Conspiracies, Paranoia, Innocence and Guilt

Conspiracies, Paranoia, Innocence and Guilt
February 16, 2012 Chris Rowland

By Chris Rowland.

Do you know how all this has felt to me? Since the ‘probably guilty’ verdict, I mean, and The Mirror‘s inflammatory headline the next day, the beginning of the heavy shelling that’s barely abated for two months now.

This is how it’s felt:

‘A raging torrent of spite, bile and hysteria, fire and brimstone of biblical proportions and enough humbug to choke on.’

‘The message was universal, the verdict unanimous: guilty. No redeeming or mitigating factors. Guilty.

‘the sheer, impenetrable edifice of condemnation.’

‘Scapegoats were in huge demand, and the slavering tabloid press led the hunt voraciously, revelling in its self-appointed role as the Voice of Reason whilst displaying absolutely none, and the licence (the incident) appeared to give it to rant unchecked in an orgy of self-righteous bigotry. Balance and reason, it seemed, had no part in this public “debate”.

‘A complex concurrence of circumstances had been reduced to child-like simplicity, and I just couldn’t reconcile what I was reading with what I had experienced.’

Only I didn’t write all that about Suarez. I wrote it about Heysel in From Where I Was Standing, the book I was driven to write by the very same burning anger and sense of injustice that’s in me again now.

I’m not trying to court self-publicity in reproducing it. I just think it’s relevant to what follows. As I said, I’ve felt like this before.

As Rob Gutmann so deftly put it in yet another bullseye on The Anfield Wrap, ‘ Heysel was about life and death. It was more important than an argument between two millionaire athletes, and the loyalties of two warring tribes. The Suarez and Evra mess, though, has come to echo 1985, for me at least, because there are parallels in terms of the sheer momentum of shame being foisted upon what felt then, and still feels now, like our family.’

For me too, Rob.

‘The most despicable South American since General Pinochet’ trumpeted one UK newspaper about Suarez, as though it somehow considered it appropriate and proportionate to compare ‘an argument between two millionaire athletes’ and a refused handshake with a brutal dictator whose regime tortured and killed on an industrial scale.

There are echoes of Heysel all right, in the victimisation, the demonisation, of seemingly everything connected with Liverpool Football Club. In the expectation of shared collective guilt, that we should all do the decent thing, hang our heads in meek supplication and admit to being murderers then and racists now. (Witness the incredible tweet recently, after all this time, by Patrick Barclay of The Times, in his response to an LFC fan asking ‘do you get any lower than accepting Murdoch’s cash?’ ‘See your point. But, yes, you can. For example, you can be in a crowd that crushes 39 people to death.’ [])

Phew, some stored up venom there. Well just as an aside Paddy, the group of eight I was with were still outside the stadium when it happened. Does that make us murderers? How exactly? I wouldn’t want to see your face on a jury. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Some of our younger subscribers who’ve known no other may be surprised to learn that these pious self-appointed guardians of the nation’s moral wellbeing that we are saddled with today have not always sat atop their high horse, searching for scouse scalps and courting ticks on their websites, pre-programmed to invert logic and pervert truth in the process.

No – and this may come as a shock – they once used to concentrate on the football, and were even quite complimentary about us. About the team, certainly – although the team gave them little scope for much else, they were too good and too successful. But even about us lot. The fans. We were respected as a club back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Until Heysel.

After our first European Cup Final, in Rome in 1977, and a mass evacuation of at least 30,000 Liverpool supporters, the media coverage was overwhelmingly positive. This is how I described it in From Where I Was Standing:

‘Stripped to the waist in the spring sunshine, many were noisy and drunk in the cafes, bars and piazzas. One Italian newspaper, Repubblica, claimed that at last Italians would be able to shed their inferiority complex about supposedly impeccable standards of British behaviour.

