When Is A Racist Not A Racist? (Part the Third)

 or, Musings on the Racism “Revival” Pt.3

Father Ted was quick to defend Luis Suárez.

First off, credit where credit is due. This part of my investigation of racism in football was originally going to be drawn from this website, which investigates the differing opinions on race in South America. Then, during Sunday’s high-profile media debacle, when Luis Suárez refused to shake Patrice Evra’s hand, the ensuing Twit-storm saw a well-regarded Liverpool fan and Twitter enthusiast @jwidnell tell critics of Suárez that we probably hadn’t even read the FA document about the Uruguayan’s punishment. This was a fair point. I had only, to that point, read one page summaries in the media, and such a summary could be incredibly misleading. So I read it, and in the process discovered information that validated not just this part of my musings, but everything I had written on the topic thus far.

So here we go (again):

ANSWERING DEFENCE 3: “Suarez is South American and doesn’t understand European racism”. This is the most interesting defence of all. As residents of The Wirral have been uncharacteristically quick to point out, to suggest that a Uruguayan should be judged by Anglo-American cultural values is to apply some kind of hegemonic cultural imperialism. The BBC were quick to point out that:

“Probably the most revered figure in the history of Uruguayan football is Obdulio Varela, captain of the side that won the World Cup in 1950. His nickname was ‘El Negro Jefe‘ – the black boss.”

“Among Suarez’s team-mates these days is Maxi Pereira, who is known as “El Mono” – the monkey. It is a nickname which, apparently, is given and accepted with no offence meant or taken…”

This is all very interesting, until you consider the FA tribunal evidence that observes (entry 174) “In Colombia, the word ‘mono‘ (literally, ‘monkey’) is used to address light-skinned people or people whose hair is lighter than pure black“…

THIS is Maxi Pereira.

Calling him a monkey is no more “racist” than this cheeky comparison:

Because some are more simian than others...

Double standards? Not quite. Racist monkey abuse harks back to the era when Christians justified their treatment of black slaves as morally permissible because, they argued, Africans were of an inferior “savage” race. This was compounded by (Christian-influenced) science of Enlightenment-era Europe, which decided that paler “Caucasians” were the original race of Adam and Eve, and that other races were degenerate offshoots related to animals. Early scientifc racist Georges Cuvier wrote: “The Negro race… is marked by black complexion, crisped of woolly hair, compressed cranium and a flat nose, The projection of the lower parts of the face, and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the monkey tribe: the hordes of which it consists have always remained in the most complete state of barbarism.” As such, he placed the dark-skinned “Ethiopian” race at the foot of his hierarchy of races, and the idea of African people being connected with monkeys was born. This all before Charles Darwin would accurately postulate that we are all, in fact, just naked apes.

So, the monkey insult has specific connotations of white Christian colonialist supremacy when applied to people of African descent. As to Suárez’s argument that he applied the term “negro” to Evra in a “friendly” manner, the following entries in the FA report complicated this immensely.

169. In Uruguay … some people who self-identify as black object to the use of the word ‘negro’ as a term of address, as they say it highlights skin colour when this should be irrelevant; they point out that the term “blanco” [white] is rarely used in this fashion. [the implication that “white equals standard” is why “coloured” is no longer acceptable]

170. The word ‘negro’ can have pejorative connotations, as it may be associated with low class status, ugliness, vulgar behaviour, noisiness, violence, dishonesty, sexual promiscuity etc. In the River Plate region, for example, ‘los negros’ is sometimes employed as a general term for the lower classes and especially for lower-class people whose behaviour is deemed vulgar and not “respectable”. [animal associations abound in these adjectives]

171. Thus the word can be employed with the intent to offend and to offend in racial terms

172. The word ‘negro’ is by no means, however, always used offensively. The term can also be used as a friendly form of address to someone seen as somewhat brown-skinned or even just black-haired. It may be used affectionately between man and wife, or girlfriend / boyfriend, it may be used as a nickname in everyday speech, it may be used to identify in neutral and descriptive fashion someone or dark skin; several famous people in Uruguay are known as ‘el negro/la negra such-and-such’. [i.e. context plays a major part]

In essence:

168. It is important to grasp that the word “negro” is ambiguous in all countries and regions of Latin America. […]

186. [the words] would be understood as offensive and offensive in racial terms in Uruguay and Spanish-speaking America more generally.

When adding context:

241. [Suárez’s] facial expression was hostile towards Mr Evra, he was speaking forcefully to him, he looked Mr Evra up and down and then reached out and pinched Mr Evra’s bare left forearm. This was an unpleasant and petty gesture which appeared designed to aggravate Mr Evra, and was likely to have that effect.

Suarez at first claimed that he was trying to “defuse the situation” with the pinching action in his witness statement. Later, under cross-examination, he claims he was trying to show Evra that he “wasn’t untouchable” (entries 246 & 247). The possibility of the statements’ confusion through mistranslation – that Suárez’s lawyer attempted to blame the discrepancy on – was highly unlikely, as the finalised English and Spanish drafts were shown to Suárez and his interpreter, and read and signed before the trial. Suárez signed a document that he later contradicted.

Suárez also altered his description about the reasons for using the word ‘negro’ so that instead of being a “friendly and affectionate” manner, it later became “conciliatory”, a wording specifically used by the Spanish language experts whose testimonies he had since read. Liverpool executive Damien Comolli’s witness statement makes it clear that Suárez said “Porque tu es negro“, or “because you are black”, meaning that he wasn’t using a “friendly” noun, but an adjective. Furthermore the adjective is part of a statement that is of questionable intent, relating as it does to the question “why did you kick me?”

