Friday, January 06, 2012

98% is not the same as 100%

I have had some interesting discussions this week regarding the whole Suarez v Evra racism storm - with Liverpool and Man United fans of all ages and placements, as well as with supporters of other clubs who have taken an interest in the subject. I made sure that before the 115 page document came out I was clear in saying that I currently defended Suarez until proven otherwise, and would certainly condemn him if found guilty. Club allegiance had no bearing whatsoever on a matter of racism.

FA Document Release
When the document was released on New Years Eve I was actually late to my annual party because I was so engrossed in its detail. Part two of my study happened the following evening before I felt comfortable in making comments and statements as to my beliefs. I do fear however that - although some other supporters did read the full document - plenty merely read journalistic summaries, skim read it, or skipped to the conclusions. When challenged on quoting the paragraphs from which they had drawn their conclusions they were awkwardly unable to do so. Given the job that I do, I believe the devil is in the detail. No stone unturned etc, and certainly no room for lazy assumption (on guilt or innocence).

Having gone through the FA's document with the finest of toothcombs, I can now categorically state that Suarez has not been legally proven, beyond all reasonable doubt, to be guilty. That is not to say he is innocent, nor to say he is guilty. Nor is it to say that Evra has lied or anyone else for that matter. Akin to the arguments I heard from several Man Utd and other club supporters, the conclusion was that he was 'on the balance of all probability, guilty'.

Lack of First Hand Evidence
Despite the introduction's claims otherwise, what transpired was very much one man's word against another. There was absolutely no other first hand primary evidence (remember your History GCSE?) of what occurred, other than the account by Patrice Evra, and the account by Luis Suarez. No other player hearing clearly what was said, no match official or steward overhearing the conversations, nor any video evidence that could be used for lip-reading. By my maths, that leaves a simple case of "his word against my word".

This stance therefore leaves the case at a stalemate. Suarez wasn't proven to be innocent by the Liverpool FC legal team, and the truth may still be that he said those words. but the burden of proof in law is to be proved guilty by the other side. The only fact emerging from the statements and hearing was that Suarez said the word 'negro' once - a statement of fact because two sides corroborated in that evidence. One piece of primary evidence backed up another piece of primary evidence. As one United fan said to me on Twitter "isn't one use of the word enough?" and it was very easy for me to agree with that stance.

The Need to Define Racism
I take two responses to this however. Firstly - to my mind, in my opinion etc - saying that someone is black is not an offence. Suggesting that person is a lesser human being because of it, IS an offence. Saying the person who works in my local chippy is a woman is not an offence. Saying she is a lesser person because of being a woman IS an offence. Secondly, saying the word once aggressively, may well be deemed an offence and warrants full investigation. However, even the linguistic experts invited on the case concluded that - given Suarez's upbringing for the majority of his life in Uruguay - the word may plausibly have been used offensively, or inoffensively. The panel were then left to draw their own conclusion from this split expert research.

Yet what of the published conclusion that Suarez used the word 7 times in total? If only one utterance was ever proved by both parties - and that utterance may or may not be innocent - where did the other 6 mentions come from? Evra made a full and frank claim as to the word's repeat usage which the panel took as fact. I am not for a second claiming that Evra was lying, and then neither am I saying that Suarez was lying. If you have two sides to a story, you naturally seek a third point of corroborating evidence to prove one side or another.  I am crying out for a third witness or video evidence to categorically prove that ONE of them was telling the truth - then it is case closed. That third piece of evidence did not exist in the hearing.

Credibility v Truth
Thus it seems that the panel concluded Evra was probably factually correct because he was a more credible witness. I am worried for our footballing judicial system in a case of this importance to our game and national identity when a person's ability to compose their words well or stand up straighter in a court room is taken as the defining element of truth. It is of reasonable and plausible expectation that a non-English speaking man from a foreign country, whose reputation is being lambasted, is going to feel a little nervous. The panel also said that he changed his story along the way, but my reading of the document is that he was clarifying other people's (Kuyt and Commolli's) misinterpretation of his words rather than changing his own story.

The panel considered the intense rivalry between the two teams as grounds for either party becoming more heated and making statements that were obscured by emotion. They maintained that Evra stayed in control throughout - which I agree to his credit he largely did - and whilst including his vicious insult to Suarez, they did fail to include his provocation of the crowd seconds after he was fouled by Suarez on the touchline. After receiving treatment for what looked the smallest of taps (player overreaction blights our game and all teams are guilty including Liverpool), the usual Premier League player's impression of Verbal Kint was right on cue as his hobble became a limp and into a full jog back onto the pitch. What they failed to notice was his sarcastic kiss blown to the Lower Main Stand, which gave rise to 300+ furious fans. This is merely background evidence for the case, but I highlight it only to serve as further information that may affect a player's credibility on the day.