But when the same fans came to leave the city two days later, many to face that nightmare return train journey, opinions had shifted. Il Messagero wrote ”What were all our fears about? There was no rape, no pillage. The horde passed by without violence, debauchery or depravity.” (You can see the high standards that were expected of us). “The only thing Roma can offer Liverpool is an apology plus well played, thanks and have a safe journey home.”

The British press was equally complimentary. In its report on Liverpool’s victory, The Times wrote: “Here there was nothing but friendly greetings, and all of football’s problems seemed far away. It was later to become a night when British football could be proud of its champions and its followers.” Even The Sun, still shunned and despised today by Liverpool supporters years after its grotesque post-Hillsborough coverage, carried a footnote reading: “In Rome newspapers praised the Liverpool fans for the way they behaved.

The most penetrating observation appeared in The Daily Mail: “I hope that the best part of the legend Liverpool leave behind is that they proved you can have bacchanalia without going beyond the limits. My final memory is of a Liverpool fan of ferocious appearance and impressively drunk at the reception. He lurched over to the Minister of Sport, Denis Howell, and said ‘Don’t worry mister, we’re going to have the time of our lives. But we’re not Leeds or Man United. You will not be ashamed of us.’”

For eight more years he was right.’

In Paris 1981, the Daily Mirror referred to our lovely, lively, raucous fans’ (no Olly Holt and David Maddock then of course). A lot of us are still there now – still lovely, if not quite as lively or raucous anymore.

And then came Heysel. And changed everything. We haven’t had much joy from the media since, apart from a sporadic outbreak following the miracle of Istanbul. But then if that didn’t stir you you really shouldn’t be in sports journalism.

My question is, are Heysel and Hillsborough, memorably described by Paul Tomkins as ‘the twin H-bombs of our history’, the magma chamber for the series of media explosions that extended through Rafa’s spell and culminated in Suarez (I’m using the past tense there with fingers firmly crossed but breath not being held).

Because if they’re not, what is? I’ll come to that later.

Never mind your balance of probabilities; that there is an agenda seems beyond any reasonable doubt. Liverpool FC does not appear to be treated the same as any other club by the media.

Several examples of their duplicity and double standards have occurred during their recently discovered zeal for anti-racism. One shit-for-brains Kopite racially abuses (allegedly) an Oldham player; suddenly it was ‘a section of the Kop’ and it’s front page. The equally-shit-for-brains guy who did the monkey dance against United at Anfield? Check – front page.

The repeated Chelsea fan chants about Anton Ferdinand, who apparently knows what he is? Er – no. Chelsea fans’ arrested for racist singing on the train back from Norwich? Not really news is it? The Cardiff City fan clearly heard to shout ‘you black bastard’ to a Crystal Palace sub who came on, live on BBC in the Carling Cup semi-final second leg? Not a peep.

Man Utd coming top of the list of arrests at Premier League matches, and for arrests for racist chanting? If you relied on the media you’d never be any the wiser (Dan Kennett sent in the Home Office data for arrests in the Premier League in the 2010/11 season

Ok, how about a live bullet sent to Anton Ferdinand in the post, surely that’s a big news story, given the hot news topic of the day and the logical assumption that it had some connection with the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand case? Well not much coverage actually. As this site’s owner said, ‘a bullet to Anton Ferdinand was worthy of only one Tweet by one senior journalist, but Liverpool fans booing Evra was worthy of five. Remember, boos are just disapproval, straight from a pantomime; a bullet is a death threat.’

Switching targets briefly from racism to homophobia, did Michael Ball’s undisguised homophobic tweet attract the avenging wrath of the FA or the media just itching for the chance to send a clear signal to the world about just how damn seriously they take this issue? Well the club ended his contract anyway (not that he was on much of one to start with), so let’s call that dealt with shall we? Saves us getting our hands dirty. No pompous, self-righteous, sanctimonious, judgmental moralising about any of these instances from the media. They’re presumably all either okay or not important. Not like 2 people out of over 80,000 being done for racism at Anfield.

