IN a parallel universe somewhere, if such things exist, the Liverpool –Manchester United league game in October turned out a little bit differently. The first fifty-odd minutes were exactly the same; the rest of the game, to all but a couple of people, looked to have carried on exactly the same too.
Evra still had that little tantrum about losing the toss. He still told the ref to book Downing and still got away without being booked himself. He still went down writhing in agony for what looked at least from some angles as an innocuous challenge from Suárez. If he was asked later why he’d writhed around in agony following that type of challenge he’d still say it was more painful for him to be caught there because of existing injury problems.
Five minutes after that challenge Evra still said something (best not repeated) to Suárez, something Suárez still didn’t hear. But in this parallel universe Suárez responded to the rest of Evra’s pestering with a word picked up from one of the local lads at Anfield.
“Why did you kick me?”
“Because you’re a blert?”
“A blert; stop whining.”
To people watching from the stands or on TV nothing looked any different to what (it looked like) went on in this universe. Suárez and Evra were still the only ones who really knew what they’d said and what they thought they’d heard. But in the parallel universe Evra’s team mate Rooney explained what “blert” meant and that was the end of that. The controversy afterwards was about Ferguson being asked if Liverpool’s free kick was soft and replying it was and that “that Suárez dives all over the place”, without anyone pointing out to him that it was Adam who’d been fouled for the free kick. Even in that universe Ferguson won’t stand for having things pointed out to him.
Liverpool fans would talk about how it looked like their opponents had come looking for a draw and that it seemed like their opponents were happier with the score than they were. A quick friendly against Rangers followed for Liverpool and then it was the visit of another side that would be happy to leave Anfield with a point – Norwich this time. From then on the game against the Mancs would hardly get a mention.
Liverpool played 13 games whilst waiting for a final outcome on Evra’s accusations; they’ve now played six of the eight-game ban that was part of that outcome. In that parallel universe, where Liverpool’s results weren’t necessarily any better, the only reason the October match would be under discussion now would be if the FA Cup draw was the same.
Chances are, in that parallel universe, Evra would have had a bit of stick from Liverpool fans because of that toin-coss tantrum, the attempt to get Downing booked and his constant narkiness throughout the October fixture (even before that 50-oddth minute). If, as part of the build-up for tomorrow’s game there’d been wall-to-wall coverage of all this there’s a good chance Evra would hear what people thought of him tomorrow. And there’s no doubt at all that if he acted like he did for those first 50 minutes on October he’d get told it again and again. That’s football, after all.
Suárez might be missing from that parallel fixture anyway, after all no player is immune from injury or from racking up unjust or silly bookings. If he was playing, though, he’d almost certainly be the subject of abuse from away supporters thanks to the “diving all over the place” nonsense their manager and others were spreading prior to any mention of more serious allegations. But again, that’s football.
Sometimes the hostility works in the player’s favour anyway. If the crowd react strongly to three or four reasonable challenges from the player they’re aiming their venom at, what happens when it’s the fourth or fifth but this time the ref isn’t so well-sighted? If a player has been clearly fouled a couple of times in plain sight of the referee, only for the ref to hear accusations of diving, what’s that ref going to do the next time when he’s not so well positioned?
It’s not just the referee’s perception of the vitriol that can make a difference of course. Some players thrive on it; they use it to spur them on, all the more if they know there’s no merit to the abuse coming from the stands or if it’s about something that genuinely does not bother them.
Some supporters, at some clubs, have their pantomime boos ready every time a player who used to play for one of their rivals comes to play with his new team. He might only have been on their rival’s books for one season, spent mainly in the reserves, but once a [whatever the neighbours are called] always a [whatever the neighbours are called] and he’ll be booed every time he goes near the ball. Watching other teams on TV people are asking why there’s such anger towards that player, did he end someone’s career? No, he just played for that lot in the next town once.