Probability is not a Grounds for Guilt
The real crime committed here is not Suarez making a racist comment or Evra being a liar. The real crime is that - by their own admission and intent - the case was deciding on 'all probability'. Whereas Liverpool's defence of their player was no doubt of the High Court bottom line - that is 'beyond all reasonable doubt' - the panel accepted they were to call judgment using the lower legal standard, and this is what supporters and journalists from all sides seem to have failed to fully appreciate.

The day when the English justice system drops to a level of convicting murderers, rapists, thieves and fraudsters on the basis of "they probably did it", is the day I leave this country. Thankfully the majority of the aforementioned criminals are convicted due to overwhelming factual evidence - DNA, witnesses, CCTV footage - the kind of which was abhorrently absent throughout this case.

Liverpool's Lack of Appeal
The fact that Liverpool did not appeal owes more to what I call 'social politics' rather than 'legal truths'. Given the part-time approach many commentators have taken on the subject, the lazy leaf-throughs of the case or "chill out...he's guilty" comments, Liverpool knew they were fighting a losing social battle and risked damaging the club's reputation overall. Several people (including some high profile well respected footballers) have stated that because the panel said 'guilty', then Suarez is guilty, and Liverpool should accept that fact.

Yet when you consider that the grounds for that judgement were faulty, you cannot sit comfortable with the conclusion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Day to Remember

I was 13. It was a warm Saturday afternoon and I was stuck indoors. Mum was in the kitchen making sandwiches, sister was upstairs listing to music, and I was sat on the living room floor dressed head to toe in my Liverpool kit, football boots and scarf, surrounded by my few programmes and glossy photographs of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Steve McMahon. It was a warm afternoon and I didn't want to be outside.

Cup semi-final day and my hands hadn't even come close to a ticket. The weeks anticipation had only been shared with a couple of Liverpool fan friends at school before the assembly bell went, so most of my thoughts were wrapped up like a whirlwind inside my head. Everything Des Lynam said on Grandstand I responded to - "That's rubbish, Forest have only got Clough, we've got Barnes, Beardsley and Aldo" or "Wow, those crowds look amazing, I wish I was there".

These were the days before the Internet streams, page updates and Sky Sports. Games of this magnitude weren't moved for Live TV. 40,000 people in the country got to see the game and the rest of us just waited. Kick off was at 3pm on a Saturday and the next thing you'd hear about was a change in the score.

Until Des came back on at 3.05. The Live Swimming was interrupted and I sat up straight. Des had his finger pressed to his ear and told me that although Beardsley had just hit the bar for Liverpool, stories were emanating from the stands. Seconds later the game was called off and Des took us to live pictures of Hillsborough. Confusion reigned, players reluctantly went off and masses of bodies were running across the fresh green turf. It looked like a pitch invasion but the BBC weren't saying that. They were confused as well, as the sense of foreboding swelled up. History was being written and I felt helpless sitting on my living room floor.

Three years later and I had a project to do for my General Studies A Level and there was only one option. The events of 15th April 1989 and the following months had not left me.   The trophy that no-one wanted to win, the reluctant smiles of Bruce Grobbelaar dressed in black, the procession of flowers lining fields, the tired eyes of Kenny Dalglish. And the legal battle that I never really understood. My fledgling mind knew that 92, then 95, then 96 lives bad been lost to crushing and I didn't understand what there was to argue about. Compensation wasn't even talked about, the police and ambulances had done their job, and everyone had been laid to rest. That was until my project took me under the surface.

Day after day, night after night I'd be making phone box calls to my Mum to say I'd nearly finished, from Birmingham Central Library, almost 8 miles from my home. I was submerged in the detail. There was no Internet - that was probably still on someone's home computer in California. Instead I waded through newspaper after newspaper, analysed the Justice Taylor Report, and stopped for several moments every time I seen one if the harrowing photographs from the day. I still remember the girl crushed against the barrier as people clamoured for air around her. Bodies lay on hoardings carried onto the football pitch; where the ball was once passed now lives were passing. I simply couldn't leave the library of information as microfiches of comment, opinion and judgement reshaped my thoughts. I felt an ounce of the 10-tonne pain that each family had carried, and it hurt me. 