Both Comolli (in Spanish) and Dirk Kuyt (in Dutch) also apparently “mishear[d]” what Suárez said to them, which is confusing because Suárez fails to correct Comolli when he relates the allegations to Kenny Dalglish, or correct the written testimony that was submitted in his (signed) name.

All of that is essentially academic, though. What the essence of the case came down to is that:

FACT 1: Suárez has admitted using a term (‘negro‘) which is based on race.

FACT 2: Evra was racially offended by this.

FACT 3: When someone offends you sufficiently, the least you can expect is an apology.

FACT 4: Suárez failed to apologise.

If Suárez had acted like a man and simply apologised off the bat for causing offence, none of this – the reports, the T-shirts, the tribunal, the ban, the backlash, the hate-Tweets, the jail-time, the handshake controversy, these long-winded investigations into the nature of racism – would really have been necessary.

Which means Suárez is either:

a) a racist;

b) a child-like ignoramus who is ignorant of global cultural concepts like race, religion and castes; or

c) a child-like idiot who was too vain to apologise to an opponent for offending him, or shake his hand and say “let’s get on with it, and media nonsense be damned”.

I like to think that it’s c). Either way, unquestioned defence of Suárez is more than a little dubious. It can just about be excused in supporters, who are typically less than philosophically astute, but Thierry Ennui found Kenny Dalglish’s absolute refusal to see any wrong-doing both  dangerously incendiary and offensive. Clearly, so did Liverpool’s owners and backers. Of course as it stands, some of this may have came to light in June when the Terry-Ferdinand affair hits Crown Court, but that’s another story entirely. So ultimately, when is a racist not a racist? When they’re too ignorant (or arrogant) to admit that they may have accidentally caused offence.

When Is A Racist Not A Racist? (Part the Second)

or, Musings on the Racism “Revival” Pt.2

In case anyone thinks that bringing up the Suárez incident is passé, consider this picture that was Tweeted by head of the Homeless World Cup, Gareth Parker, from the 6th February game between Liverpool and Tottenham:

Tweet: "Message to Liverpool FC. I'll stop when you stop."

My sentiments exactly. Mr Parker, incidentally, was subsequently called a “clueless c***” by a Liverpool fan because “Negrito is nothing racist in spanish”. *Sigh*

So clearly my point still needs to be made. By the end of Part One of this inquiry into the nature of racism, I proved that:
a) you can be racially abusive without using specifically racist terminology, and
b) avoiding potentially racist language was a damned good way of appearing not to be racist.

This has, I hope, gone some way to exploding the defence of Luis Suárez that “Negrito isn’t a racist term”. It doesn’t need to be, if the context of the usage is one where confrontation is involved. Harking back to my assessment of Moussa Démbélé’s red card against Wisla Krakow, a simple piece of elementary logic, it becomes similarly apparent that if Suárez doesn’t mention Evra’s race at all, the offence does not exist.

That incisive summary dispensed with, time to tackle the second prong of the defence that was offered:

ANSWERING DEFENCE 2: “SUÁREZ ISN’T A RACIST”.
Many have indeed been quick to back Suarez, not least of all Liverpool’s Jamaican legend John Barnes and current “mixed-race” team-mate Glen Johnson. “I’ll defend who I want,” said Johnson, in response to criticisms levelled at the Liverpool squad, who had worn “Suarez 07″ shirts in a (misguided) show of solidarity with the beleaguered Uruguayan hit-man. This despite the fact that he has subsequently admitted using a race-based term (apparently “negro”, according to his tribunal), meaning he probably could have sorted the whole tawdry affair with one immediate apology. Johnson’s loyalty to his colleague was admirable, and demonstrates that solidarity cuts across racial and national lines on many occasions.

Which brings me to my next point. In psychology, there is a little phenomenon known as “In-Group Out-Group Bias”, whereby people will attribute positive characteristics to people that they see as “one of us” and a valuable individual, while writing off outsiders as “all the same”. Sociologist William Sumner provided the basis of the phenomenon in 1906:

“Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exists in its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders.”

In simple cases, it accounts for such social phenomenon as nationalism or ethnocentrism, but it throw up some interesting side-effects in more complex cases. For example, it accounts for the trench-mentality tribalism demonstrated by large tracts of Liverpool Football Club – not least their manager –  and support, who presume to understand linguistics and racism better than anyone else in the UK, all the while inadvertently becoming apologists for racists everywhere. It also accounts for the well-known bigot’s excuse of “Some of my best friends are [x]!”, which anyone from a minority group will know only too well. There were people within my circle of school-friends who had never said a racist word in front of me during 6-10 years of friendship. With “in front of me” being the operative phrase. They wouldn’t use the words in front of me because “I was a mate” and they understood that it would be hurtful. However when I wasn’t there, they were free to write off everybody else with brown skin as whatever less-than-us category of “smelly” or “stupid” or “untrustworthy” that they felt appropriate. They only stopped when my other friends pointed out the inconsistency of their insults. However to them, I wasn’t a “darkie” or “One of Them”, I was their mate or “One of Us”. This logic is highly relevant. For Suárez, Johnson was “one of us [Liverpool players]”, and vice versa. However Evra was “one of them”, and theoretically open for abuse.

Unless I'm mistaken, and these are the faces of friendly camaraderie?

