EXCLUSIVE: Boo Evra but behave says Kop idol
Published 22:00 27/01/12 By David McDonnell
John Barnes says Liverpool fans are entitled to taunt Patrice Evra this weekend - as long as they do not cross the line into racist abuse.
Evra and Manchester United visit Anfield on Saturday for the first time since the defender's race row with Luis Suarez, which resulted in the Liverpool striker being hit with an eight-match ban.
Former Liverpool star Barnes said Kop fans should be allowed to bait and taunt Evra and his team-mates during the FA Cup fourth round tie, in the typically acrimonious tradition of rivalry between English football's fiercest rival clubs.
But Barnes, who feels Evra is likely to thrive on his vilification, warned that the supporters' hostility towards the France international must not descend into racist conduct.
"It will be nothing Patrice Evra hasn't had before," he said. "He's going to get booed and, as long as it doesn't take on racial connotations, it's not a problem.
"We've been through it so often and we can't come up with a definition of what abuse can be thrown out and what can't.
"But abuse of players is going to happen, Evra knows that - and I think he thrives on that.
"It might affect some players, but I don't think it will affect Evra. From what I know of him and his character, he will probably thrive on it.
"There are certain players that you would think might not be able to handle what's going to come their way. But, from United's point of view, I'm sure Evra will go out there and perform like he always has done."
Barnes, himself a target of racist abuse during his playing career, said he believed Suarez's defence - that "negrito", the word he used towards Evra, had a different connotation in his native Uruguay.
Asked if he believed Suarez's claim of cultural differences in the meaning of the word, Barnes said: "Yes - 100 per cent.
"And not just because it may be the culture in South America. It's less of insult because ignorance is an excuse.
"Go back 25 or 30 years and no-one said a word against it [racism]. Were they ignorant of it? They must have known it was wrong. So ignorance then was an excuse.
"Now, 30 years later, when we have have become more tolerant racially and we hear Emile Heskey being racially abused in places like Macedonia, do we now look at them and say, 'Ignorance isn't an excuse' when 25 years ago we were saying it was?
"So are we now saying ignorance was an excuse back then but now it's not because it suits us?
"Look at Roberto Mancini with the imaginary card waving. It's in the Italian culture. He apologised the first time he did it then, in the next game, in the heat of the moment, he did it again.
"To this day he doesn't think there is anything wrong with it, so cultural differences are an excuse. So, as much as you say you can't do this or that, in the heat of the moment you do things.
"For all that, the process and the fact that the commission found in favour of Evra, it's still his word against Suarez's word, and I don't know who was right or wrong.
"I can't say Suarez is 100 per cent innocent, because I've never spoken to him about the incident. I can only go on the process that I've heard from Liverpool."
Former United striker Andrew Cole, speaking with Barnes at Manchester's Hard Rock Cafe on behalf of FA Cup sponsors Budweiser, also reckons Evra will be able to handle the Anfield hate mob.
"You get dog's abuse everywhere you go for United, so it makes no difference," he said. "When you're playing away from home for United, where don't you get dog's abuse? You expect it.
"There will be added spice about what's happened, but that's been dealt with rightly. Fans can boo players as much as they like, as long as it's not racist or homophobic."
But Cole disagreed with Barnes accepting Suarez's claim that the insulting words he used towards Evra, which caused such outrage and offence, were simply lost in translation.
"I would understand it if he was still in Uruguay, but it's not acceptable here," said Cole.
"I know where John's coming from, but it's not acceptable.
"We don't accept things like that in England because we don't need to.
"When my parents came over in the 1950s and 1960s, they had to accept it but in today's world, we don't.
"By the time I was playing it had become taboo, but it's slowly creeping back into the game, for whatever reason, which is sad."
Andrew Cole and John Barnes were appearing on behalf of FA Cup sponsor Budweiser. To vote for your Budweiser Man of the Match during the game go to facup.budweiser.co.uk