Manchester United: Spitting Jonny Evans pleads the Winslow Boy denfence
Banned for spitting at Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse – who then returned fire with interest – Manchester United’s Jonny Evans is talking to the Times. The headline – “If I’d genuinely spat, Mum and Dad would have been disgusted” – gives readers heads-up as to what the kind of nonsense they can expect.
This is no mea culpa. This is me a victim. Banned for six matches for his part in that exchange of bodily fluids, the caption beneath Evans’ face tells readers the spitting is “alleged”.
James Ducker says this is Evans telling his side of the story. But it looks a lot like the Times‘ is cocking an overly sympathetic ear, a feeling compounded by the accompanying photo of Cisse gobbing at Evans but no photo of Evans clearing his throat at Cisse.
It’s all promising to be not a lot unlike the case of The Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan’s play about Ronnie Winslow, a lad accused and found guilty of stealing a postal order. The stain on the family name would be intolerable, so his family sue the State for his pardon. Eventually, they win but the fight has ruined them in other ways.
Evans is adamant that he is the injured party. But the more he tries to convince the crowd, the less worthwhile the enterprise becomes.
It’s worth repeating what the Football Association regulatory commission said of it:
“It is clear that Mr Evans is looking directly and indeed aggressively at Mr Cisse. His lips are ‘pursed’ and he is close to Mr Cisse. If he was, as alleged to be the case, a person who ‘habitually spits’, then the commission were concerned as to why he did not turn his head away from Mr Cisse when so spitting.
“If that had been a family member or indeed another team member or his manager in front and below him would he still have carried out the same manoeuvre?
“Mr Evans had (and has) a duty of care, if spitting for whatever reason, not to direct the same in the general direction of an opponent, or indeed anyone else. The video clips clearly show that he failed in his duty of care.
“There may, in some quarters, be substantial sympathy for Mr Evans, but the video evidence shows that he did what he did, and the ordinary man in the street will find his action to be simply disgusting and should not be allowed in any walk of life, let alone on any football field.”
Back to Evans and his mum and dad:
“I did not have the intent to spit at an opponent, so when the FA charged me with that I could never accept it. To spit at anyone is one of the most disgusting things you can do; it’s low and it’s cheap. I would never think to spit at someone. You just look like an idiot.”
From spitting at someone, Evans is now a man who would not even think to spit at someone, let alone actually do it. It’s the kind insight that makes many football fans hanker for the days when match reports and a few words in Shoot magazine about the star player and how his wife Anne (they were always called Anne) loved her nursing job was all we needed to know about life off the pitch.
Now we listen as a highly paid athlete moans about unfairness when the rules are applied – and without rules, there is no sport.
The advice is now as it was when Manchester United played Newcastle and Evans was fouled: suck it up; swallow it; and let the referee deal with it.
But Evans can’t move on. Like Winslow, he craves absolution in the court of public opinion:
“I was able to go home and look my mum and dad in the eye because if I’d genuinely spat at someone I think they would have been disgusted in me. It’s not the background I come from in Northern Ireland. My mum and dad would have given me a rollicking if I had done that.”
Forget the FA, the rules and the referee. Evans bows only to to his mum and dad’s moods and ethics.
It is so utterly weak and self-serving. But it is entertaining.
Here are a few more extracts from the player who would have been best advised to have kept his mouth shut:
“I totally understand that, if I was spitting in training and someone was in front of me, you’d naturally turn your head to the side. I don’t really have an explanation.”
He then offers an explanation:
“The only thing I can think of is the fact Cissé was coming towards me as he got off the ground, which immediately drew my attention. I was angry at the initial challenge, which you could see. But I was totally unaware that I had spat on the floor. It surprised me watching it and I could understand why Cissé would think I had spat at him.”
It’s a refreshingly convoluted denial. And it gets better when he co-opts Cisse into his defence, the pair forming a kind of spitters community:
“I ended up marking him in the box straight afterwards and on three occasions he said to me that I spat at him. I said to him that I would never spit at anyone so I don’t know what you’re on about.”
And Cisse, who had returned fire and admonished Evans for spitting at him then dropped the matter:
“He accepted it at the time.”
And then he didn’t:
“At half-time I could see Cissé was clearly upset about something. The referee was talking to another of our players so I said to the linesman beside him, ‘Look, Cissé’s thought I have spat at him, that’s why he was getting upset.’ The linesman sort of laughed and when it was repeated to the referee he sort of laughed as well.”
It was so utterly ridiculous that they all laughed when honest Johnny told them about Cisse’s mistake:
“It was not actually until we were on the bus leaving St James’ when someone said, ‘Oh, Cissé spat at you.’ So I was totally unaware of that. Nothing had been mentioned at half-time and then I was on my way back out for the second half when Wayne Rooney said to me, ‘I’ve heard on TV they’re saying it looks like you’ve spat at him’.”
It’s half-time. And Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney is watching the telly.
Evans then offers explanation No. 2:
“So I thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe when you’re shouting a little bit of spit can come out of your mouth.’”
And then the noble one approached the rival:
“…so I went straight to find Cissé again and said to him, ‘If you thought I spat at you then it was an accident, it’s not something I would do’ and he accepted it again. He was like, ‘OK, mate’.”
Oh, make him stop. Someone have a word and make him stop.