A friend of mine was nearly ejected from Hearts’ Tynecastle Stadium about 10 years ago. He ended up clocking someone in the row behind who had been heaping foul-mouthed racist abuse on Celtic’s Didier Agathe, in the presence of children, despite the fact that Hearts’ frontline was lead by the young Jamaican Ricardo Fuller, now of Stoke. The fan in question saw nothing wrong with abusing an opponent, while the terms of abuse would be equally repellent to his own front-man, and influential to any children in earshot. My friend objected several times, but the perpetrator persisted, until he received what we call in Edinburgh a “sair mooth“. Luckily for my friend, some public-minded (i.e. non-racist) citizens in the crowd set the intervening stewards straight on the situation, and the right man was removed.

Of course, this is not to say that Scottish football is in any way superior in these matters. It was only 24 years ago, on January 2nd 1988, that Rangers player Mark Walters was racially abused by fans on both sides of the Old Firm divide. The Celtic fans threw bananas and made monkey chants. The Rangers fans, in “defending” Walters from this racist behaviour, chanted “I’d rather be a darkie than a Tim“. Glasgow has suffered well-documented problems with religious discrimination, so racial abuse is only a small (goose-)step away. However it was Edinburgh, specifically Tynecastle where my own Hearts team play, that was “the worst place of all” according to Walters.
What Walters discovered from his own support is that we are all, to a person, guilty of categorising people. The world, especially the social one, is too vast and complex to navigate without the use of descriptive words. By an accident of cognition, we are forced to automatically associate certain terms with people: man, woman, black, white, straight, gay. This is unavoidable. This is also the source of stereotypes. The major problem comes when certain negative associations are inherent in the word.
“Darkie” was clearly not the appropriate choice for Rangers fans to use, because it is used entirely as a term of abuse. When Alan Hansen used the term “coloured“, he was merely using the old PC term; but indeed you can see first a grimacing Lee Dixon, then a faltering Hansen himself, realise that he has made a PC error. I genuinely believe he had no racist intent. The problem is that “coloured” implies that “white” is some kind of standard, which is why it was dispensed with as an acceptable term. Of course, as always the subsequent  YouTube comments provide ready evidence that we are tilting steadily towards some polarised apocalypse. One commentator is offended by “coloured”, another commentator is offended by that offence, and the next moment racial slurs are flying (NB: this seems to happen in all YouTube posts except cat-based ones). Yet all Hansen was suggesting was that players suffer less racist abuse now than 25 years ago, but that there is still room for improvement. Hardly Mein Kampf material.

My point is, the difference between a racist and anyone else is that they use racially motivated language to cast aspersions about other ethnic backgrounds. People spent weeks claiming Suárez wasn’t racist because he played with multi-racial teammates who supported him, but that means nothing alongside all the “some-of-my-best-pals-are-racists” evidence, weighted above. To call a spade a spade, and correspondingly demonstrate a particularly American example of innocent language that is better avoided, if you use racist language with the intent of offending some target, then you are a racist.

I say again, Suárez need not have used the word “negrito” (or whatever he said) at all in a confrontation situation. I also say again, Hansen’s intent was a defence of racial Others. As everyone is inherently prejudiced, the only way we can say Suárez is not guilty of being a racist is to judge him by either his actions or his intent. Of course, intent is something that we are ultimately denied access to, so the whole second “Not A Racist” defence falls under the Scottish legal term “Not Proven” – that is, Not Guilty but Not Innocent (or “Not Guilty and Don’t Do It Again”). As Suarez admitted using the word without later apologising – remembering that he was similarly unapologetic for his “Hand of God” moment against Ghana in South Africa 2010 – his only possible defence can be that he doesn’t understand the existence of racism, his “third defence” in this long-winded series of articles. A defence which I will tackle with the relish that Karl Henry displays against Joey Barton, all in due course.

We all have the potential to make sweeping judgements about people of other backgrounds. The difference is whether you do it often, whether you genuinely mean what you say, and whether you do it to hurt people. We’ve all probably made an edgy joke at some time or another. The issue comes when you weren’t being ironic, or when someone was offended by it. As cross-dressing comic Eddie Izzard said, in a marvellous subversion of homophobes’ “I-just-don’t-wanna-see-it” view of gays:

“As long as they’re homophobic behind closed doors, and don’t hurt anyone, I’m fine with it.”

Well, that goes for all the racists too. When is a racist not a racist? When they didn’t mean to cause any offence, or when they keep their intent to themselves.

When Is A Racist Not A Racist? (Part the First)

or, Musings on the Racism “Revival” Pt.1

Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt calms Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi after he received racist abuse.

Before we get going, it’s been a while since TE last posted any trademark “wit”, so I’d like to belatedly say:

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all you lot who read and contributed to the blog in 2011. Here’s to a good 2012!”

Unfortunately, 2012 has started as 2011 ended, with altogether too many football headlines concerning the thorny issue of racism. Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra, John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, Alan Hansen and people who like to get in arguments on YouTube. That last one was actually just an utterly forgivable lack of PC savvy, but the subsequent Tom Adeyemi incident put genuine abuse back in the spotlight again. The problem keeps cropping up with the regularity of Hearts squad members going unpaid. As Twittersphere news developed that Anton Ferdinand had received a bullet in the post last Friday, the Trending link for “Anton Ferdinand” yielded a relevant question posed on the 21st of January.

