It’s no secret that Manchester United are one of the most disliked teams in the English Premier League. You can dislike them because of their success, because of their legions of far flung fans who will never get to see them live but buy into the ‘dream’ or perhaps because of the perceived arrogance of the players and manager.
For some of us lower league supporters though, the reason is a little different. Manchester United is the embodiment of the ruthless business ethic that took hold of the Premier League in the early 1990s; before the Glazers took over it was the PLC which used its reach and influence to hoover up the spare fans and pounds from every provincial town in the country and by extension help many of those town’s clubs on their way to significant financial difficulties. That those smaller teams managed to survive owes nothing to any ‘trickle down’ wealth from the Premier League but everything to local supporters and communities and occasionally a charitable benefactor.
My point is that there are very good reasons why we still want Manchester United to lose when we watch them play but on Saturday lunchtime, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez somehow managed to make us forget all that and back United against possibly their biggest rival.
What happened all dates back to the well-reported racism incident between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra which led to an eight match ban for Suarez and a general recognition that he was in the wrong. Saturday’s match was the first meeting between the two players since the incident and all Suarez had to do was shake hands with the man he abused in the pre-match line up. Evra offered up his hand and Suarez ignored him, instantly re-igniting the whole unsavoury business. The guilty party had failed to shake hands with the victim and that is why, in that moment, we suddenly didn’t mind if Manchester United won the match.
Far, far too late on Sunday, Suarez apologised to everyone involved (apart from Evra) after Liverpool’s owners apparently realised the negative effect on Liverpool FC was getting out of control. Manager Kenny Dalglish, who has so far rather unwisely stood by Suarez, was also asked to apologise after berating a Sky Sports journalist who asked him about the missing handshake. Dalglish said he never saw it.
This whole sorry saga should never have reached the point where Liverpool’s owners had to step in to advise their employees to do the right thing and it remains to be seen whether the apology will draw a line under the affair.