LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) - Premier League club Everton rallied around their midfielder Ross Barkley on Saturday after a newspaper columnist compared him to a gorilla and made a series of disparaging statements about the England international and the residents of Liverpool.
The club announced on Saturday that The Sun newspaper, whose former editor Kelvin MacKenzie wrote the column, would be banned from covering their games and press events.
Everton fans then gave Barkley a rapturous reception as he came on to the pitch for the home match against Burnley at Goodison Park and again when he scored in the 3-1 win.
The Sun has suspended MacKenzie and apologised for the column which they said made “unfunny” and “wrong” comments about the people of Liverpool.
The paper also said they had not been aware of the family heritage of Barkley, whose grandfather was born in Nigeria. MacKenzie too said he was unaware of Barkley’s family background and denied his article was racist.
MacKenzie’s column has been reported to the police by the mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, who has also issued a complaint to the press watchdog.
Merseyside police confirmed they have received a complaint about the article and that they were carrying out enquiries.
The Sun is already banned by Everton’s city rivals Liverpool due to their coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people lost their lives in 1989.
MacKenzie was editor of the newspaper during its coverage, which was widely criticised for blaming fans for the disaster and accusing them of poor behaviour. The Sun later apologised for the coverage.
Saturday marked the 28th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and Everton held a minute’s applause in memory of the victims prior to the kick off of their Premier League game with Burnley.
Barkley, who was attacked in a Liverpool bar last Sunday in an incident which prompted the scathing column, was given a warm welcome by Everton fans and after he scored their second goal, was booked by the referee for celebrating with them.
He was then given a standing ovation when substituted in the final minutes of the game.
His manager Ronald Koeman said he understood Barkley’s desire to embrace the fans, even if it meant picking up a caution.
“Of course, I can understand. Because I think what happened last week had a really big impact on him. I think he was focused on the football side this week and also this afternoon,” Koeman told reporters.
The Dutchman said that Barkley had never been in danger of being left out of the team despite his difficult week.
“I think it is the best way to play football and forget what happened last week,” said Koeman.
Barkley did not speak to reporters but took to Instagram, saying “The fans were brilliant today”.
Before the game, Everton issued a statement regarding their banning of The Sun.
“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,” the statement said.
“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.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ian Chadband