One Chelsea teenager, a self-professed lover of little more than her boyfriend, her cider, and her club, Tweeted:

We sing “Anton Ferdinand, you know what you are.” Norwich sing “John Terry, you know what you are.” What’s the difference?

Well, to paraphrase the iconic civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King, one chant is based on the colour of the player’s skin and the other on the (alleged) content of a player’s character. I think you’ll agree that this is as simple and poignant a distinction as I can make. One is racist, the other is not.

So to business: “When Is A Racist Not A Racist?”. This title echoes the clean – and frankly terrible – joke, “When is a door not a door?”. Obviously a racist can’t be “ajar”, but the underlying mechanism of the joke is based on semantics, and that topic that will crop up in the coming blog about as often as the word “madcap” does to describe Mario Balotelli (seriously, Google it).

Semantics were behind the Suárez-Evra issue that was “resolved” by the FA a month ago. Following the Suárez allegation, Merseyside was suddenly bursting with linguistics experts, eager to correct the broader public on the Spanish dictionary definition of “negrito”. The arguments were roughly three-pronged:

DEFENCE 1 : “Negrito isn’t an insult, it means little black man”.
DEFENCE 2: “Suárez isn’t a racist”.
DEFENCE 3: “He’s South American and doesn’t understand European racism”.

ANSWERING DEFENCE 1: “NEGRITO” ISN’T AN INSULT
Exhibit A: Boxing Day 2011. A woman walks along a Leith street at night. She is wearing a hijab. Two “gentlemen” approach from the other direction, their flushed features and loose gaits suggesting alcohol has been a large part of their day’s diet. The path is narrow where they pass the woman, and the shorter of the two men leans his face into the woman’s, leering, and says “Merry Christmas!” through nearly-gritted teeth. The woman shrinks into the wall as she passes, and the two men laugh as they go swaggering off up the street.
Exhibit B: Tesco Stores Ltd v Wilson, January 2000.
Tesco security guard files report on Rastafarian cleaner, saying that “you lot think you can get away with anything”, after the cleaner refused to agree to an unnecessary search of his car. Judge finds that “you lot” was “certainly intended to refer to race” and awarded damages according to Race Relations Act of 1976.
There we have it: racial abuse in the words “Merry Christmas”, and also the phrase “you lot”. Yet earlier on, when I said “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all you lot who have read and contributed to the blog in 2011″, neither word pairing was likely to cause any offence whatsoever (unless you hate inelegant phrases like “you lot” on principle).

The fact of the matter is that every communication act require two participants, an utterer and a receiver. Whatever is being said must be understood and contextualised (semantics again). The context can be anything from formality of conversation, to familiarity with the speaker, to the surrounding words, or even non-verbal communication cues (body language). Liverpool fans may self-identify as “Scousers”, but if someone else calls them an “effing Scouse c***” (Ed: that’s “clod”), it is clear that the word “Scouse” is being used as a term of abuse, and they should rightly be offended.
The two “gentlemen” who wished Merry Christmas to a woman in a hijab were doing so precisely because she didn’t celebrate Christmas. They understood it, she understood it, and further down the street I understood it too. Intimidation through Othering. Also one of the subtlest forms of abuse because it deployed no specifically racist language. Compared to this level of “subtlety”, Suárez using the term “negrito” against an opponent in a needle match looks like outright abuse – which funnily enough is what the FA tribunal decided. This was compounded when some particularly charming Liverpool supporters used the same term to heap horrible personal abuse upon both Evra and Stan Collymore, the ex-Liverpool star who had dared to defend Evra on Twitter. For those of you who don’t quite get it yet, here’s the deal: if you use categorising language when talking to a stranger, you run the risk of coming across as at worst a bigot, and at the least as insensitive to cultural variance. Fortunately, TE is here to clear up any confusion.

THIERRY’S BIGOTRY RULES OF THUMB:

When considering use of a term that may or may not be offensive, pipe down and consider the following scenarios:

1. THE NEW BOSS TEST: if you wouldn’t use that term to describe a new boss who is of that background, then it probably isn’t suitable chat.
2. THE KNIFE-WIELDING MAN TEST: same idea, just substitute “a new boss” for “an angry-looking man fingering a large knife” in the above sentence.

Bruce Willis calmly reconsidered the cracks about the nice man’s ancestry and haircut.

The thing is, some words aren’t supposed to be used in polite society. Use them with your friends if you like, but keep it to yourself in public. If you genuinely can’t tell what would be inappropriate in either situation, then frankly you’re beyond help. Enjoy screaming expletives at your television set, which was more than likely paid for by hard-working people of all the races and backgrounds that make up “Britain”. Oh, and please feel free to stay indoors with your toxic opinions.

Consider this quotation from the epigram of Bret Easton Ellis’ amazing American Psycho:

‘One of the major mistakes people make is that they think manners are only the expression of happy ideas. There’s a whole range of behaviour that can be expressed in a mannerly way. That’s what civilization is all about – doing it in a mannerly and not an antagonistic way. One of the places we went wrong was the naturalistic Rousseauean movement of the sixties in which people said, “Why can’t you just say what’s on your mind?” In civilization there have to be some restraints. If we followed every impulse, we’d be killing one another.’
– Miss Manners (Judith Martin)

That’s the crux of it: manners and politically correct language are the oil that ease the gears of social interaction. Without them, everything could break down. Now, some of you will be starting to wonder where I’m going with this “keep it indoors” and “keep it civil” business, instead of taking the standard stance of “racism is a terrible thing”. I’ll explain that too.

