West Belfast circa 1962.
When we played football against the boys from the other end of our street……..and we played for hours on end…….when one team reached ten goals it was half-time. And the first team to reach twenty goals won the game………we had a curious victory song as we marched back to our end of the street. “We won the War………and the HP Sauce!”. I have never heard that phrase any where else or at any other time.
Fify years on……..well we dont sing it. Maybe I am the only person in the world who actually remembers it……..but all football fans still have that same feeling of victory and defeat…especially on a Monday morning. Singing (even figuratively) a victory song is sweet. Having to listen to one is a bitter experience.
Leaving aside the tribal and ethnic connexion that we have to Celtic (Catholic) and Rangers (Protestant) men of my generation are supporters of Manchester United, Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Back in the early 1960s those were the big teams. With the exception of Leeds, they still are the big teams. Necessarily in Belfast we do ot have any real geographic connexion to an English football team…but we see a team on TV and adopt them. And we are even less likely to change our football allegiance than our football team.
It is now 8.14am on a Monday morning. Men are checking into work in offices, factories, schools and colleges in Belfast.
Lets see……the Manchester United guys had a good weekend. So did the Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur people. It was a bad weekend for Liverpool, Chelsea and Leeds United. Let the banter (teasing) begin……figurative chorus of “we won the war and the HP sauce”. But by 11am, it will be business as usual. There will be more football on Wednesday……some Thursday morning chat…………..and then it is the weekend again.
That is how it works.
And this is why the whole Luis Saurez (Liverpool)-Patrice Evra (Manchester United) Affair has been so toxic. The banter….and the occasional anger………….and in this case vitriol is not supposed to last for four months.
Yesterday (Sunday) Luis Saurez issued an apology for not shaking Patrice Evra’s hand. So did Liverpool FC. So did Kenny Dalglish, the manager-coach…………..and Manchester United have accepted it all and moved on. Obviously it was all choreographed but………welcome.
The story ……spin……coming out of Liverpool is that Saurez had misled the club. It had been assumed that he would shake the hand of Evra and so begin the healing process. Further, Dalglish apologises for his conduct in post-match interviews….he maintains that he did not know that Saurez had refused to shake Evra’s hand.
Leaving aside that there is no direct apology from Saurez to Evra, this is a welcome development. There is the suggestion floated in most newspapers today that Saurez will leave Liverpool when this season ends. He is “damaged goods”.
Questions remain. Liverpool’s public relations for four months have been a disaster. They maintained against all the evidence that Saurez had not racially abused Evra. They were openly hostile to the verdict against Saurez and as recently as last week, Dalglish was publicly stating that Saurez was the real victim “he should not have been banned”.
Football is tribal. Liverpool fans rallied to “their” man. All football tribes would have done the same but the tribalism was stoked by bad handling by Liverpool, who should have acted earlier to limit the damage. Significantly on Saturday post match………..Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager-coach said that Saurez was a “disgrace” and spoke……..for most football fans when he mentioned the (proud) history of Liverpool.
It is an old cliché. It takes years to build a reputation and seconds to destroy a reputation. And Liverpool have spent four months dismantling their own proud history.
And that is the annoying bit. I am a Manchester United fan. I do not “hate” Liverpool. I hate losing the war. I hate losing the HP sauce. But Liverpool were the first club to offer Manchester United help after the Munich Air Crash in 1958. We should not forget.
And beating Liverpool is of course a joy. Not because they are a lousy club with a lousy history. Beating Liverpool is a joy BECAUSE they are an honourable club with an honourable history.
We are invited to draw a line under this. We should. Saurez will leave Liverpool. If it helps the reconciliation that Liverpool whisper that they and Dalglish were “betrayed” by Luis Saurez and they are now obviously casting him adrift, then so be it. If we need to gloss over why Liverpool were too supportive for too long and it took the intervention of the American owners to sort it out because issues of race are taken more seriously in the United States……..then that is ok too.
Is this my last word on the Saurez-Evra Affair? I doubt it.