Everton have banned the Sun from Goodison Park and their Finch Farm training ground over the newspaper’s coverage of the city. It comes in the wake of Kelvin MacKenzie being suspended by the Sun after Merseyside police said they were investigating Friday’s controversial column headlined: “Here’s why they go ape at Ross”, in which he compared Everton’s Ross Barkley to a gorilla. Alongside was a photograph of a gorilla’s eyes below a close-up of the eyes of Barkley, whose grandfather was born in Nigeria.
MacKenzie, the paper’s former editor, wrote in his weekly column that he was not surprised the midfielder was punched in a nightclub because he was similar to an animal in a zoo.
“Yesterday Everton Football Club informed The Sun newspaper it was banned from Goodison Park, the USM Finch Farm training ground and all areas of the club’s operation,” read a club statement.
“Whilst we will not dignify any journalist with a response to appalling and indefensible allegations, the newspaper has to know that any attack on this city, either against a much respected community or individual, is not acceptable.”
Saturday marks the 28th anniversary of the disaster. The Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, will halt training to lead a tribute from the playing staff before he and his captain, Jordan Henderson, lay flowers at Anfield.
In February, Liverpool banned the Sun from Anfield and their Melwood training ground over the notorious coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool supporters were unlawfully killed. The paper was also refused access to interviews with the players or Klopp. That decision is understood to have been taken after club directors held talks with the families of those who died in the tragedy in 1989.
The Sun removed MacKenzie’s article from their website on Friday afternoon and later suspended him. News UK, the owners of the Sun, said: “The views expressed by Kelvin MacKenzie about the people of Liverpool were wrong, unfunny and are not the view of the paper. The Sun apologises for the offence caused. The paper was unaware of Ross Barkley’s heritage and there was never any slur intended. Mr MacKenzie is currently on holiday and the matter will be fully investigated on his return.”
Merseyside police confirmed they had launched an investigation in relation to the column after receiving an online complaint from a member of the public alleging that “comments written about a third party constituted a racial hate crime”.
In his column, MacKenzie wrote: “Perhaps unfairly, I have always judged Ross Barkley as one of our dimmest footballers. There is something about the lack of reflection in his eyes which makes me certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home.
“I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo. The physique is magnificent but it’s the eyes that tell the story. So it came as no surprise to me that the Everton star copped a nasty right-hander in a nightclub for allegedly eyeing up an attractive young lady who, as they say, was ‘spoken for’.
“The reality is that at 60,000 a week and being both thick and single, he is an attractive catch in the Liverpool area, where the only men with similar pay packets are drug dealers and therefore not at nightclubs, as they are often guests of Her Majesty.”
MacKenzie said Barkley would have “learned a painful lesson” from the altercation in the Santa Chupitos bar, adding: “He is too rich and too famous to be spending his time in local hangouts where most of the customers have only just broken through the 7.50-an-hour barrier.”
The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, tweeted on Friday to say he had reported the article to Merseyside police and the Independent Press Standards Organisation for being a “racial slur”, and condemned MacKenzie for his “prehistoric, stereotypical views of our city”.
After his suspension, MacKenzie said: “I had no idea of Ross Barkley’s family background and nor did anybody else. For the Mayor of Liverpool and a handful of others to describe the article as racist is beyond parody.”