x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Abuse has no place on or off the pitch

The players on the pitch need to set the example, though. If more respect was shown on the pitch, it would soon follow from the stands.

Saturday's game between Liverpool and Manchester United was supposed to launch a three-week anti-racism campaign in the Premier League.

So much for that, with Patrice Evra, United's left-back, accusing Luis Suarez of racist language within minutes of the dust settling on another high-octane north-west derby.

The matter is to be investigated by the English Football Association, but it will be hard to prove conclusively what happened.

Evra has been here before, though. In 2008 he alleged a Chelsea groundsman "engaged in racist conduct or language".

The claim was not proved and Chelsea and Evra were both charged and fined for their part in a brawl after the game at Stamford Bridge.

This is another messy situation and either way, Evra or Suarez is in the wrong.

The incident, thankfully, is a rare one in England. Spain and Italy have a deep-rooted problem with racist chanting.

England, in contrast, has made enormous progress. Racism was commonplace in the game in the 1970s, 1980s and before; just read the accounts of players such as Garth Crooks or Cyrille Regis. An infamous photo shows John Barnes, the Liverpool winger, back-heeling a banana that had been thrown at him during a derby against Everton.

But only one player in the Premier League, Emre, the Turkish midfielder who played for Newcastle United, has ever been charged by the English FA with making racist remarks. Charges against him were dropped in 2007.

Footballers are becoming objects of hatred for fans who are struggling to make end's meet, while footballers earn millions for what fans perceive to be very little work. It's as if they feel paying for a ticket gives them a right to hurl abuse.

Already this season we have had fans of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal trading grotesque insults about Arsene Wenger and Emmanuel Adebayor. Wenger, the Arsenal manager, is branded a paedophile, while the occupation of Adebayor's parents is questioned.

Weeks earlier Manchester United fans displayed a banner that read "Istanbul". A reference to two Leeds fan stabbed to death in Turkey in 2000. While United fans are subject to aeroplane gestures, a reference to the Munich air disaster in 1958 when almost an entire United team were killed.

There is simply no place for any abuse in football, no matter how it is dressed up and justified.

The players on the pitch need to set the example, though.

Whether it is Wayne Rooney screaming at a television camera or haranguing referees, or an incident such as Suarez and Evra, if more respect was shown on the pitch, it would soon follow from the stands.