With a friend I travelled to see Brian Hall at Anfield to garner the club's opinion, and after joking and lightening the mood in the presence of youngsters, his tone changed dramatically after my first questions. I wanted to know - I needed to know - the root of what happened. I learned why Kelvin McKenzie is such a despicable person, I was inflamed at how time was called at 3.15, but moreover I was sad. This had become far beyond a school report for me. It was a trail of maddening discovery, neither cathartic nor empowering. But it was educational. I learned about the need for survival, not in a living and breathing sense, but in a political sense. I understood the squeamish ways people could wriggle and squirm their way out of a difficult situation to protect themselves, their careers and their reputation. I learned that every story is just a way to make money for the worst of journalists and editors.

I can't be there this year, to join the 20,000+ people who trade their 15th April to remember. I've been there and it's a unifying day. You feel togetherness with people in the row behind you who you've never met but who each tell their own story. You are not united by a badge, or a day, but by the same basic human instinct that struck those frightened supporters that Saturday. The need to survive as a collective and a community against all the injustices life can throw at you.

Justice for the 96.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Social Engagement or Social Suicide?

It was good to see the flags out in force today in support of the Return of The King. The return of our beloved Kenny to the dugout brought goal celebrations we've not seen since Gerard Houllier's reign but familiar expressions of concern as the team failed to defend a lead and showed worrying signs of lack of confidence again.

More importantly though, we witnessed a unified and galvanised Kop (and team) getting behind their new leader. The songs were in full flow, the imagery from our successful days was abundant, and we felt in touch with the club once again. And Kenny really appreciated it as well, of that I am certain. Not because be smiled and applauded, but because he just told me so via his @kennethdalglish Twitter feed.

Liverpool are at the forefront of a revolution and not necessarily on the pitch either. As far as my limited research suggests, Liverpool Football Club are the only Premier League outfit to have their Manager and Owner both actively using the social networking tool to communicate directly with the public. Therein lies the revolution.

I can't yet decide whether this is a good or bad state of affairs. Twitter is largely used by the celebrities of this world to inform their followers of the 'truth' often in response to lazy or vindictive journalism. Although when I say 'truth' that could include what ham sandwich Kim Kardashian has just eaten, or what girl Jason Manford has just pulled. After @John_W_Henry exposed 'Gerrard leaving' rumours to be lies, football fans suddenly had a route to the top, a voice on the Board and a word in the Managers ear.

I have already seen (and chastised) moronic fans with no insight into man-management for violently swearing at football players after a poor performance. I took serious issue with a man who felt he had the right to tell Mr Henry to 'f*** off' if he didnt sack Roy Hodgson and buy any new players. The idiot egoist felt his message had got through when there was a change in management but the last time I looked, that fan hadn't worked hard all his life to invest £300m into the ailing fortunes of our beloved club. And I don't recall swearing ever working during negotiations.

Opening up lines of communication should be a good thing in my mind, although to me the oft-quoted 'Liverpool Way' is about conducting your private affairs in private and informing the public on a need to know basis - something a certain Tom Hicks got very wrong indeed. I don't want to see fans trying to tell Kenny how go run the team, or John Henry who to buy and how much for. I don't believe for a minute that the men in charge will actually listen to anything other than the general feeling about the club, but more importantly I don't want fans thinking they have a direct line to the top. I love the fact that I can read Kenny's thought on a subject but often it is better to just listen.

Liverpool have (nearly) always handed five year contracts to their incoming managers, and I'm very proud of that fact. It is a recognition that things take time - even for their top interview candidate - and a reminder that patience can be a virtue. But football is changing almost as fast as technology, and with it expectations that we perhaps might one day pick the team in only 140 characters. But change isn't always a good thing, and maybe neither is communication. Perhaps they should leave us to the banter and squabbling, whilst they get on with their jobs in virtual peace?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Crouch taught Liverpool so much

I was at the glorious victory against Chelsea today and the best thing to come out of the game for me was not Torres' fantastic goals, not the inspirational atmosphere, but the importance of Peter Crouch leaving the club in 2008.

If you recall, Crouch was wanted by Benitez and offered a significant contract to stay on as foil to new hero Torres. But he said no, desiring instead first team football under Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. Given our league charge the following year with Torres banging in goals on his own up front, the agreement to cash in was certainly a correct one.