Next time…

Villans Guilty of Criminal Neglect

Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool

An Aston Villa side lacking in both bite and spirit succumbed to two Liverpool set-pieces in a game that was effectively over after 20 minutes. The hosts were guilty of defensive neglect, and their manager hampered their cause with an uninspired formation that his oppostite number trumped. Outnumbered in midfield, Villa’s tactics were all wrong and forced them on the back foot.

In a battle between two Scottish managers in search of improved results, both managers made changes to their starting line-ups. The telling factor was that Alex McLeish’s were forced upon him, while Kenny Dalglish’s were chosen. For Villa, Agbonlahor missed out through suspension, while Bent was a late injury withdrawal; leaving McLeish without his two top scorers. Delfouneso and Heskey deputised up front for the hosts. For the visitors, Shelvey made his first start of this campaign for the Reds, after recently impressing at Blackpool during a loan spell. Bellamy replaced Kuyt as Dalglish shuffled his pack in anticipation of the intensive silly season fixture schedule.

Dalglish Packs the Midfield Again

Villa lined up in a fairly standard 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1, with traditional wide midfielders on their best feet in N’Zogbia (left) and Albrighton (right). Up front, Heskey was detailed to drop deeper when Villa where chasing possession. Following its success against QPR, Liverpool again went with a 4-2-3-1, with Suarez leading the line and inverted wingers in Bellamy (left) and Downing (right). Shelvey sat central, just ahead of the second band of Adam and Henderson, who played ahead of a back four with attacking full-backs Johnson and José Enrique. This gave Liverpool midfield superiority on paper, and from the outset it transpired that theory translated into practice, as Villa were perceptibly outnumbered three to two in central areas. Heskey was too advanced to help the midfield significantly, but too deep to help Delfouneso on the counter, and he was fairly anonymous as a result.
On top of that, Johnson and José Enrique were allowed to join in down the flanks as possession tipped Liverpool’s way, and Villa were continuously forced back. Villa’s right-back Hutton, who is at his best on the front foot, was often unable to participate in attacks due to Liverpool’s midfield dominance and Bellamy’s lively movement. This tipped the balance further towards the visitors. By half-time, the ball had spent twice as long in Villa’s defensive third of the pitch (30%) as it did in Liverpool’s (15%). However Villa also did their chances no favours with sloppy defending and unforced errors.


They were behind before they ever really got going. They had forged one decent chance – a Heskey header from an Albrighton free kick – that was  offside and aimed straight at Reina, when they handed Liverpool the lead. Downing, who as an ex-Villan laboured under a cloud of boos whenever he touched the ball, clipped a tame inswinging corner into the area from Liverpool’s right side. Shelvey broke off the near-post untracked and diverted the ball goal-ward with a clever flick, and when Suarez’s subsequent copy-cat flick was only parried by Guzan, Bellamy was on hand to poke the ball home. The marking of all three Reds players was shambolic. This highlighted the reasons why Villa have a poor record defending set-pieces: only stricken Bolton had conceded more goals from dead-ball situations this season.
This would be foregrounded just four minutes later when they conceded the second in similar circumstances. Scorer Bellamy turned provider as  Skrtel headed his corner home: the big Slovak lost his ball-watching marker Dunne with ease, beat Hutton to the ball, and glanced a header high into the top-right corner. With Liverpool two up and barely breaking a sweat, the Villa fans were so unsettled that they couldn’t even give Downing stick with any conviction, their barracking somewhat hushed for about ten minutes.
Adding to their problems of poor marking and midfield inferiority were the number of their players who sloppily gave away possession. N’Zogbia, Delph and Delfouneso were repeat offenders, indeed when an outnumbered N’Zogbia passed directly into touch minutes after the second goal, it  was broadly symbolic of Villa’s first half efforts. Villa edged back into the game for the latter part of the first half, but Reina still went largely untested by half-time. Heskey, operating in the hole, wasn’t able to break fast enough when Villa countered, which left Delfouneso breaking without adequate support more than once. N’Zogbia was lively but wasteful, shooting from range too often, and looked somewhat frustrated throughout the ninety minutes.
When the break arrived, this loudmouthed pundit was calling for McLeish to make a tactical change that would augment Villa’s midfield. His side’s best chances had been hopeful shots from range, and they were clearly losing the battle in the centre of the park. However, he opted to send out an unchanged team, as did Dalglish who had no reason to change anything.

Too Little Too Late for McLeish Response
It took two more defensive errors before McLeish  decided “enough is enough”. First, Dunne robbed Suarez only to carelessly give him the ball back in the area, and the little Uruguayan rattled the crossbar with a powerful effort. Then Warnock sloppily gifted the ball to Johnson, who was then allowed to drive at goal unchecked and hit a stinging drive which Guzan did well to slap around the post. McLeish’s response was to send on Bannan for Heskey, which was a perplexing choice as Heskey is a good lone striker who can bring midfielders into play, while McLeish’s choice Delfouneso was still conceding possession cheaply. Then again, McLeish has been criticised for failing to get the best out of his strikers, and on this evidence he is playing his forwards either in the wrong roles, or with the wrong tactics.


