FA look to ease tension between Manchester Unitted and Liverpool
The Football Association will write to Liverpool and Manchester United ahead of their potential incendiary FA Cup fourth-round clash, reminding the clubs of their responsibilities not to inflame the rivalry of fans.
With tensions likely to be running high between the clubs, after Luis Suarez's conviction on a charge of directing the word ‘negro' towards United's Patrice Evra when the clubs last met at Anfield on 15 October, the FA intend to make sure that neither Sir Alex Ferguson nor Kenny Dalglish make comments which may prove even more inflammatory, in the build-up to the match, on the weekend of January 28-29.
The FA, who will have an official crowd observer in place at the tie, also intend to speak individually to the two clubs, as they did with United and Manchester City before the third-round match, to take the temperature out of the fixture.
Discussions yesterday between Liverpool, the local city council and Merseyside Police resulted in a likely ticket allocation of over 6,000 for United.
The allocation was restricted to a mere 1,690 for October's controversial Premier League game but the conduct of United fans at that fixture has meant that those restrictions have been lifted. The maximum entitlement is 6,791, though Liverpool's ground safety advisory panel has reduced that number by 300.
The FA has not received the contact Liverpool intend to make, as they pursue an inquiry into the disciplinary process by which Suarez was handed an eight-game ban. The ban will have concluded in time for him to face an Old Trafford replay, if the fourth-round tie requires one.
Ferguson has given the impression that he has no intention of heeding Dalglish's request for help from United to ensure that Suarez is not submitted to abuse in the clubs' League fixture on February 11. But with United unhappy about Liverpool's criticism of Evra's reliability as a witness in the Suarez case, Liverpool managing director, Ian Ayre, yesterday made the first move to take the sting out of the fixture.
“With all that's gone on, people will talk about it and talk about it but I think the most important thing for us is to make sure that we make it a great day and a great game,” Ayre said.
“We need to make sure that we all work together to make sure that everybody concentrates on the excitement of the football and the FA Cup and not on anything else.”
Boss Dalgish, while not referring to the Cup game, last night moved to defend his club's record on race relations and said: “We don't want racism anywhere near football and certainly not anywhere near this football club.”
Along with the Suarez/Evra incident the club have also apologised to Oldham defender Tom Adeyemi after he was apparently the subject of racist abuse from a supporter at Anfield during an FA Cup tie last Friday.
The club were criticised in some quarters for their staunch defence of Suarez, with Liverpool players wearing t-shirts in support of the Uruguayan as they warmed up to play Wigan before Christmas, just after the eight-match punishment had been handed down.
But Dalglish stood by the decision to support Suarez and insisted he would never have returned to Liverpool if he thought the club was in any way discriminatory.
He admits: “Over the past few weeks there has been a perception that the football club isn't doing what it should be doing, but I don't think the football club would ever go down that road. We will always support the official campaigns related to racism.
“Obviously there was a big issue with Luis. The players showed support for Luis which was fantastic, but then some people interpreted that wrongly as the players saying they're not interested in the fight against racism.
“That is totally and utterly rubbish. If we can help to eradicate racism or discrimination from any part of the society, with the help of anybody at Liverpool Football Club, then that help will be forthcoming.
“We don't want racism anywhere near football and certainly not anywhere near this football club.”
Liverpool opted earlier this month not to appeal against the length of Suarez's punishment having received the full written judgement from the independent commission appointed by the Football Association to hear the case.
A 20-year-old man arrested on suspicion of racially abusing Adeyemi was released on bail on Sunday.
The man, from Aintree, was arrested on Saturday by Merseyside Police, who are investigating the incident.
Dalglish said: “All we can say — it's a police matter — is if Tom, the police want any help in any way, shape or form then we'll give it to them. For me, the most important thing is that as a football club we all stick together. We all have a responsibility to act responsibly.”
The Scot does not believe Liverpool would have the worldwide following they enjoy if they were perceived as being racists.
He said: “Our football club is based on being a football club serving the community, and whoever is in the community we will treat as an equal.
“It never has been a club that's discriminated and never will be one that discriminates against anyone else.
“For us, the football club is more important than any one individual, whether that person be a supporter, a player or the owner. It's not about the individual, it's about the football club and we should be very proud of this football club.”
Evra it seems has moved on from the Suarez incident and has declared that those who had written off his club after two successive defeats “don't want to respect the story” of the Premier League champions and insisted that the players' self-belief would see them beat City to the title.
Evra, speaking on condition that no questions be posed about the racism allegations, declared that: “Manchester United never die. A lot of people forget that, they don't want to respect the story.
“When you have the story behind this club, you know that when there is a difficult moment you will answer back because everyone in this team has big character and big personality.
“The team that believes in itself [will win the title]. We have to believe in our story. We have to think this year is going to be difficult to win the title, but if we believe and if we work hard; it will be difficult for teams to beat us.”
The France defender said Ferguson had invoked the club's history as he sent his players out at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday for a game which could have left their season in a desperate place had they lost.