Soccer: Vampire media sense blood

By Ian Herbert

The orchestrated sense of outrage over Suarez's biting would be better directed at truly scandalous behaviour

Just follow the headlines for a real sense of how the nation feels about Luis Suarez.

"Same old Suarez, always eating!" "Gnash of the Day". The Sun was more than matched by the Guardian's rather good "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves?" before the Independent's "Morning after the bite before". The tone pretty much reflects the tenor of Twitter since Suarez got his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic's shirt though possibly not into his skin, because that's not been broken, but that's another story.

There's been a #suarezhungry hashtag on Twitter. Even Patrice Evra joined the party with an inflatable arm that he bit into at Old Trafford on Monday.

All of which tells you that the nation is not quite so consumed by apocalyptic horror about all this as we'd like to think. Horror is a sensation provoked by replaying the Roy Keane tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland in 1997 and no one was suggesting that he should have played his last game for Manchester United. Let's be honest - this is not so much collective horror as a vicarious pleasure in a perfectly formed pantomime plot, with a clearly defined villain.

Outrage is great for filling up the vast black holes of space in the rolling news era. We're in an age of national outrage, when one footballer can feel another one make to bite him and find police officers waiting for him to disembark from a coach in the middle of the Surrey night, to check his skin for marks.

There were none, actually. Suarez did not break the Chelsea defender's skin and we can take Merseyside Police's word for this.

Ivanovic had no apparent physical injuries, they said in a statement on Monday. What have we actually seen, then? Something encapsulated by Alan Smith's remarks on the Sky Sports commentary: "He must have sunk his teeth in there I think. That's what it looks like. Oh my word." And that really was the most Smith could have said, because the only evidence we have is 44 seconds of inconclusive footage, followed by Ivanovich pointing to his arm.

The Football Association said in its own statement a few hours after Merseyside Police's that the standard punishment of three matches that would otherwise apply is clearly insufficient in these circumstances. Simply to make to bite someone is disgraceful and today's FA three-man independent regulatory commission must act swiftly and comprehensively. But clearly insufficient in what way? On the basis of a case that was not overwhelmed with evidence, they had made their minds up already. The governing body issued a statement that prejudiced the outcome of the tribunal, having ensured, to the point of secrecy, that last year's tribunal governing Suarez's racist abuse of Evra was not similarly prejudiced.

We should not be surprised, therefore, that Suarez was handed a 10-match ban, or that Liverpool are dismayed and will appeal.

"Both the club and player are shocked and disappointed at the severity of [the] independent regulatory commission decision. We await the written reasons... before making any further comment," said managing director Ian Ayre.

It's a cultural thing that has helped inflate this perfect storm. The English football spirit tells us that our national game is a physical game and that to stamp is lower down the scale of the intolerable than the spiteful act of biting or spitting. It's a media thing. Biting is new. Its news, in a way that England hooker Dylan Hartley biting the finger of Ireland's Stephen Ferris last March was not. (A decade has passed since Aussie rules player Peter Filandia's 10-game suspension for biting an opponent's testicles during a game, so don't let's conjure the thought.)

It's a Suarez thing. Any other player and it is only news for a few days.

The subplot that links Suarez with Mike Tyson, who we're told has started following the player on Twitter, really is the most incredible part of all. As if there is actually any parallel between Tyson chewing off part of Evander Holyfield's ear and Ivanovic feeling Suarez make to bite him.

All part of the pantomime, as is the so-called involvement of Number 10. David Cameron's spokesman has said: "It is rightly a matter for the football authorities to consider."

Scandal doesn't look like this. Scandal is a Crown Court judge, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, meeting Hillsborough families whose case he was about to consider, in October 1997, and when some of the families did not turn up, making a joke about the disaster. "Have you got a few of your people or are they like Liverpool fans, turning up at the last minute?" the judge asked Phil Hammond, who lost his 14-year-old son at Hillsborough.

The day of reckoning for years of obfuscation, deceit and institutional failings will come a step nearer, with a preliminary inquest hearing in London tomorrow.

You can bet the coverage won't hold a candle to the Suarez storm.

- Independent

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