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2 Jun, 2020 11:46

As Liverpool FC’s footballers take the knee, all hail the champions of hollow gestures and virtue signalling

Chris Sweeney
Chris Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

As Liverpool FC’s footballers take the knee, all hail the champions of hollow gestures and virtue signalling

Everyone, it seems, wants to show solidarity with George Floyd. But the image of Liverpool’s players paying tribute smacked of a club desperate to do the right thing after past missteps.

The aftershocks of George Floyd’s death are still ricocheting in all sorts of directions. And throwing their hat into the ring to be part of it all is the most righteous club in football, Liverpool FC. 

The current European champions, and their players, posted a masterpiece of virtue signalling on social media. 

It was an image, shot at their stadium, of the entire squad taking a knee with the message #BlackLivesMatter attached.

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Injustice and racism are issues that need to be addressed and corrected. But it was tough to swallow Liverpool’s move.

There are 29 footballers in position, in alternate color-coded tops. Was it the brainchild of some quick-thinking PR executive? Some sources say it was done at the request of the players.

Either way, it was the emptiest and easiest of gestures, and contributed little to the debate. Indeed, a cynic might suggest that perhaps it was done simply to show the club has moved on from past missteps.

Suarez vs Evra 

English football’s most successful club, of course, was the architect of one of the most shameful incidents in the country’s footballing history.

It began with their star striker of the time, Luis Suarez, getting involved in an on-field incident during a clash with Manchester United in 2011. United’s French defender Patrice Evra, who is black, was furious, and it emerged afterwards that he had been racially abused by Liverpool’s Uruguayan.

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A Football Association investigation by a three-man panel followed, with the punishment being an eight-game suspension for Suarez and a £40,000 fine.

Liverpool were extremely public in their dissatisfaction and felt their man had been scapegoated. So much so that in the next game, the entire squad appeared for their pre-match warm-up wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Suarez and his name on the back to show solidarity with their teammate.

Shocking comments 

“A fabulous statement,” was what their then manager Sir Kenny Dalglish said. ”We have said we will always support him – and we will.” Those shocking comments didn’t dilute Dalglish’s stock; the club went on to name a part of their stadium after him in 2017.

Suarez apologised for causing offense in general, but didn’t apologize to Evra, underlining his true feelings. This was made clearer when he refused to shake the extended hand of the Frenchman when they played against each other again – even though Suarez and the club were well aware it was being watched by millions live on TV.

To be fair, Evra did reveal that he received a letter from the club apologizing for the incident – nine years later – although it was not made public by Liverpool or highlighted in any way.

This kind of moral flip-flop has been seen before from Liverpool. Despite the club earning £533 million over the last year – and posting a world-record pre-tax profit for a football club of £125 million in 2017-18 – they opted to enter the UK government’s Covid-19 furlough scheme.

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This sees the taxpayer fund 80 percent up of the salary for any employee nominated, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. The initiative was intended to prevent mass unemployment and targeted at small, cash sensitive businesses. However, Liverpool saw a chance to use the scheme to their advantage and jumped in.

The outcry was huge, with ordinary people dismayed at seeing a club with bundles of cash happy to rely on contributions from working families to cover their bills.

Liverpool saw which way the wind was blowing and did an embarrassing U-turn, but only after plenty of criticism.

Offensive banner 

The club was also caught up in another racial storm back in October, when a section of their fans unfurled a flag featuring current player Divock Origi.

Origi is black and the banner, which featured the club’s crest, showed him naked, with a focus on his genitals, playing up to a crude racial stereotype. It was displayed on TV cameras to a global audience and appeared in almost every British newspaper.

Liverpool banned the person responsible but then rescinded the punishment the following month. Instead, the fan responsible was sent on an education course. A suitable sanction for making such an overtly racist banner?

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Howard Gayle was the first ever black player to sign for Liverpool in 1977. In a revealing interview last year, he spoke about how racism was an issue during his career.

But what raised more eyebrows was when he addressed why he feels he hasn’t been asked by Liverpool to help combat racism and raise an awareness of issues.

He said: “When people ask me how come I don't work at the club, I talk about the wrong things that they don't like.”

That’s what makes it hard to swallow Liverpool’s group shot.

Real change and progress isn’t done with a cynical PR stunt for the cameras. Liverpool need to look closer to home.

Only then, can they be considered real champions.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.