Gary Neville of Sky Sports TV fame recently said that Sky were always hammering on about ‘finding the story’. There is pressure on all journos and commentators to weave around an established theme. But ‘the story’ now seems to have come to mean ‘anything negative or critical about Liverpool FC.’ All seems to pass through that filter. And when all sports news is passed through that crazily narrow, truth-ignoring prism, we reach the grotesquely distorted point where one of the most compelling ‘stories’ for years for a true sports journo – the bullet sent to Anton Ferdinand – is dismissed as scarcely newsworthy because it can’t be crowbarred somehow into an anti-Suarez story.

Then of course there’s Martin Samuel, whose twisted logic in his article about ‘whispered’ racism culminated in a conclusion so bizarre it defies belief; that video evidence of Terry abusing Ferdinand suggests he actually didn’t do it, but the complete absence of any corroborative evidence against Suarez makes it all the more likely that he was guilty. Stunning, and thus standing the entire basis of English law on its head. Proof of guilt proves your innocence, lack of proof proves you’re guilty.

As I posted at the time, if you’re thinking of ram-raiding your local Argos anytime soon, better make sure it’s caught on CCTV to prove you’re innocent. Catch 22 or what?

There was a renewed shitstorm following Non-handshake-gate. A radio discussion about whether Dalglish should be sacked for his part in it, a Member of Parliament (George Galloway) even suggesting deportation – ”If Dalglish doesn’t sack Luis Suarez the Home Secretary should deport him”, stated a man who believes firmly in the symbolic gesture of the handshake, having shaken Saddam Hussein’s in the height of the pre-war tension. Dave Maddock in the Mirror was at it again, saying that Suarez will be sold in the summer, Ollie Holt (again the Mirror) tweeting that before the Liverpool game at Old Trafford, police confiscating Utd fanzines containing cut out Ku-Klux Klan-style white hoods saying ‘Suarez is innocent’ was over-reaction, it was just a bit of fun. Just as he tweeted, astonishingly, that his ‘black friend’ said that calling a black player ’a fucking black cunt’ (which just happens to mirror the accusation made against John Terry) might not necessarily be insulting or racist. ‘Don’t know.’

Well I and everybody does know, Ollie.

All of which brings me on to Sir Alex Ferguson. I’ll use his knighted tag because I’m about to be much less deferential towards him. Sir Alex knows racism is a bad thing, he’s said so often enough recently, and not just because Liverpool happened to be United’s next league game or anything. He told us all, and the media, that ‘Suarez is a disgrace and should be sold by Liverpool’ (thereby perhaps revealing the underlying motivation for the whole Suarez episode).

Disregarding the troubling fact that his megalomania now seems so out of control that he believes he has an influence over another club’s transfer policy – I don’t remember Liverpool recommending United sell kung-fu Cantona – let’s look at this knight of the realm’s actual record in terms of racial respect; here’s how he respects the Germans for example: after Bayern had knocked United out of the Champions League at Old Trafford after a Utd player was sent off, he said:

“The young boy showed a bit of inexperience but they got him sent off, everyone sprinted towards the referee – typical Germans.”

[Which begs the question: is Roy Keane German?]

Do the Italians fare any better?

“When an Italian says it’s pasta I check under the sauce to make sure. They are innovators of the smokescreen.”

Yep, every last one of ‘em.

But maybe the best example of Fergie’s bigotry and racial stereotyping was reserved for – wait for it – Uruguayans, way back in 1986.

”I mean, it’s not just a part of football, it’s the whole bloody attitude of the nation. You can see that attitude there. The whole thing. They (Uruguayans) have no respect for other people’s dignity.”

Yes, he’s never liked Suarez’s lot one bit.

If we set his comments alongside the United Nation’s definition of racial discrimination…

The term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life

…then it’s quite clear that discrimination based on nationality fits into the UN definition of racial discrimination. So has Ferguson really earned the right to adopt any moral high ground on racism? But have the media questioned this or pursued this narrative? No, of course not. Why not – are they afraid of upsetting him? Or deterred by United’s litigious approach to media indiscretions or negative coverage, reacting like a repressive totalitarian regime whenever anyone dares question them?

