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19th Jan 2018

What do you have to do to be dismissed by Liverpool FC?

Jack O'Toole

On Tuesday, December 22, Liverpool FC defender Jon Flanagan  “slammed” his partner Rebecca Wall against the wall and kicked her “while she was on the floor”.

CCTV footage of the assault shows Flanagan hitting Wall, pushing her against a wall twice and then kicking her on the ground of Duke Street in Liverpool City centre.

On Wednesday, January 17, Flanagan was sentenced by Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, not to jail, but rather to 15 rehabilitation activity days, 40 hours of unpaid work, £85 costs and an £85 victim surcharge.

He returned to training at Liverpool less than a week after the assault. Following Flanagan’s sentencing, Liverpool said that it would help Flanagan to rehabilitate and that the club felt that this was the correct course of action.

But this has been Liverpool’s course of action before. Whether it’s a peripheral figure like Flanagan or a top scorer like Suarez, the club have stood by their players.

They stood by Luis Suarez through two biting incidents and a racial abuse scandal, where he was banned for eight matches for racially abusing former Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. Liverpool offered him their full support and the players even wore t-shirts depicting an image of Suarez and his name and number.

When Roberto Firmino was found intoxicated, the Christmas before last, behind the wheel of his Range Rover on Strand Street in Liverpool, the club said that Firmino would be disciplined but that the issue would remain private.

A statement the club read:

“The player has been disciplined by the club for his actions and reminded of his responsibilities for the present and future.

“The nature of this action will remain private, however it does not impact on his availability for selection for matches.

“The club considers this to be an isolated incident and a rare lapse in judgement and professionalism. We will, however, work with the player to further educate him on the dangers associated with drink-driving specifically.”

How was Flanagan’s case going to be treated any differently when they have offered their full support to a player found guilty of racially abusing and biting other players and stood by players caught drink-driving – and signed others.

When this is the precedent at a club – none of their players disciplined before have faced anything more severe than a fine amounting to no more than two weeks wages – were they really going to dismiss Flanagan?

What does a player have to do to be dismissed at a club where racial abuse, biting, drink driving and now domestic violence are tolerated? Is the message ‘don’t do the crime unless you’re willing to risk two weeks wages?’

No matter how important the player – even Firmino or Suarez – or how much of a peripheral presence they may be – Flanagan – Liverpool have an undecorated history of standing by their players no matter their behaviour.

A fine for spitting at fans. Full support for a racist. Internal discipline for a drink driver. Counselling and support for a man who booted his partner after she had been thrown to the floor.

Liverpool should have sacked Flanagan. Liverpool Magistrates Court should have handed down a much harsher sentence. Liverpool, as a global institution, and not just a football club, should have a larger role in taking a harder stance against a whole line of behavioural issues.

But how are they ever going to sack a player if they haven’t so much as stood a player down, not even for a single match?

They are far from the only club shirking in this area.

Manchester City welcomed back Joey Barton after he was jailed for attacking two people in Liverpool. Aston Villa stood by Stan Collymore after he assaulted his partner Ulrika Jonsson.

Sunderland kept Adam Johnson for nearly an entire year after he was arrested, and later found guilty, of having sexual activity with an underage girl.

English football has an abysmal record of disciplining players for a wide range of indecent behaviour, but how can we expect anything different for Flanagan when the culture is to welcome a player back and brush off his behaviour as a ‘mistake’.

Who mistakenly shoves their partner to the ground and boots them while they lie there on the floor?

Liverpool have been lauded for their attack this season, it’s just a pity their defence has been torrid, in more ways than one.

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