With Bannan on the right flank and Albrighton shifting to left, McLeish also now had two inverted wingers, and N’Zogbia dropped into an attacking midfield role ahead of Delph and Petrov. This reshuffle evened the midfield contest and opened the game up a little, temporarily galvanising Villa to casual appearances. However this was little more than competitive balance being restored, and Liverpool still had the edge in terms of quality and their lead. Villa did make chances, N’Zogbia firing a shot into Reina’s arms, and Delph’s deflected shot looping just wide of the target, but again these chances were largely speculative shots from outside the area. At the other end, Liverpool also forged a handful of opportunities, the best of which saw Adam’s shot deflected wide when a square ball to Shelvey or Suarez may have been the better options. Suarez also struck the woodwork a second time with an artful chip, before being replaced with the largely anonymous Carroll. The match was dwindling into a fairly placid affair, with Villa still guilty of giving the ball away, and Liverpool happy to knock the ball around patiently and hold on to their lead.
As time began to run out, McLeish had one last throw of the dice, sending on their last (barely) recognised forward. Austrian striker Weimann replaced midfielder Delph, Villa thereby reverting to an attacking 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 with the third band as wingers. Dalglish countered this by deploying Carragher at the expense of Shelvey: with Bannan and Petrov playing fairly deep in the centre, the extra central midfielder was increasingly unnecessary, so a spare body was added to the defensive line. Now playing a 5-2-2-1, with Agger as a covering sweeper, Liverpool soaked up what little pressure and opportunities the hosts threw at them – generally from Albrighton and N’Zogbia on the flanks – with a minimum of effort. When the final whistle came, it signalled a result that had basically been decided over an hour before.


Conclusion: This match was not so much a game that Liverpool won, as one Villa threw away. McLeish got his tactics wrong: the 4-4-2 left his team outnumbered in the centre, and his forwards lacked the quality to worry the Reds’ defence. Even with Agbonlahor and Bent returning, there are questions over the service they receive (or don’t). Liverpool therefore dictated large passages of play, and weren’t really tested. The victory will satisfy the Anfield support, but their team perhaps should have had more goals and put the game to bed, pointing to ongoing problems with finding the net and killing teams off. Villa’s problems mount: they were pretty ineffective up front, lacked creativity in midfield, and were sluggish and unfocused at the back. With three tough matches before the year is out – Arsenal (H), Stoke (A), Chelsea (A) – Villa fans will be eyeing the slim 6 point gap between their club and the relegation zone nervously. Their squad is not deep in stars or even squad players – the untested Johnson and Burke on today’s bench are testament to this – and with fixtures coming thick and fast; an injury to Bent, Agbonlahor or N’Zogbia could leave Villa in a sticky situation towards the end of the season.
Man of the Match: there weren’t a lot of outstanding performances, but Craig Bellamy scored, assisted, and kept Alan Hutton’s attention enough to keep him downfield for a lot of the game.
Fun Fact: Today’s victory at Villa Park was Kenny Dalglish’s first as Liverpool manager.
Fun Fact 2: Reds midfielder Charlie Adam got his competitive debut under Villa boss Alex McLeish at Rangers.

ASTON VILLA: Guzan; Hutton, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Albrighton, Delph (Weimann 80), Petrov, N’Zogbia; Heskey (Bannan 56), Delfouneso. Subs not used: Marshall, Clark, Cuellar, Johnson, Burke.
LIVERPOOL: Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique; Adam, Henderson; Bellamy (Kuyt 88), Shelvey (Carragher 83),  Downing; Suarez (Carroll 73). Subs not used: Doni, Maxi, Coates, Kelly.
Referee: Peter Walton.

Turn On, Toon In, Drop Out.

Arch-hippy Timothy Leary’s jingle for hallucinogenic drugs, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”, may seem out of place when talking about Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United. Then again,  looking at their league position at this stage of the season, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone had slipped some LSD into your morning cuppa. Sitting above the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in fourth place, the Toon certainly appear to have turned on the style at the start of their season. However, last weekend’s defeat to Manchester City brought them crashing back to reality, and Thierry Ennui believes that this particular come-down might be long and painful.

Demba Ba scores against Stoke.

“Turn On” – The Season Begins

To be honest, part of the hype surrounding this season’s Newcastle squad was that not much was expected of them.  Andy Carroll was shown the door in January when an increasingly daft-looking £35 million was offered for his services down Anfield way. José Enrique, held by many to be one of the Toon’s players of 2010-11, followed in August.  On top of these losses, club captain Kevin Nolan was allowed to drop into West Ham’s promotion battle, despite bagging an impressive 12 goals from Newcastle’s midfield. Last but not least, outspoken Twitter sensation Joey Barton was allowed to follow Nolan to London, joining QPR for free.  Thierry Ennui says “not least” because the sadly-departed Scheidtcast suggested that Barton was responsible for Carroll and Nolan’s inspiring seasons, and TE tends to agree.

That was the “Outs”. The “Ins” comprised of a decidedly Gallic influx: Manchester United’s winger Gabriel Obertan signed on, along with countrymen Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid. With the exception of Cabaye, who was instrumental in Lille winning their first Ligue 1 title in 57 years this summer, this scattering of former France Under-21 midfielders were a relatively unknown quantity, apart from Obertan who had effectively flopped at Old Trafford. The same “unproven” label could be attached to Italian defender Davide Santon, hailed as a “young Paolo Maldini” but still with much to prove at just 20. The arrival of Demba Ba from West Ham provided the striker that the Toon Army so badly craved, Post-Carroll. However Tony Pulis’ ominous assessment of Ba’s fitness, reported as a “ticking time bomb”, together with his tendency to wastefully snatch at half chances while West Ham desperately attempted to avoid going down, were hardly the stuff of dreams for Newcastle fans. There was positive news in the highly-anticipated returns of Dan Gosling and Hatem Ben-Arfa, who both missed most of last season through injury, and the retention of local hero (and Maradona’s man-crush) Jonás Gutiérrez. However few could have foretold the eleven match unbeaten run that this combination of players would achieve. Or could they?

