Racism in football – The t-shirt stunt that went wrong

Liverpool FC’s PR misstep will exacerbate a tense meeting at Anfield against old foes United this weekend

Image from The Telegraph online.

Despite efforts to stamp out racism in English football (or soccer if you will) such as Kick It Out, a program supported by the Professional Footballers Association, the Premier League and The Football Association, the problem persists. High profile cases in recent months, including accusations against England national team captain John Terry, have highlighted the hurdles the sport still has to overcome to eliminate the problem.

While all professional clubs are united in their effort to stop racism, Liverpool FC’s reaction to the Luis Suarez – Patrice Evra affair certainly made matters worse – not to mention a subsequent incident involving a Liverpool fan.

In a game between Liverpool FC and bitter rivals Manchester United on October 15, 2011, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was accused of racially abusing his opponent, French international defender Patrice Evra. While Suarez pleaded his innocence, The Football Association promised to look into the allegations.

Following the incident, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish publicly supported Suarez, and vowed to stand behind his player while he contested allegations of racism. The support didn’t stop there.

While warming-up ahead of a game against Wigan, Liverpool players wore t-shirts featuring a picture of Suarez and his jersey number in a show of unity and support for their Uruguayan teammate. The decision prompted negative backlash from players around the league, as well as fans the world-over.

Photo from Liverpool FC

Many players throughout the Premier League thought the club should’ve been actively promoting the Kick It Out program, and charged the t-shirts flew in the face of all the work that was being done to eliminate racism in the sport.

Paul McGrath, a former Republic of Ireland Irish defender, tweeted “As x footballer havin experienced racist comments throughout my career I was saddened to see Liverpool players wear those tshirts last nite” and added “I would have been much happier if they had worn anti racist t shirts.”

However, Dalglish supported the move, and was quoted as saying “I think the boys showed their respect and admiration for Luis with wearing the T-shirts. It is a great reflection of the man as a character, a person and a footballer that the boys have been so supportive and so have the supporters.”

Liverpool FC was constantly backtracking, defending the move and having to explain over and over again that the club was against racism. But, back-peddling seldom has much success. The club should’ve had the foresight to see how this public relations stunt could backfire – and it most certainly did.

The move proved to be far more detrimental when Suarez was in fact found guilty of making several racist remarks to the Manchester United defender. The Football Association’s 115 page report on the incident concluded that Suarez had repeatedly made racist remarks to Evra, and issued an 8 match ban to the Liverpool striker.

But the t-shirt flop didn’t end there.

At a game at Anfield against Oldham Athletic, a Liverpool fan wearing the Suarez t-shirt racially abused Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi. This incident only served to tarnish Liverpool’s already battered reputation following missteps it took in the Suarez incident.

Piara Powar, the executive director of European football’s anti-discrimination body, Fare, warned over Twitter that “The LFC brand is being tarnished, but so is British football.” And that much is certainly true.

As Liverpool FC are set to face Manchester United for the first time since the Suarez-Evra incident in a cup clash over the weekend, it’ll be interesting to see fans’ reactions in what will certainly be a tense affair.

As for restoring Liverpool’s reputation, that will likely take time.


About David Driedger

I'm a Creative Communications student at Red River College majoring in public relations. I have a BA with a double major in political studies and history from the University of Manitoba. I'm also the news editor for The Projector.
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