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Luis Suarez And The Finger Of Blame

By charging Luis Suarez with misconduct over his gesture to Fulham's fans, the FA has unwittingly granted us an insight into its own weakness.

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One thing is certain. Wherever Luis Suarez ends up in the great and confusing tapestry of English football, whether he be stitched in as the light-footed genius who led Liverpool back to their self-appointed rightful place at the top of the tree, or the oddity who didn't score as many goals as he probably should have done and left for Inter Milan under a cloud after a couple of years, or the first player ever to be banned for eating a corner flag, he's been an absolute godsend for anybody who writes about football. And as we all know, that's the most important thing.

Every game brings something new. Brilliant goals followed by comical misses. Risible dives leavened with shimmering trickery. The whole thing vigorously spiced with gesticulation, querulousness, and foul-mouthed abuse (not to mention what we won't mention). And now -- thank you, Luis, thank you! -- he's only gone and flipped Fulham's notoriously intimidating home fans an angry bird.

HATE FUL, shrieked The Sun, including the space in deference to the longstanding tradition of the English tabloid press that all sporting headlines must contain a pun, or a play on words, a habit only reluctantly suspended when the red-tops turn to death. They were joined in their punbrage by the Daily Mail, who gasped SUAREZ FLIPS! before going on to accuse the Uruguayan of responding to a "torrid time" with an "explicit gesture", specifically a "crude, one-fingered salute", their curious phrasing rousing the pedant within to first wonder, idly, what an implicit gesture might look like, then take a moment to reflect that one-fingered salutes are generally inelegant and indelicate by design, before finally turning to one of the great abused words of football writing, torrid, a word deployed alongside its cater-cousin time as an alliterative alternative to stressful or exacting or exhausting, whereas out in the wilds of non-football word-using it betokens an exposure to searing, parching or burning heat, and thus while it can quite reasonably be applied to the sands of a desert, and so perhaps to a World Cup in Qatar, it seems a little out of place when appended to a few thousand West Londoners on a chilly December evening, however loudly they're shouting "wanker".

The BBC, meanwhile, decided the only way they could report the story was to pixellate the crude, explicit digit, lest the accused hand be recognised in the street. Perhaps the broadcaster was concerned that vigilante action might be taken by a shadowy cabal of outraged maiden aunts all thinking of the children. Somewhere above the clouds, in that realm of which we can only speculate, Mary Whitehouse nodded in vinegar-lipped approval.

The upshot is that the FA have "investigated" and have issued a "misconduct charge". While one or two Liverpool fans will doubtless claim that in outer Eritrea the middle finger is a gesture referring to man's fundamental isolation in a savage universe, his consequent spiritual nakedness before his Maker, and that Suarez was simply acknowledging the same to a steward with whom he felt a sudden and ineffable kinship, it seems fairly open and shut. Fulham's Chris Baird picked up a two-game ban for sticking two fingers up at referee Lee Mason; as this was just the one finger, perhaps a single-game ban will follow.

This is, of course, utterly ridiculous. As Daniel Harris (writing over on the FCF) put it ...

"Giving the finger is not offensive. Giving the finger to folk giving it to you is not offensive. No one was offended, and anyone saying that they were is either lying or a moron."

... which just about covers it.

We won't dwell on the ultra-precious nature of much of today's football support, grown men and women who reserve the right to dish out plenty of the obscene and the insulting but succumb to the self-righteous vapours the moment a player gives any back, and nor will we dip into the murky currents of modern hypersensitivity, a dispiriting torrent of oneupmanship, faux outrage piled on faux outrage until whatever point there might have once been is drowned in a clamour of self-aggrandising buffoonery, as idiots compete to see who can holler BAN THIS SICK FILTH the loudest. Instead, we will look at the FA. And we will ask: what on earth are you doing?

There are any number of grave existential crises tentacling through the English game, most if not all of which spring from the FA's inability or unwillingness to grapple the most fundamental question of all: who owns the clubs, and should they? The 'fit and proper persons' test is down to exactly one functioning word, and that's the conjunction. The abacus-fiddlers at the top of the Premier League dream sweet and secret dreams of leaving this tiny island of limited revenue streams behind, while the clubs further down either explode under the pressure of their own debts and malfeasance or simply slip from existence, their passing unremarked and unnoticed in a nation obsessed with only the shiniest of shiny things. Meanwhile, the FA spend their time filling the worlds's oldest cup with the world's fourth-worst beer (Coors, Miller, and Carling, since you ask) and coming down hard on players seen making Bad Sign Language.

This isn't to say "why are the FA doing this, they should be doing that". Discipline and governance aren't mutually exclusive. But by their works shall you know them, and the fact that the FA have taken it upon themselves to be offended on behalf of the nation is indicative. One of the most obvious signs that an organisation has become aware of its own irrelevance is a rise in attention-grabbing pointlessness, and like a government minister scrabbling for a policy just to prove that he exists -- pet ASBOs? -- this is the FA trying desperately to matter, and inadvertently proving that it doesn't. Poverty in action speaks eloquently of poverty in influence.

It is tempting to characterise this, along with Baird and the equally-spurious censure of last season's "Wayne Addresses The Nation", as the futile death spasms of an organisation that shot itself in the stomach many years ago, and now has nothing better to do than bleed all over the floor while it waits to die. But that might be a little pessimistic. If the FA can find some genuine leadership, if it can find a will to reform both itself and the game, if it can find some balls then one day, perhaps, we might find ourselves with a governing body that's not only able to exert genuine control and influence over the game, but is safe enough in its own maturity to look at a grown man exchanging naughty signs with other grown men, and say "pillocks, the lot of you", and leave it there.