Today, Roy Hodgson chose to revert to his favoured - and oft criticised - 442 formation with Kuyt returning from injury to provide support up front. Based on Torres' phenomenal acidic record in a 4231, it seemed justified to sell Crouch, keep Kuyt at inside right and persist with the telepathic Gerrard supporting his mate from midfield.

Which is why we only have young starlet Ngog as our second striker. Why would David Villa, Carlos Tevez, Darren Bent or god forbid Carlton Cole come to Anfield when they know there's only one shirt available for a striker? Some players may be happy to just taste the experience of Anfield, but we don't need tourists.

So Kuyt partnering Torres today, and Ngog being strike partner on occasion in this change of formation may just make for a more interesting January transfer window. Now that top strikers think they actually might get a game next to the Kop's new son, we might actually see one of them arrive.

Now that I've proved it possible (to myself at least) the question remains as to who we want?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Anfield's 12th man

A lot has happened since I was able to find the time to blog.

NESV has successfully completed their takeover of Liverpool FC, heralding an age of no/low debt and fierce ambition.

Back to back victories have been achieved with fantastic performances from the likes of Krygiakos, Lucas, Gerrard and Maxi that have got the fans believing again.

And I went to Poland.

All of which hold equal importance for me, and whilst I had to sit in the omnipresent Irish pub in Krakow to watch our ground out victory v Bolton, my real joy that weekend was going to see my new Polish favourite team - KS Cracovia. The sixth most successful team in the country, yet trailing the 'bigger names' of Wisla Krakow, Lech Poznan and Legia Warsaw, the club has been through incredible turmoil over the last 30 years - bouncing up and down all four divisions like the proverbial Manchester City. But housed in a fantastic new stadium (surely the envy of all Championship teams) the team have scraped back into the top flight and are fighting for their lives.

To be honest, a couple of full-backs and workaholic striker aside, they're crap. Total tosh that my workmates could give a run for their Zlotys. But totally unparalleled was their support. The Cracovia 12th man. Here were a set of fans in a 2/3rd full stadium chanting organised songs and dances for two hours with such passion, vitriol and (probable) encouragement that I felt a little ashamed. 4 points from 10 games, losing 1-0 at home to another average team, no Scouse pie available and certainly no beer, yet they sang and sang and sang. And bounced and boucned and bounced. Repeat til full time.

The natural comparisons therefore - as I sat with a Rochdale FC season ticket holder - were with the slightly spoilt but skint English fan who sits and waits for something to happen before they will cheer the team on. Now I've never been one of those - even I was screaming my English coaching tips across the heads of Polish fans who might never have stepped foot outside their own nation - but I do sit amongst plenty of people on the Kop who enjoy a good moan.

Before and after the match, yes. Even occasionally when a player does something REALLY stupid. But when a Liverpool player who has been picked by the Liverpool manager to represent the Liverpool fans and club goes out onto the pitch I really want him to do well. And I know that screaming obscenities at him is not going to help. If you don't like Poulsen, Konchesky, Lucas (I firmly disagree on the latter) by all means suggest that they are sold in January, but you HAVE to support them when they are wearing the red.

There is a new wave of fan who seem to want to rely on John Henry or Tom Werner being Liverpool's 12th man.

It has always been and must always be us.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

9 points deduction? Bring it ON!

And so the story continues. Following today's court case it seems likely that Hicks & Gillett will suffer from a schoolboy error in signing over effective control of their club to 3 men with no loyalty to them. Lee Dixon once scored a cracking own goal by chipping David Seaman, but this one is surely top of the charts.

And whilst I don't WANT a 9 point deduction - as there are better ways to avoid this - I do know that it will act as a rocket up the rear to kickstart our season.

The single biggest problem that Liverpool Football Club are suffering from at the moment is a lack of focus. Whether the players feel it or not I don't know, but all the fans can talk about is the ownership issue. Yes there have been discussions about Hodgson's tactical suitablility, whether Johnson should actually play as a winger, and whether Carraghers best days are behind him. But the biggest substitution needs to be that of the owners.

On one hand they should be creditted with admitting defeat in ownership - albeit eventually.  But their general demeanour throughout has done nothing to endear them to even the most reasonable of Liverpool fans.  Their awkward - nay obstropolous - activities aimed at gaining them at least SOME money out of the deal had only delayed proceedings and labelled them as crooks. But who can blame them really? We all know that globally LFC is worth the £/$800 million they are after, we just don't want to admit it. We are the most profitable team in the division after great work from the Commercial Team, but all the cash going into the bucket is cascading out of the bottom instantly in debt repayments.

