Liverpool face a potential repeat of the infamous Luis Suarez race case after referee Bobby Madley’s report on a stormy Merseyside derby reached the FA with an allegation from Everton’s Mason Holgate that he was racially abused by Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino.
Madley’s report will be scrutinised by the FA’s off-pitch disciplinary department — dubbed their integrity team.
Holgate, accompanied by manager Sam Allardyce and director of football Steve Walsh, went to see Madley after Friday’s FA Cup tie at Anfield and claimed he had heard Firmino use the word ‘negro’ following a heated exchange between the pair after 41 minutes.Holgate’s initial push on Firmino sent the Liverpool forward over the advertising hoardings and after he scrambled to his feet, the furious Brazilian sprinted over to Holgate.
TV pictures appeared to capture him hollering ‘filho da puta’ (Portuguese for son of a whore) before the camera view was accidentally obscured by another player. Madley was present when the exchanges happened, stepping in to try to separate the players, and it is also possible the fourth official would have heard everything through the communication channels between himself and the referee. Dialogue on headsets is not recorded, however.
The incident is the last thing Liverpool would have wanted after Suarez’s eight-match ban in 2011 for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra despite a proactive support campaign from the club that included the Uruguayan’s Anfield team-mates wearing T-shirts in his honour.
Liverpool have been keen to stress they are willing to co-operate with any future investigation and have not revealed the outcome of their private discussions with Firmino about what was said.
The club’s 17-year-old England junior player Rhian Brewster recently won praise for talking out about his own experiences as a victim of racism in football. He said he was abused during the recent Under-17 World Cup final in which England beat Spain 5-2 in India.
An FA statement yesterday stated: ‘The FA can confirm that referee Bobby Madley was made aware of an allegation during the Liverpool versus Everton game at Anfield (on Friday) night and has subsequently reported this to the FA, which will now begin making enquiries into the matter.’ Both clubs will want the issue to be resolved quickly given the long-standing recriminations arising from the Suarez case.
The Uruguayan always insisted the words he repeated in Portuguese were misunderstood and were not intended to be racist. However, the disciplinary panel found against Suarez when they heard he had repeated the word ‘negrito’ towards Evra without any provocation.
It is possible Firmino, another Portuguese speaker from Brazil, could make the same defence based on language differences, or indeed that Holgate decides he might have misheard amid the noise of Liverpool’s 2-1 victory and withdraw his claim.