Jamie Redknapp’s sanctimonious bleating that “no-one wants to see that sort of thing on a football pitch” as Manchester United and Liverpool indulged in a half-time fracas missed the point of Manchester United versus Liverpool spectacularly. The hostility and hatred on display yesterday from Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez is exactly what the fans, media and Premier League want to see from their product.
Many fans hate their most despised rivals with more fervency than with which they love their own team. Manchester United against Liverpool should be a bearpit; a frothing cauldron of malevolence. While certain things cannot be condoned, specifically the vile chanting about Hillsborough/Munich and obscene racist abuse; passions running high on the pitch should be celebrated, not condemned. The fans do want to see aggression, intensity and tribalism from their heroes.
From a United perspective, Patrice Evra’s total understanding of the importance of playing for, and captaining, Manchester United is a pleasure to see in this era of ego, disloyalty and rampant commercialisation. His obvious, unrestrained delight at full-time further evidence of a love for the club all too rarely witnessed from our foreign players.
In the days’ other fixtures, Spurs beat Newcastle 5-0 and Chelsea lost at Everton; keeping Spurs in the white heat of the title race and leaving Andre Villas-Boas with a rather tenuous grip on his job. Yet what was the major talking point of the day? The only talking point? The circus at Old Trafford.
Without such controversy and drama, yesterday’s rather tedious encounter would have been instantly forgettable. However, Suarez refusing to shake Evra’s hand, added to the half-time scuffle in the tunnel and a shenanigans at full-time provided enough talking points to satisfy those fans of United, Liverpool and a neutral persuasion for the next week.
Before the game, there were surely few spectators who did not wish to see frayed tempers and acrimony. That the bitterness started before the match had even commenced was assuredly a bonus to the ravenous 75,000 in the ground and the enthralled watching world on television. One Manchester United move ending in a Paul Scholes header aside, the first half was a diabolical advert for English football. Yet everyone was hooked by the riotous, toxic frenzy that often threatened to spill over into open warfare.
The lack of contrition continued after the game during the unusually frank post-match interviews. Sir Alex Ferguson railed against the disgraceful Suarez, while an irate Kenny Dalglish bizarrely blamed 24-Hour media culture for victimising the Uruguayan and stoking the furnace of animosity. But this passion is why we watch the game; I defy anyone – ahem, Jamie Redknapp – to deny that the entire spectacle was spell-binding entertainment.
Dalglish had a slight point, even as he verged on going the full-Keegan with Sky’s Geoff Shreeves; the media will be loving it. Providing miles of column inches and hours of news coverage this is a story that just continues to perpetuate itself.
The Premier League enjoying it though, you ask? Really? Yes, really. Any publicity is good publicity. And think of the enormous interest there will be in the next Liverpool United game. The money men will be salivating at the prospect.
While yesterday’s aggravation was a stain on the wider game of football and Luis Suarez’ reprehensible behaviour strayed far beyond the boundaries of basic human decency – although with his track record (cheating, biting and racially abusing), we should hardly have been surprised – the poisonous atmosphere between the players and fans elevated an essentially drab game into a realm of brutally unforgettable footballing moments. A sign perhaps, Mr. Redknapp, that people actually do want to see “that sort of thing.”