One of football’s many beauties is in encouraging us to forsake unfortunate strictures of accepted behaviour; as long as it’s at the game, we can sing, swear, cuddle strangers, and even care about stuff without fear of ridicule. And, perhaps best of all, we’re entitled to rejoice in the dastardly; it’s entirely justifiable to drool over the respective oeuvres of Roy Keane, Thierry Henry and Sergio Busquets, if they so tickle you.
The game can also serve as a masking agent for off-pitch indiscretions, and remind people that personal matters are precisely that. Kenny Dalglish somehow wore links to the Clerkenwell crime syndicate, and though plenty of people dislike Wayne Rooney, it’s generally not on account of his nocturnal activities.
But every now and again there arrives an individual who forces engagement with regular sensibilities; consider Luis Suárez. While the biting, diving and complaining – and consequent indignation – can be considered part of football’s joy, the racial abuse of Patrice Evra remains extraneous to it. To recap, Suárez first admitted, then justified the offence, and most recently, allocated chunks of blame to every resident of England – when all he had to do was apologise.
And there has been significant collateral damage. He exposed his club and many of its supporters as blinkered at best, institutional racists at worst, while Arsène Wenger, whom it might have been supposed understood some things to be more important than winning, also made clear to the contrary. Then, a few months ago, Suárez was presented with the Football Supporters’ Federation a player of the year award, a single gesture that could have alienated its entire constituency – yet, at the same ceremony, journalists and celebrants frottaged over how charitably he accepted their adulation.
But given that Suárez is, indisputably, the country’s best player, maybe it makes little sense to ignore him on ethical grounds – rather, so to do would be intellectually dishonest.