[Check out how he responded to that old sheep-skinned sheepdog John Motson in 2005. Motson asks Ferguson if he would punish Keane who had just been sent off for the third time in 14 games. Ferguson says: “You’ve no right to ask that question John – you’re out of order… you know fine well my ruling on that. Right, that’s the interview finished… I’m going to cancel that interview, the whole fucking lot of it. Cancel it, right? Fucking make sure that does not go out, John.”]

Come on everybody, we don’t get even-handed treatment from the media, they’re not like this with every club, the train has left that station. Fans of other clubs will say that they are, of course, and we’re just being paranoid. That’s an easy stance to take if it’s not your club being ritually vilified and pursued up a hillside by a baying torchlit mob. You might even secretly, or not very secretly at all, quite enjoy the spectacle of your rivals’ evisceration.

The anti-Liverpool sentiment has happened far too often and for too long to be coincidence. All those other examples I mentioned earlier should surely at least make the most cynical start to wonder.

Well now a non-Liverpool fan has noticed too.

Newsframes is a website that contains studies of the media in action. In a recent investigation into churnalism, they took an in-depth look at the Suarez coverage. One comment in Part 2 (Media on Racism: Part 2 – Framing) got into my head like an angry bee:

‘As an outsider, with no affiliations to Liverpool, fan-wise or otherwise, I observed the “respectable” media’s outpouring of vitriol (over nothing very much) with puzzlement. It was almost as if there were some kind of PR/lobbying going on behind the scenes.’

That last line got me thinking. Because I’ve been wrestling with this for some time, seeking a rational explanation for the vitriol, the imbalance, the downright hostility that started to descend on Rafa and continues on the club long after his demise.

If this not solely a paranoid fantasy – and I concede that it might be – then who on earth would have such an anti-Liverpool agenda that they are prepared to court the media and lobby the anti-Liverpool line, and have enough influence, reach and motivation to mount such a campaign of briefing and lobbying?

Could what we witness almost daily not just be a case of all the media all coming to the same conclusion at the same time – ie that anything connected to LFC is the anti-Christ – but actually be the result of an orchestrated and ongoing campaign?

We know Paddy Barclay thinks we still need taking to task over Heysel, we know there may be some residual spite and guile stored up from Hillsborough and our ongoing anti-Sun/McKenzie campaign, we know Henry Winter and a few others were Hodgson groupies who didn’t like how roughly we handled their poppet, and we wonder whether BBC Sport, having moved to Salford Quays, may now be absorbing the skewed Manchester agenda on Liverpool by osmosis.

We also know David Gill of Manchester United is a prominent member of the FA – a neat impartial arrangement – and that Denis Smith who the FA deemed should form one third of the panel that ‘investigated’ the Evra-Suarez case had managed Darren Ferguson and become a friend of the family. We know that Lord Herman Ouseley, Chairman of Kick It Out and vocal advocate of Suarez and Liverpool being banged to rights, is also a member of the Manchester United Foundation. We know David Maddock from The Mirror twisted Luis’ words from an interview with a Uruguayan radio station to make it sound more incriminating, and that after Suarez’s return against Spurs, Kenny’s post-match comment that Luis shouldn’t have been banned in the first place was reported as “Dalglish says Suarez should not have been banned for making racist comments”. When what it should have read was: “Dalglish says Suarez should not have been banned because we don’t believe he made racist comments.”

As someone on TTT pointed out, it’s the difference between ‘Family of Joe Bloggs who was charged with murdering Mr X say he’s innocent and should not have been jailed” and “Family of Joe Bloggs says they don’t think he should have been jailed for murdering Mr X.”

Perhaps that’s just standard media sleight of hand, and hardly news when it’s in isolation. But this emphatically isn’t.

That there is anti-Liverpool influence in high places is undeniable.

The question is, are we being paranoid or are they really out to get us?