By Dave Marshall
October 15, 2011 is one date that the pair of Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra will not forget in a hurry.
We were playing a North-West Derby at Anfield; Suarez and Evra took the game head on but on one occasion, the reputation of Luis Suarez took a massive hit, the first of a trilogy of unbelievable circumstances in just three years.
Before a corner, Evra and Suarez had a physical confrontation. The fans loved it, as it meant that both players knew what it meant to feature in a derby of such magnitude.
It was the archetypal, push-me-pull-you kind of thing, which degenerated into a war of words. After the game, Evra told French television that Suarez had called him a racist word about 10 times, which infuriated the public as the Uruguayan had the knack of being controversial.
The fact that Liverpool supported the player during the period was a stark reminder that clubs could be overly sentimental in backing their players. Suarez wrote in a Facebook post that he was sad that he could be termed as racist as he had black relatives. The player at that point was still struggling with his English, with some South American words in his native Spanish having less racist innuendos than when translated to English.
Then came the inquiry. The FA released a 115-paged report of the incident in which the word, “negrito” appeared just 3 times. Negrito in Suarez’s native Uruguay was not seen as racist, but English football loosely translated it to “negro” which is deemed racist.
On December 20, Suarez was fined £40,000 and suspended for 8 matches. Just shortly after his ban was completed, Liverpool went to Old Trafford which heralded the first time both men would be facing off since the racism fiasco. It was intriguing to see whether both men would move on from the October incident. In the pre-game handshake, Suarez refused to shake the hands of Evra, who tried to pull him back.
All in all the game was a fiercely-contested game that United later won, but what happened after re game has now become stuff of legend.
In timing his celebration run, Evra intentionally crossed the path of Suarez, waving his arms frantically as if to rile him. Suarez didn’t respond, only walking to the dressing room as Liverpool players made a beeline for Evra for trying to provoke their teammate.
Evra and Suarez left their respective clubs two years later, joining Juventus and Barcelona. It was only fitting that they would have one final showdown: the 2015 Champions League Final, in which Suarez scored in a 3-1 win over the Italians.
Both men seem to have made peace with one another, but the incidents between October 2011 and February 2012 will not be forgotten.