Yesterday, all sides came away annoyed to differing degrees. Mansfield Town can be annoyed that the referee, and his assistants, didn't spot the handball. It says rather a lot that both their goalkeeper and manager have said that Suarez did what most other players would do.
Luis Suarez can feel aggrieved that he has been unfairly treated. Consider the media opprobrium poured on Suarez over this incident and the way Peter Crouch's recent basketball re-enactment was all but laughed off. Few realise that Demba Ba did similar against Reading earlier in the year. Rickie Lambert scored in similar circumstances earlier this year. None of these people were labelled a ''cheat'' on air by the commentator.
Much of the coverage has been contemptible. I am grateful to James Gray for highlighting James Lawton's piece on this. Lawton, a blowhard if ever there were one, believes this was a ''a diabolical act'' and, more!, that it was done with ''diabolic intent''. Even factoring in poetic licence, this is moronic and we should not be afraid to call it moronic. There is considerable doubt as to whether Suarez was guilty of an offence at all let alone suggesting both that he knew what he was doing and that he had planned to do it before he walked onto the pitch!
Moreover, other papers have focused on Suarez's celebration which involved him kissing his hand. Seemingly ignoring this is his standard celebration. It isn't as if they haven't seen it often enough this season.
So... what does the law say?
The Laws of the Game are clear in this regard. Under Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct) there is a section on 'Handling the ball'. Most people who spout forth about ''hand to ball'' and ''ball to hand'' have never read this.
This is what the law states:
Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm. The referee must take the following into consideration:
- the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
- the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
- the position of the hand does not necessarily mean there is an infringement
- touching the ball with an object in the hand counts as an infringement
- hitting the ball with a thrown object counts as an infringement.
1 and 3. Does Suarez move his hand towards the ball? As Nick Miller writes here it is difficult to be sure that this was deliberate and, if anything, Suarez moves his arm away as the ball hits him suggesting he was actually trying to get his paws out of the way.
2. How far is he away from the ball? Given the speed of the ball rebounding from his original shot it seems harsh to suggest this was deliberate.
Saint Robbie, Saint Paolo, and Saint Miroslav
Very recently, in similar circumstances, Miroslav Klose handled the ball into the net for Lazio. Klose walked to the referee asked for the goal to be disallowed. Twitter immediately asked ''why didn't Suarez do the same?''.
It is a legitimate point. The problem is the only reason we know about Klose's actions (or Robbie Fowler's or Paolo di Canio's) is that they are rarities. I can think of a handful of examples in my lifetime where a player has acted in a moraly good way.
These examples make the heart sing and spark a few articles about the death of the Corinthian spirit but, in reality, the overwhelming majority of players don't run to the referee to get them to overturn the decision. Far from it.
Henry didn't. Ba didn't. Lambert didn't. Crouch didn't. Messi didn't when he handled the ball in against Espanyol. Neuer didn't when he knew full well Frank Lampard's shot had crossed the line at the World Cup (Quite the opposite. He was clear afterwards he actively deceived the referee:''I tried not to react to the referee and just concentrate on what was happening. I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on fooled the referee into thinking it was not over'').
It is a puny defence to argue that just because others cheat that justifies your cheating. It becomes less puny when one remembers that the overwhelming majority of players would have done the same as Suarez and that the overwhelming majority of players cheat all the time. It is endemic within the game.
Players dive. Players handle the ball. Players lie to the referee. Players encroach free-kicks. Defenders don't admit when they kick a striker. Players claim corners and goal-kicks when they know they were last to touch the ball. Players claim for handball when they know it has the opponent's body. Players taking a booking, or committing ''a clever foul''. All of these are deliberate cheating. Some are frowned upon. Some aren't considered cheating. Some are encouraged.
We should admit and acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of players are willing to break and bend the rules.
We should admit and acknowledge that most fans are hypocrites. We don't really mind if members of our teams act badly. We will usually dress it up in different ways. We will look to justify the behaviour. We know full well our hero dives but we will dust off the usual euphemisms. ''He made the most of it'' we cry. ''He went down easily'' we scream.
It isn't just fans that do this. It is the wider punditariat. Consider how foreign players are treated when it comes to diving and how Gareth Bale is treated. Bale has been booked five times for diving this season already. Would a foreign player - would Suarez - have the caveat 'but some of those are very questionable'?
Suarez is as Suarez does
I won't discuss his racism case here. It was, as the FA put it, the most difficult case they've ever had to adjudicate* and the discussions on these topics tend to be between people loudly claiming ''I read all 115 pages''. Many such individuals may well have read it but I have doubts about their understanding. Sensible people, at that point, throw themselves from the nearest bridge.
Some will argue that Suarez is treated differently because he has found himself in hot water before. They argue that we shouldn't judge him on yesterday's events but rather view it as part of a pattern of deplorable behaviour.
There is no doubt that he has sinned previously. His handball against Ghana. His biting in Holland. His racism. The Evra handshake. All of these mean that he is assumed to be guilty whenever he is accused. That is a shame and it shouldn't mean that in this case we should him adjudge him guilty when all evidence points to not proven.
The problem with narratives
The problem is Suarez is stuck in a narrative. He was vilified for a foul on Distin in the game against Everton earlier in the season. Similarly, Martinez brought up a foul he'd committed. When he fell into Terry - pushed by Ramires - many Chelsea fans screamed blue murder. Opposition managers know that blaming Suarez is an easy way to deflect attention away from their own team.
We are told that if he had done a ''Klose'' he may have taken another step towards rehabilitation in the English media's eyes. Perhaps. But narratives do matter.
Consider the incident when an Asian student suffered severe injuries in 2000 and Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate were charged with grievous bodily harm with intent and affray. Given the pair's press coverage over the years, it is astonishing that to think it was Bowyer was acquitted and Woodgate was found guilty of affray. The incident has stayed with Bowyer but Woodgate has swanned on regardless and unsullied. The narrative was that Bowyer was a scumbag even if the courts did not agree.
Consider that English football can overlook Roy Keane's deliberate assault on Alf-Inge Haaland and treat him as a legend or can appreciate Eric Cantona's genius despite the spitting, the assault of a fan, and the stamp on John Moncur. What will we say of Suarez in fifteen years time? That he was a genius. Or that he was a devil? Will he navigate the national mood like Cantona did? Where trangressions are overlooked because of the beauty of his play.
Liverpool fans may have a legitimate grievance that Suarez is picked upon to a greater degree than other players. That his minor indiscretions become back page news. That events like those of yesterday (which was likely not a deliberate handball) spark outrage and sees commentators live on TV call him a cheat. They demand that others be called cheats. They demand Bale be called a cheat. They - we - demand forlornly. All football players cheat but only some are labelled as cheats. C'est la vie.
The sad irony, of course, is that Suarez was probably innocent yesterday. Not that you'd know it given the views of much of the dead tree press. When it comes to Suarez, innocence and guilt no longer really matter. Liverpool fans will always defend him. The rest of the world will attack.
And we will all miss him when he goes to Spain.