Patrice Evra returned to Anfield on Saturday afternoon for the first time since leaving Manchester United in 2014.
For the last few years of his United career, Evra received a torrent of abuse from the Liverpool fans, whether playing at Old Trafford or Anfield, after he accused Luis Suarez of racially abusing him in 2011.
During Evra’s first appearance at Anfield following Suarez lengthy ban after being found guilty of racially abusing Evra, a Liverpool fan was seen in the crowd doing a monkey impression when Evra came to the touchline. The 58-year-old was banned for four years from attending any Liverpool or England match.
On Saturday afternoon, ahead of Liverpool’s 4-1 win over West Ham, former Liverpool defender John Arne Riise took to Twitter to encourage the fans to dish out more abuse to Evra.
“Please give a certain player an afternoon he will never forget!”
Go on boys!!! @LFC Run over them!!! And please give a certain player an afternoon he will never forget!
— John Arne Riise (@JARiiseOfficial) February 24, 2018
Riise later defended himself, claiming the only reason he was encouraging the targeting of Evra was because he was a former United player. But then so is West Ham’s Javier Hernandez, and David Moyes is the former manager of rivals Everton and United. Former United players travel with their new clubs to Anfield all the time without Riise encouraging them to be singled out for hostility.
So many weirdos on here. Haven’t even mentioned the Suarez – Evra situation and people are on it straight away! Wake up people! When a ex player from Man U comes to Anfield you always want the player to have a bad afternoon! Just normal people, so stop pretending you know
— John Arne Riise (@JARiiseOfficial) February 24, 2018
For some reason, so many people associated with Liverpool don’t seem to realise how wrong it is to target someone for abuse from the stands for being brave enough to speak out against racism. Part of the problem is that so many Liverpool fans never read the report published by the FA and believe the accusation was fabricated by Evra.
Anyone who has read the report knows that Suarez admitted he called Evra “n***o” in the middle of an argument, which started when he kicked the United defender, then pinched his arm, but he told the FA he had meant the term in a “friendly and affectionate” way.
The FA took opinion from Professor Peter Wade and Dr James Scorer, who are relevant experts, to help decide on whether it was possible to use this term without it being racist.
Wade is a specialist in race and ethnicity in Latin America, who learnt his Spanish mainly in Colombia and has been a fluent speaker for nearly 30 years. Scorer works in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies and his research focuses on national and regional identities in Latin America, including that of Uruguay.
Both experts claimed that using the term among friends in South America can be done so without any racist connotations. However, both stated that in the context where it was used by Suarez, in the middle of an argument with someone who wasn’t a friend, in a heated derby between two clubs that hate each other, it was without doubt being used as an insult.
There were some differences in the retelling of the events that afternoon from the players, with the FA deeming Evra a reliable witness and the frequency at which Suarez changed his version or avoided questions deeming him not as impressive. However, the important factor, that both players agreed happened, is that Suarez called Evra “n***o”.
When making the decision, the FA took in to consideration the statements from the two players involved, other players from both teams, the referee, language experts and video footage of the incident. For Suarez’s defence to show his innocence, there would have to be some sort of friendly behaviour between the two players, but none of the evidence given, even from Suarez’s own testimony, supported that claim.
“The whole tenor of the players’ exchanges during this episode was one of animosity,” read the FA’s report.
“They behaved in a confrontational and argumentative way. Whilst Mr Evra is partly to blame for starting the confrontation at that moment, Suarez’s attitude and actions were the very antithesis of the conciliation and friendliness that he would have us believe.”
In response to Suarez being found guilty, the Liverpool players and manager, Kenny Dalglish, wore t-shirts in honour of their striker ahead of their next game.
When Suarez next played at Old Trafford, he refused to shake Evra’s hand. Despite Suarez later apologising for this, it’s little surprise that the fans feel as though they’re justified to continue the abuse of Evra, given how their club behaved in the aftermath.
“I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong,” Suárez said. “I’ve not only let him down, but also the club and what it stands for and I’m sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened. I should have shaken Patrice Evra’s hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions.”
You can only imagine how Rhian Brewster, the young Liverpool player who bravely spoke out last year about the racist abuse he has suffered as a player, feels when seeing this behaviour from the supporters.
It’s not only the fans at fault here, but the club too. While manager Jurgen Klopp came out in support of Brewster, he’s said nothing to discourage the treatment of Evra for merely being the victim of racist abuse. When asked about it after the game, he acknowledged he’d heard it, but quickly moved on by saying, “I don’t have the same history with Evra like maybe the Liverpool supporters have.”
Yet in the seven years since Suarez’s abuse of Evra, no one at the club has spoken out to condemn the behaviour of the fans.
To the contrary, following Evra’s first visit to Anfield in 2012 after the incident, where he was on the receiving end of boos and jeers for 90 minutes, Dalglish even praised the Liverpool supporters.
“Both sets of supporters were well-behaved,” he said . “There was a wee bit of banter between both fans which is brilliant because we wouldn’t want to take that away. At the end of the day I thought they were fantastic.”
Liverpool fans were guilty of more “fantastic” behaviour on Saturday, when jeering his every touch and singing songs about Suarez at him. And is it any wonder when the club has never criticised their behaviour?
Club statements and comments from managers demanding better behaviour from the fanbase are not a foreign thing. Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken out against Hillsborough chants, Manchester City have spoken out against Munich-themed song, so why is it taking Liverpool Football Club so long to tell the supporters to put a stop to the abuse of Evra?