This was going to be a Captain's Blog today. That was the plan, anyway. But, everything at Sunderland kind of seems just rosy enough to quell the fire in my hate-filled heart right now but not quite good enough yet to inspire me to wax lyrical about anything. I was struggling which, after almost a full year of Bruce-inspired despair and frustration, came as something of a relief. I think we are all, myself very much included, just waiting for things to settle down a little.
Then, as I sat down to watch Blackburn and Bolton slog it out at Ewood Park, I was thrown a lifeline as news broke about Liverpool's Luis Suarez being found guilty by the FA of making racist remarks to Patrice Evra in October. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we have a Roker Ramble instead.
So, Ghana's favourite Uruguayan has been hit with a lengthy-looking 8-game suspension and a relatively minuscule looking £40,000 fine. I actually have a little sympathy for him, to be perfectly honest. It is true that I am not his biggest fan. I think he is a needlessly flamboyant show-off whose first thought on a football pitch is how to get someone booked rather than how to express his obvious outrageous quality - but I don't think that he is a racist.
And neither did the FA, of course. He was found guilty of making discriminatory and insulting remarks towards another player, not of being a racist. It is an important distinction. It is, however, a distinction that Liverpool themselves completely failed to grasp leading to the club releasing an official statement that was as ill-considered and ugly as a Jamie Carragher L'Oreal commercial.
It was a response lacking any kind of dignity at all, or indeed any kind of class. The idea of showing a little sensitivity towards what was a difficult situation seemingly did not occur. The wider non-Liverpool-centric picture was barely acknowledged. In fact, there was precious little evidence that whoever wrote the statement even understood what was going on at all. Instead, the message that emanated out of the Liverpool sanctuary of sanctimony was effectively 'you all hate us, it's all a big conspiracy and, oh, poor us'. Quite how they were able to send out this message via the medium of the internet is quite extraordinary in itself, considering that they seem to still be labouring under the ancient belief that the Earth, or more specifically Anfield, exists at the centre of the entire universe.
Liverpool claimed that Patrice Evra's word alone was insufficient proof upon which to find Suarez guilty. Was it? Liverpool failed to challenge Evra's version of events. In fact, Suarez openly admitted to saying precisely what he was accused of but challenged its context. “I did not insult him”, insisted Suarez to Uruguayan media earlier this month. “It was just a way of expressing myself”. That's lovely, Luis, if a little irrelevant. The only person who can say if it was insulting or not is Patrice Evra, and he thought it was. Case closed.
You'd have thought the fact that Evra made a complaint about the incident would have made it apparent to Liverpool that, yes, he was a little bit insulted by it. At that point was there an apology? Any kind of acknowledgement that Suarez was perhaps, albeit unknowingly, in the wrong and had crossed a line? A little humility, perhaps, of any kind? No, there was just more of 'you all hate us, it's all a big conspiracy and, oh, poor us', followed by an insistence that the only context that should matter to anything is the one that they provide.
We shouldn't be surprised, of course, to see Liverpool trying to once again redefine the nuances of English football on a whim and make up rules as they go along that benefit themselves. It has been mere weeks since Ian Ayre, the club's managing director, told us all about how every one of the more unfashionable Premier League clubs should sacrifice a large slice of their earning potential simply for the privilege of being in Liverpool's exhaled company and helping them perform better in Europe (once they get back into it). OK, so he wrapped it all up in the guise of a discussion about the distribution of television money, but that was essentially the gist of his central thesis.
It would all be quite maddening if it wasn't actually so sad. Liverpool are a proud institution of English football and have a history worthy of celebration. Before I was back in the north east idolising Marco Gabbiadini at Roker Park, I was exiled down south and falling in love with football itself thanks to the pass and move verve of the great late-80s Liverpool team of Barnes, Rush, Aldridge, Beardsley et al.
What on earth has happened to that club? Manchester United happened to it, perhaps. The more Liverpool's grip on the claim to being heralded as the indomitable top dogs of the English game has loosened, the more embittered the whole club seems to have become, until now all that is left is a pale shadow of an egotistical former champion lamenting the world for changing around it whilst they powerlessly watch their ability to influence it dwindle. The Mrs Havisham of English football.
Ultimately, Suarez had to be punished. Regardless of how it was intended, he did exactly what he was accused of doing (insulting a player whilst referencing his skin colour). True, the FA were probably just waiting to make an example of someone to enable them to set a proper deterrent to racism, but Suarez made himself an easy target, and Liverpool were too preoccupied with promoting their cockamamy conspiracy theories and playing the injured party to protect him.
It is Liverpool themselves who are the biggest losers in this tale, however. Rather than taking it on the chin with the kind of dignity that befits a club of their historical stature and traditions they stamped their feet like spoilt children, threw a tantrum, and completely embarrassed themselves. Oh how the mighty have fallen.