Wayne Rooney gets it at Anfield, because Wayne Rooney has played for both of the sides that Liverpool supporters like least. He grew up supporting one of them; some would argue his transfer fee meant he supported them in a different way for a couple of years after he’d gone too. The more stick he gets from Liverpool fans the better he usually does.
Gary Neville also always got a bit more attention from Liverpool fans than his team mates did. That was mainly down to him being very publicly full of spite towards Liverpool from early in his career – but the feeling was mutual and on the whole it never did anyone any harm. Nowadays he even gets compliments from Liverpool fans, his punditry for Sky on the whole a welcome surprise.
Manchester United were prepared to lose money on a want away player before they’d let Liverpool buy him, such is their, or their manager’s, dislike (it can’t be fear, can it?) of LFC. But had that player been signed for the side that wear the better shade of Red it doesn’t take much imagination to work out the kind of reception he’d get from his old club’s fans. Something like the reception Paul Ince got when he, via another club, joined Liverpool.
Some of the (internet) abuse aimed at Evra for admitting he considered leaving Old Trafford (for a club overseas) suggests he’d be a long way from popular if he’d gone there and the two sides had met up in a future Champions League (or Europa League) tie.
Whatever the reasons might be for a hostile reception, whether it’s for something that was there before the match or something that happened in the match, chances are it’s not going to mess that player’s head up. If anything it might just make the difference that sees him put that extra 2% effort in to throw himself on the end of a slightly over hit cross or make that last ditch yet well-timed tackle.
A lot of players claim to not even notice what’s being said about them from the stands, to not notice the chanting or insults. Sometimes of course the insults are being hurled at players by their own fans – and chances are they would hurt far more than anything the opposing fans could come up with.
In that parallel universe Evra might have been booed every time he touched the ball in tomorrow’s game and nothing would have been made of it. Evra would probably take it as a compliment, the way many footballers do when they’ve riled the other side’s fans.
Back to reality, what happens if he’s booed tomorrow, or more accurately what happens if he gets shouted at a lot, with some expletives thrown in, by Liverpool supporters tomorrow? We won’t know until it happens – but nothing should be made of it, unless there’s evidence of it being for reasons more sinister than that old club rivalry.
The usual (mainly internet) few who try to make out a chant is worse than it sounds or even make some up that were never sung will no doubt be planning to do more of the same after tomorrow’s match. It helps them fine tune their audience, attracting more of those who can’t think for themselves and won’t ask questions – and repelling those who can and do.
Tomorrow will also be a good test for the cluster of mainstream reporters who have jumped to the wrong conclusions time and again since Evra’s allegations were first heard publicly. Can they report on events at a Liverpool FA cup tie without having to hastily get their reports corrected and the inaccuracies wiped out? Can they report any words Liverpool come out with relating to Evra, if Liverpool do, without putting words into Liverpool’s mouths that were never there?
There is absolutely no reason, other than normal footballing reasons, for Evra to miss tomorrow’s match. As that game goes on any abuse he gets will be because of his actions on the pitch, not his fluid allegations off the pitch.
And, if Evra is 100% certain in his own mind that the decision the FA panel made over the Suárez charge was correct, he’s hardly going to be hurt by a bit of booing tomorrow. He’s not going to play any worse if there seems to be a stronger reaction to a late tackle from him than there is to one from another of his team mates (we don’t even know if Paul Scholes is playing yet).
Will Luis Suárez be there, like he was on Wednesday to see Liverpool knock Manchester City out of the Carling Cup? There’s no reason he shouldn’t be, after all the FA’s punishment didn’t extend to him being prevented from going to see his team’s games, but this is Manchester United we’re playing and it would just be inviting them to stir up trouble about it in some way.
Liverpool will be there to play football, the Liverpool fans will be there to see it played. Liverpool will try to win, not try for a draw, and once that coin has been tossed, tantrum from the visiting captain or not, football will be all that matters.
Manchester United can do what they want.