“Toon In” – The Unbeaten Run

This is where Thierry Ennui gets really critical: Newcastle have had a remarkably fortunate start to the season, as good as they were likely to get. What objectively reads as “P 12,  W 7, D 4, L 1″ does not look quite so impressive when you examine the fixtures closely.

    1. Newcastle 0-0 Arsenal – Home advantage fails to get result against troubled 10-man Arsenal “who left Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri out of their squad” due to imminent exits.
    2. Sunderland 0-1 Newcastle – Upper hand in North-East derby maintained in edgy encounter. Off-colour Sunderland will go without a win for another three matches.
    3. Newcastle 2-1 Fulham – Another edgy win against a “tired looking” Fulham who were defeated in distant Ukraine just 53 hours previously. Fulham have only scored 3 goals in 6 away matches.
    4. QPR 0-0 Newcastle - QPR “held to goalless draw” by Newcastle. Pardew: “we did not deserve any more”.
    5. Aston Villa 1-1 Newcastle - Newcastle “take control” at Villa Park, but only emerge with a point.
    6. Newcastle 3-1 Blackburn – Ba hat-trick inspires win over stricken Blackburn team who have one win & one draw from 6, and haven’t won since.
    7. Wolves 1-2 Newcastle - Newcastle are swamped by a Wolves side who are five games without a win, but emerge victorious against the run of play. Wolves are denied a valid goal and have a strong penalty claim rejected.
    8. Newcastle 2-2 Tottenham – the pick of the bunch: a home draw against an in-form Spurs side, following a two-week international break. Newcastle have fewer regular internationalists than Tottenham.
    9. Newcastle 1-0 Wigan – Newcastle edge out a Wigan side who have no wins in previous five matches.
    10. Stoke 1-3 Newcastle - Newcastle defeat a Stoke side who have failed to win any game following a mid-week match since August 28th, having lost 4 of the previous 5 such games over 2 months. It is Stoke’s 5th game in 16 days, while Newcastle have played 5 in 30 days.
    11. Newcastle 2-1 Everton – Goal-shy Everton lose their sixth match in seven despite having the better of the play. Also have valid penalty claim turned down.
    12. Man City 3-1 Newcastle - The first league defeat. Newcastle’s bubble bursts?

Arguably what we have is a team who stumbled into an unbeaten run, playing opponents who were off-form or suffering from fixture congestion. With the exception of the home draw against Tottenham, most of Newcastle’s opponents were off-form or struggling to find goals.  Until yesterday, the only top-half teams that they had faced away were Aston Villa, who have won only half of their home games, and QPR, who have won just once at Loftus Road. Both games ended with a share of points. The fact of the matter is that Newcastle’s start to the season has been as easy as any team has had it, and now we shall see what the squad is made of in the coming weeks.

“Drop Out”? – Sterner Tests for the Toon

So is Newcastle’s luck about to change? Following Manchester City’s 3-1 victory over the Toon, BBC’s Alistair Magowan Tweeted that “Pardew says he was frustrated by missed chances and that nothing went his team’s way”. Well, as the golfing aphorism goes, “the harder you work, the luckier you get”. A team like City will punish your errors, and give away less chances, than an Everton side who has Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta among their top-scorers, or a Wolves side who have now gone nine games without a clean sheet. The fickle element that we call luck tends to be related to self-belief and ability, and Newcastle are about to be tested in both departments. It is one thing to take chances against slack defences, and hold out against teams that are starved of goals, especially when confidence is high. It is another entirely to face some of the best players the league has to offer when you’ve just been papped off of the most expensive team in the country.

Alan Pardew himself admitted that “City are best team we’ve played by some distance”, but the truth content of that statement may be higher than he realises. Simply put, Newcastle have marched through the first third of the season with barely any top-quality tests. Following on from their first defeat, they face Manchester United at Old Trafford, and then host Chelsea. They must also visit a sturdy-looking Norwich side, and also a Liverpool side undefeated at Anfield before the year is out, before welcoming Man United to the SportsDirect Arena as first-footers.

On top of all this there is a mounting injury list, and while NUFC Blog has convincingly argued that Ba’s knee problem is not as serious as Pulis suggested, they also draw attention to Marveaux’s worrying history of hamstring and groin injuries. The Newcastle faithful have rich  experience of these issues, from such luxury tampons* as Michael Owen and Kieron Dyer. Digression aside, the season is about to reach the point where smaller squads struggle to maintain form and fitness. Consider Hull’s early run and then plummet to relegation two seasons ago, or Blackpool’s boom-and-bust form last year. If there are any more casualties on treatment table in the near future, Newcastle’s squad may start to look a little threadbare. (*tampon: injury-prone player, on account of being “in for one week, then out for three”.)

Pardew: in for a chilly winter?

This is not to say that Newcastle are relegation candidates – Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton are looking, well, “Bolt-ed On” as things stand. Then again, Bolton endured a comparatively hellish start compared to Newcastle, facing both the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Liverpool and a resurgent Arsenal within six games. The pummelling that their confidence and results took should serve as a warning to Newcastle: unless they bounce back from last week’s defeat with a good result against Manchester United, their season may well take something of a nosedive. The inherent rivalry games against the Red Devils might inspire a decent performance, then again the midweek draw against Benfica and subsequent “hairdryer treatment” may have the Old Trafford side riled up. In the near future, St.James’ Park may quickly cool off from the Summer of Love it has enjoyed so far. The concern for the Toon Army must be that the season doesn’t descend into “Fear and Loathing”…

Raoul Duke didn’t fancy Newcastle’s winter fixtures.

