The eyes of the English football world have largely been on the red half of Merseyside this week, with Luis Suarez’s bite on Branislav Ivanovic and the subsequent hefty ban that means the Uruguayan will miss the derby match between Everton and Liverpool, as well as nine other fixtures, pending appeal. But Suarez’s transgression and the backing he has received from Liverpool supporters – to the hilt and them some – brings to mind Everton’s own talismanic forward who raised the ire of the lawmakers more than once, Duncan Ferguson.
Suarez has received backing and criticism in almost equal measure from from
It’s about what would be expected in the partisan world of football, where team loyalty colours opinions on all sorts of matters that, in a different context, would be largely black and white. There’s the need to criticise Suarez for what was an ugly incident but also temper that criticism with the fidelity that comes inevitably from a teammate or supporter.
It was much the same on this side of the city when Duncan Ferguson was in his pomp. Notoriously jailed for head-butting John McStay when a Rangers player, what’s often forgotten in the mythology of the rights and wrongs of the sentence is that Ferguson already had four convictions on his record – two for assault, one for breach of the peace, and one for drink driving. The head-butt on McStay came in April 1994. Everton signed him six months later, and shortly after that, he became a hero by scoring against Liverpool at Goodison.
In much the same way, Liverpool bought Suarez from Ajax while he was in the midst of a seven-game ban for biting Otman Bakkal. Both clubs knew what they were getting – a player who could generate headlines of either the front or back page, a player whose talent was forever fighting a battle with other, less welcome aspects of their characters.
Ferguson spent part of 1995 in prison but rather than diminish his status as a cult Everton icon, it was increased. He himself has said letters from Evertonians kept up his spirits during his stay in Barlinnie. He’d been an Everton player for a year when he was jailed. Suarez has been a Liverpool player for just over two but the hero worship is no less intense, nor less blinkered.
Comparisons between each player’s respective indiscretions are pointless, just another way for fans of different clubs to argue with each other. But the reaction of the Liverpool support is as explainable as was Everton’s to Ferguson. It doesn’t make it any less rose-tinted but it’s an understandable response.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Everton were at their lowest ebb, well and truly in the doldrums. Ferguson, with his whole-hearted spirit – which manifested in far too many bookings and sendings off – and passion for the club that matched the most fervent supporter, was a rallying point. In Suarez, Liverpool – not as low as Everton were almost two decades ago but far from past glories – have the same, a player they feel can take them back to their former station.
Every club, if they searched their records and found a particularly indecorous event, would find comments from supporters that excused it, or declined to condemn the guilty party too strongly for reasons more to do with club loyalty that anything else. It’s entirely hypocritical and predictable. So is ridiculing the Liverpool reaction to Suarez’s suspension – but it’s also part of football rivalry, glorying in an opponents’ misery and welcoming whatever ill comes their way.
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