist abuse case between Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra has made me rethink my feelings towards the city and Liverpool supporters. But that is nothing compared to the dilemmas faced by Liverpool's black fans. In all the debate about this issue their perspective has been overlooked.
On Liverpool message boards there are posts from fans claiming to be black that condone the club's stance. But among those I have spoken to, it is clear that, although opinion may differ on whether they view Suárez's remarks as offensive, they are united on one front: Suárez should have received some form of punishment.
Toxteth-born Ronnie Doforo has supported Liverpool for 45 years. Prior to the incident he would not have heard a word said against the club. His opinion has changed. "The word 'negro' doesn't offend me – Martin Luther King used it repeatedly in his 'I Have a Dream' speech, which is on display in my front room. But this word has no place in the game of football," says Ronnie.
"Suárez should not have called Patrice Evra 'negro' and there can be no getting away from this. We all know what he meant – he said it enough times. As soon as Suárez admitted what he had said, Liverpool should have fined him and made him apologise, sending out the message that the club does not stand for racial abuse of any kind, instead of waiting for the FA to make a decision."
Ronnie feels that Liverpool, with its diverse following across the world, has abandoned something he thought it stood for, because of money. "The club has gone out of its way to protect Suárez because he cost £22.8 million. To them, Liverpool is a business. Real supporters would not condone this kind of behaviour. I feel more let down by the club than by what Suárez said. Though I remain a loyal supporter, as a black fan, I now see the club in a different light."
Liverpudlian Phil Boyle, whose parents are Nigerian, says he kept an open mind about Evra's allegations while awaiting the FA ruling. However, he was disappointed with fans who felt Evra should "get on with it". "Many people feel racial name-calling is just another part of the game, a way of getting one-over on another player, and this is merely what Suárez was doing," says Phil. "But to me it is totally unacceptable. From the grassroots up, many non-black players will say: 'It has always been that way, players should shake hands and forget about it.' But this serves only to perpetuate racial abuse on and off the pitch. I also felt let down when the team warmed up in Suárez T-shirts. It was as if they were saying just because someone has racially abused another player doesn't make them a racist, which was irresponsible."
Jeff Wiltshire feels so strongly about the issue he has stopped supporting Liverpool altogether. "When I saw Evra's reaction," he says, "I knew something serious had happened – as only a black person would. I could accept Liverpool's initial response. I think most employees would want the same reaction from their employer. But as it became more and more clear the allegations against Suárez had foundation, I became increasingly disgusted by the club's reaction. I haven't been able to watch them since. Kenny Dalglish, once my idol, has let me down."
What about Suárez's eight-match ban? "It isn't long enough – Suárez should never play again. He knew the impact using the word ‘negro'. Ignorance stopped being an excuse hundreds of years ago," says Jeff. "Much has been written about what Evra said to Suárez and, if true, Evra should also be punished. He may not be a saint but neither am I. It wouldn't be right for a fellow professional to racially abuse me at work, so it shouldn't be any different for Evra."
Personally, I have taken to avoiding conversations on the issue because I find the lengths people will go to rationalise Suárez's behaviour depressing. It is far more upsetting than the initial offence. As I say, I am not a Liverpool fan – I follow Norwich City. If we are talking about racism, I once associated Liverpool with John Barnes. Now, after the incident between Suárez and Evra, not to mention the abuse of Oldham's Tom Adeyemi during the League Cup match at Anfield, I cannot help associating Liverpool with something else. I agree with Jeff, who calls for "zero tolerance, zero excuses".
From WSC 301 March 2012