Bigger Cages, Longer Chains

Tomasz Kuszczak claims “slave” treatment by Manchester United

Third-choice Manchester United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak today apparently spat the dummy and claimed he had become “a slave to Manchester [United]” after a proposed loan move to Leeds United was blocked by the club. The Polish international footballer (29) has one eye on playing in Euro 2012, and hoped the loan move would allow him to break back into the national team. However the move was vetoed by Sir Alex Ferguson, celebrating his 25th year in charge at Old Trafford, presumably due to the relative top-flight inexperience of his other two keepers.

According to the BBC website:

In comments reported by a number of national newspapers, Kuszczak said: “I’ve become a slave to Manchester.”

“I told [Ferguson] I want to play and get back into the national team, because Euro 2012 [which Poland will co-host with Ukraine] is just around the corner – but it seems he doesn’t care.

“The possibility of a two-month loan to Leeds United came up two weeks later. The club blocked it.

“It was a glimmer of hope for me. It would have reminded the Poland manager about me – but I didn’t get the club’s approval.”

Tomasz Kuszczak Manchester United "Slave"
Kuszczak: Born into a prison that he cannot smell or taste or touch.

Poor old Tommy K. According to the player database for Football Manager 2011, he earns more in a week (£25,000) than the average UK woman earns in a year, just for working out & doing some sports training in free state-of -the-art facilities.

Average UK salary by Gender.

He makes more in a month than the average CEO does in a year. He is made a millionaire each and every year of his current four-year contract – which TE is assuming wasn’t signed at gun-point – and the most he has been expected to do to fulfill his end is keep a bench warm or play an annual game of top-flight football.

If that’s slavery, chain me in a ship’s basement with 200 brothers, starve me, and call me “boy”.

Conditions at United’s Carrington training ground left a lot to be desired.

Seeing Red

Dembélé’s red card may have been harsh, but it was utterly avoidable.

Moussa Dembélé’s red card has lead to Fulham suffering a 1-0 defeat in the Europa League at the hands of Wisla Krakow. Channel Five’s Stan Collymore was quick to heap scorn on the antics of Gervasio Núñez, the play-acting Argentine who feigned a facial insult, and this sentiment has been repeated in various football articles and message forums across the net. However, sweeping aside pro-Premiership bias and In-ger-lund sentiments for one second, there is more to this incident than many are willing to admit. If Núñez scored an abstract goal for Krakow with his devious histrionics, then Dembélé must take credit for the assist.

Dembele red card Wisla Krakow 1-0 Fulham
Red Mist = Red Card. (Photo: Reuters)

Yes, Núñez was deceitful in his collapse. Yes, clutching his face led the referee to believe he had been struck above the neck. But yes, these sorts of deceptions occur all the time in football. Players feign cramping to break up the passage of play and run the clock down. Players routinely claim for throw-ins or corners when they know that the truthful result was 100% to the contrary. This is to willingly claim an absolute lie as truth. So how does this sending off appear under critical scrutiny?
Well, examining the major news sources, I’ve yet to see anyone criticise the referee for this apparently “ludicrous” sending-off. The ire has been reserved solely for Núñez, but people are missing a major point of footballing etiquette:

Never raise your hands to an opponent“.

Elegant in its simplicity, this guideline has been parroted for some twenty years at least. As a keen fan of the game, Thierry Ennui is aware of it. You, my esteemed reader, are probably aware of it (unless you were misdirected here from the Gothic poetry site Teary Ennui, in which case you’re doing well to have read this far). We can therefore bet vital parts of our respective anatomies that the 24-year-old professional footballer Dembélé would be aware of it too.
Fact: one player raised their hands to another. If Dembélé’s hands stay down, there is no incident. Núñez has no reason to clutch his face, the referee has no reason to show a red card. Indeed, at no point do the rules of the game specifically state that striking above the neck is the sole act that merits a straight red. In fact, the crime for which Dembélé was dismissed would fall under the catch-all term of “violent conduct”, the same infringement that saw Wayne Rooney ordered off against Macedonia for a kick, to largely universal agreement. This may be a harsh judgement, but no hands, no card.
Dembélé handed Núñez the opportunity on a plate: the referee was some distance away, on the other side of the Wisla player, his line-of-sight partially blocked by the victim. The simple act of raising hands to Nunes’ shoulder would appear like a punch in the face from afar, an action that is universally understood to warrant dismissal and a multiple-match ban. And for what? Núñez had clipped Dembélé’s heel in a prior challenge. In many years as a school footballer, Thierry Ennui picked up many an accidental knock or late challenge, and never once kicked out or pushed a player in retaliation. Let the referee deal with it, or not; maybe give that player some extra juice in the next challenge, see how he likes that; but never retaliate. If you do, you run the risk of seeing red.
We can all appreciate that a player’s blood will be up during a match, but that has never prevented Wayne Rooney or David Beckham from being lambasted in the media for retaliation-based dismissals. It is a stupid act that can easily be controlled. Never raise your hand to an opponent. The best revenge is to let your full-strength team issue metaphorical shoves and slaps with their football.

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