Rectifying this issue will focus the fans and players minds on positive issues - winning Saturday and Thursday games. Nothing more nothing less. All other business concerns will be footnotes to 3 points gained. And should we get to the horrible situation of being a further 3 wins behind everyone else thanks to the League's strict rules - we should remember Istanbul and Olympiakos.

Liverpool love being up against it.

-- Might I also take this opportunity to levy some cyncism at critics of Broughton and Purslow back in July. I am neither their fan nor foe, but what I do respect is that like a government facing war, you don't tell the world everything. I accept that I am merely a season ticket paying fan, and whilst I can claim emotional ownership of the club, until I get myself a damn good job that affords a purchase of the club, I also have very little say. --

Monday, August 02, 2010

When Patience is a Virtue, but Impatience can be part of the plan for Liverpool Fans

Dominating the football news today was the rumoured bid from Kenneth Huang (or a consortium led by) for control of Liverpool FC, talks being conducted apparently direct with RBS.

This news is bound to excite, and certainly fills me with a little more hope than 2 weeks ago (although I've always had a quiet faith that the situation would rectify itself) but I refuse to get carried away. Not because of any particular lack of faith in Gillett & Hicks, nor any doubting of Broughton, but simply because of the way business works. Hence I wanted to explain my own take on how things might transpire - I conduct a lot of contract negotiations in my job, and this experience tells me that it won't go quite as smoothly as the impatient Liverpool fans will want.

In any negotiations there are two sides; although in this case there may be several. Three on the side of Liverpool (RBS, Broughton, Gillett & Hicks) and no doubt several on the bidding side. Broughton himself has stated that he expects an auction process across several parties, and one that *might* finish before Aug 31st, and given his almost impartial position, I would take him at his experienced word. Kenneth Huang has merely kicked the bidding war off - in a game of poker he has simply raised the pot.

George Gillett is rumoured to be trying to introduce a former Syrian international footballer, Yahya Kirdi, and his group to the table as a viable alternative, possibly because they would stand to make more money back on LFC. Irrespective of this though, he is basically standing behind Kirdi and telling him to call the raise, and raise a bit more. And it won't be the last party to play a hand either, as the bidding raises and raises and then suddenly disappears altogether.

The reason I say 'disappears' (which is the moment that all impatient Liverpool fans will panic, hate Gillett & Hicks, call Broughton all the names under the sun, and the papers begin talking about Torres again) is that it is fully PART of the bidding process. For example - let's say Sheikh Khalifa returns to the table with a £550m bid but on the condition that the other parties are ignored and rejected and the deal closes on his terms only. Let's say this bid comes in approx August 25th, just as the other parties' fight looks over. What do Broughton, RBS, Gillett & Hicks do then? There will be no honour in this fight to the death, and I would not be surprised if only Broughton claims the door is already slammed shut. In fact, Huang has actually already tried to pre-empt this desperate situation by apparently stating he wants the deal concluded within 2 weeks or he's out.

Therein lies the position from the point of the LFC fans, and indeed Gillett & Hicks - get the priciest bid, and the richest group with it. However, there are threatening cards to be played by Hodgson, the star players, and most likely Broughton as well - "Take too long and we'll have no star players at the club by September". These threats in themselves would ultimately devalue the club (we'd take lower, 'desperate' fees) which is a situation Gillett & Hicks desperately want to avoid. So don't be surprised if Hodgson, Broughton et al also put pressure on a quick sale.

The buyers need to close the deal ASAP to give the greatest amount of time to Hodgson in the transfer market (though I promise there were be 'conditional offers' made to players right now - indeed I suggest Cole arriving and Torres/Gerrard so far staying are based on this takeover). Huang has already played the PR game and tried to appeal to the powerful Liverpool fans' groups in saying this, but it does not mean he is the best option.

So I fully expect these negotiations to go back and forth til approx August 28th before closure. But you should also trust that Hodgson/Purslow will have talked to each group and gained authority to conduct *conditional* player transfer negotiations so they can be acted upon as soon as possible after August 28th.

And if you need evidence of big consortiums not having their own way and buying clubs at the last minute, you only have to look at our single biggest threat next season, Manchester City in 2008. Their final day purchase of Robinho before the transfer window slammed shut was a pre-condition on the paperwork being concluded on their deal.

So who do Liverpool fans want to see at the club on August 31st? I'd take Fernando Torres right now.