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Police Install Barriers at Hillsborough, and Other Saturday Notes

suarez watching stands anfield

A comfortable scoreline and advancement to the next round of the FA Cup. Struggling players getting on the scoresheet. A good day, then. Even a great day. When absolutely nothing went wrong and no bad news came out…

* Luis Suarez served the second match of his eight-game ban, Andy Carroll scored, and Stewart Downing broke his 22-match scoring drought. All of which leads to This is Anfield arguing that Suarez' eight-match ban could end up being a blessing in disguise—at least if Liverpool's supporting cast of players like Downing, Henderson, and Carroll can fully step up to the plate alongside Craig Bellamy and the returning Steven Gerrard to put a few goals past the theoretically weaker competition that, aside from Manchester City in the League Cup, make up Liverpool's January.

Suarez, it would be good to remember, hasn't had a meaningful break since his ban in the Eredivisie last December, playing nearly every minute for club and country since he arrived at Liverpool and over the summer embarking on a successful Copa America run with the Uruguayan national side. Speculation that his dip in form that began around the time of the Manchester United match in the fall, with the claims of diving and racist abuse that went along with it, was due to those outside factors unsettling the player seem reasonable. But it's just as likely that after ten months of constant high-level football—and constant scoring—Suarez simply ran out of gas physically, though the added mental strain of the circus surrounding him and Liverpool Football Club over the past two months obviously would have done no good to help the situation, either.

So, the theory goes, a month off. Some time with his family. A chance to get away from football for just a little bit. All of it might, if one's looking for an upside, do wonders for Suarez—plus if the likes of Downing and Carroll showed signs of improvement in his absence, that would hardly hurt the club's longer term prospects, either.

* Upsetting news from a Liverpool point of view emerged yesterday when Sheffield Wednesday revealed that they would be installing crowd control barriers at Hillsborough for Sunday's FA Cup match against West Ham United as a trial run for the at times volatile local derby against Sheffield United in February.

Volatile though it might be at times, there is little in the two clubs' recent histories to suggest any kind of justification for such extreme crowd-control measures. Given the history of Hillsborough, fencing in supporters on the Leppings Lane end is a depressing reminder of a past where fans were treated as animals by the authorities—and of the tragic events that treating supporters as some kind of sub-human enemy played a large role in causing. The South Yorkshire Police have trotted out a boilerplate response about their only priority being to maintain public safety, but with no reason to think that public safety would be especially threatened without the installation of crowd control barriers and no attempt to offer any kind of substantive justification, their words seem a hollow, shallow, and insensitive attempt at public relations.

* Back in the present, and the inevitable need to touch on the latest maybe possibly hopefully not story involving Liverpool and racist abuse after a confrontation between a black Oldham player and some person or persons in the front of the Kop. For now, the only facts available are that the police and club are investigating the case and that some watching nearby heard a comment that was racist in nature while some others reported hearing a comment that while very similar would not generally be considered racist in nature—and that either way, at least the comment was in English.

Of course, that there were and are few facts—and fewer clear-cut ones—didn't stop certain sections of the media from crying racism, unconcerned with behaving as proper journalists as they rushed to be the first with the story and to have the most sensational headline, all of which left a number of supposedly respectable news outlets looking more like drunken Twitter users than newsmen. Regardless of the actions of an irresponsible press, though, it's clear that something unpleasant happened near the corner flag. Said Oldham captain Dean Furman of the situation:

He was abused and I'll leave it to Tom and the police to investigate that. What happened should not happen in the game. It has been highlighted over the last few months and it is an absolute disgrace.

It is difficult for me to say anything. When one of your boys is down like that we all feel it. Tom, the authorities and police will sort out the situation. I hope the authorities take heavy action because it was a disgrace.

Neither he nor any other member of the Oldham playing or coaching staff would speak to the specifics of the alleged abuse, only saying that it would be up to the police and those directly involved to work through the matter, for which they deserve praise. With the growing toxicity of the situation surrounding Liverpool and race as the tabloid media—along with those outlets doing their best to behave as though they were lowest common denominator tabloids—seek to whip up a frenzy to sell papers and drive hits, a public airing of details and potential grievances is the last thing anybody who doesn't work for the Mirror, Guardian, or Caught Offside needs. Certainly, though, despite speculation that Adeyemi may have been called a "Manc bastard" or have had objects thrown at him instead of receiving racial abuse, given Furman's description of the situation and just how upset the young Oldham player was it's difficult to avoid stating—and fearing—the obvious. And just as obviously, should a member of the crowd on Friday night turn out to have hurled some form of racial abuse at Adeyemi, a lifetime ban from Anfield would be the very least he would deserve.

It's an odd kind of world when one begins to hope that an opposing player was struck by a projectile if only because, given the surrounding circumstances, it seems infinitely preferable to the alternative*.

We're off to cover our ears and pretend that the only thing that happened yesterday was a 5-1 victory and that everything's right and happy with the world and lalala can't hear you. Though we'll be back later on with any breaking news. Maybe. If we can hear it. So in the meantime, kittens…

*Note: Liverpool have now released a statement on the matter confirming they are working with police to investigate it but providing no additional information. You can read it here.

Update: At 9PM GMT, Mersey Police revealed that they have now arrested one individual "on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence" at Friday's game.

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