Jamie Carragher can console himself that there’s always someone worse off.
When compared with the actions of gun-toting Greek football club owner Ivan Savvidis, Carragher’s prodigious phlegm missile is well down the list of Crazy Things Sport Makes People Do — ranking some way below the cannibalistic outrages of Luis Suarez but above that time a Wicklow GAA referee got locked in his car boot.
At least Carra’s highway spit spat with 42-year-old Manchester United fan Andy Hughes has thus far only really inconvenienced the producers of Monday Night Football.
PAOK Salonika’s Savvidis, on the other hand, has caused the suspension of the entire Greek Super League, his Travis Bickle-style response to a late disallowed goal proof that VAR is far from the worst way of tackling contentious decisions.
Like Carragher, Savvidis has apologised profusely for his “emotional reaction”, but while he faces responsibility for the government shutdown of Greek football, a mortified 14-year-old daughter is the sole innocent victim of the Manchester unpleasantness, caught in the crossfire between idiot dad and temporarily deranged soccer idol.
The confrontation between Carragher and Hughes was a case of mutually assured destruction once the latter’s mobile phone was involved, the exchange of taunts and spittle turned nuclear by the payload of public humiliation visited upon both.
As Carragher’s public disgrace played out, Hughes found himself the subject of death threats and widespread mockery, and a few days’ exposure to the voracious, eviscerating heat of a modern social media scandal brought both parties staggering wearily towards a truce, shaken husks of the sneering antagonists of last Saturday.
Hughes stared glumly from the pages of the tabloid newspaper to whom he sold the initial incendiary footage, every inch the face of Broken Britain, expressing contrition and asking for Carragher to be spared.
“I thought I would just have a bit of banter about the result. I just wanted to have a laugh with him because he comes across as a very amiable guy,” he told the Daily Mirror, owners of the remainder of his soul.
“Everyone makes mistakes. I don’t want him to lose his job. I enjoy listening to him, even though he is an ex-Liverpool player!”
Carragher, meanwhile, called off the online attack dogs as part of his ongoing self-flagellation. “I’ve made a big mistake and accept full responsibility,” he tweeted as news of his extended suspension from Sky Sports emerged yesterday.
“I am the only person to blame for this sorry situation, so please leave the [Hughes] family alone.”
Hughes can at least be reassured that the kangaroo court of public opinion is almost done with him, and he will soon be released back to mundane anonymity, save for the nudge-nudge snigger-snigger status of the local celebrity buffoon.
But Carragher must wait a lot longer while his sentence is deliberated upon.
The pundit’s trial-by-media kicked into gear not long after the contents of his sinuses had reached their destination, with the jury mulling over the two key questions in the aftermath of any celebrity shaming incident:
— What was he thinking?
— Can he come back?
Some, like colleague Gary Neville, felt Carragher’s “big mistake” should not cost him his job. Other opinions were less forbearing, including an irony-free TalkSport contribution from Vinnie Jones, who described Carragher’s actions as “absolute filth” and suggested the pundit should be “down the job centre tomorrow”.
Avoiding such a fate was the mission of the SWAT-style crisis management operation that was soon up and running. Carragher donned sackcloth and ashes for a whistlestop tour of news media organisations, explaining in broadcast interviews that he had fallen victim to “a moment of madness”, admitting his actions were “unacceptable”, and “the lowest of the low”.
His suspension by Sky until the end of the season served the purpose of a punishment presumably befitting the crime, both broadcaster and pundit hoping the freeze-frame image of Carragher in motorway mid-expectoration will fade from the memory by next August’s big kick-off.
While announcing their decision, Sky said that “we will ensure he gets the help he needs to guarantee something like this never happens again” before any return to the studio is granted.
Quite what help Carragher could receive other than a bottle of cough medicine and some nasal decongestant is a moot point. All justice systems — even arbitrary ones tackling= celebrity notoriety — have the requirement for rehabilitation.
Ultimately the driving force behind any return to punditry duties for Carragher will be, like those of countless cases of sporting redemption before him, his value to his employer.
Some of Carragher’s predecessors in the Sky studio ranks will perhaps be casting an interested eye on this week’s events, Richard Keys and Andy Gray having been cast into exile in Qatar after evidence of sexist behaviour emerged in 2011.
While the pair’s positions were untenable because of the nature of their offences, the sense that the development suited a desire from Sky to freshen up their soccer output also lingered, encouraged by regular conspiracy dispatches from Doha.
Carragher, on the other hand, as one of the outstanding punditry voices of his generation, is of huge value to Sky in the current competitive TV sport market, especially after Neville’s sheen was scuffed by his experiences in management.
As well as possessing Neville’s analytical qualities, Carragher has an authentic feel for the game as it is lived and loved by supporters. While there are plenty ex-pros who can offer the view from the dressing room, a place of ever more elite detachment from the world outside it,
Carragher is one of the few who can infuse his opinions with the humour, heart and heat that those who follow the game readily recognise.
And that may well have been the reason for his downfall in this case.
What was he thinking? Many have wondered why he didn’t just roll his eyes and drive on, dismissing the goading from the lane opposite with the contempt it deserved.
But Carragher’s inability to practise the cool hauteur of the celebrity class, usually his great strength, this time drew him grimly and grotesquely towards the spittle-flecked fray.
Can he come back? He did make a terrible mistake, he is sorry, and he will be punished. But he’ll be back because, once the lashes of his public scourging are healed, Sky know he’s too good not to be.
Otherwise I’m sure they’d welcome him in the Greek Super League once things settle down a bit.
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