Luis Suarez bit somebody yesterday. Whilst playing in a football match. Unfortunately for him this time there is no Uruguayan cultural precedent he can fall back on, no ancient tradition of biting opponents forearms that goes back four generations that he can use to shield himself from the shrill and hysterical opprobrium of the football classes. Racism is one thing apparently. But biting somebody, going full on fucking Dracula? Woah. Thats a whole other case entirely.
Reading online forums and listening to phone-in shows yesterday you’d think that Suarez had ripped Ivanovic’s arm off and beaten the poor bloke into chunks of bloody Serbian meat in front of the Kop, such was the level of anger, the simmering rage that was out there last night. The calls were like this: ‘Suarez should be banned for six months.’ ‘Suarez should never play for Liverpool or in this country again.’ ‘Listen Alan, I’m as nice a guy as any of your callers, but I want to see Suarez’ head on a pike somewhere prominent on the Anfield Road, so we set an example to all the young kids out there.’ The level of hysteria was somewhere between the arrival of bubonic plague in Western Europe in the fourteenth century and that time when everybody saw Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Super Bowl half-time show.
Imagine if Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick happened in this environment. There would be an emergency session of Parliament. Spontaneous rioting would break out. In scenes akin to the final act of The Wicker Man, poor Eric would be dragged by his heels by a braying pagan mob to a giant effigy of Sir Alex Ferguson in the middle of the Old Trafford pitch and burnt alive. Only then would our public bloodlust be satiated.
Away from my sarcasm for a moment and it is possible to see why Suarez’ bite has made such a mark. England is a country of meadows, lanes, sloping green hills and cricket squares. It’s the county of Milton, Orwell and Auden. Notions of fair play, of sportsmanship are ingrained into us from an early age. One sportsman biting another one on the field of play is completely at odds with these ideals.
I’ve been told by Liverpool fans that Suarez fits into another bracket, another part of our sporting culture, apparently he is a ‘maverick entertainer’. Personally I never conflated ‘maverick entertainer’ with being a racist, biting, diving scumbag. It is very hard to feel sympathy for those Liverpool fans who are only now angered and offended by Suarez. Anybody with an internet connection could see that he was hardly the sharpest crayon in the box, that he wasn’t so much a loose cannon but one that is hurtling down a steep hill at an alarming velocity.
This is even before he moved to Liverpool. In the years since Suarez has played some sublime football, racially abused a fellow professional and spent as much time rolling around on the floor looking for a penalty as he has slaloming through opposition defences with his trademark dribble. The only people who should really panic about this incident are the management of Liverpool FC. Suarez has only been there for two full seasons and he is not only the best player at Liverpool, but on the evidence of this season, the best player in the league. He will find another club. When Liverpool have to sink their teeth in to the transfer market to replace him they will do well to find a player with footballing skills as delicious as the ones Suarez has.