‘If Liam’s story is true, how did he sit on it for so long?’

If so, I think he might have lost

Midlife can make you needlessly honest, and with this in mind I have become deeply fascinated with Liam Neeson’s recent PR drive. If you are unaware of what happened, the most logical explanation for his actions is that he was bet by a friend he couldn’t make all black people hate him in the course of one interview. He then told a story about how, when one of his friends was raped by a black man, he went out with a cosh every night for a few nights looking for a black man to kill. I understand this impulse: I was once beaten up outside a pub by a racist, and knew I’d never be able to find the perpetrator because all white people look the same to me. At one point, I was even convinced it was my wife.

If Liam’s story is true, how the hell did he sit on it for so long? He has promoted three Taken films! It’s difficult to believe he had never recalled that story, until, suddenly, promoting Deadly Pursuit, he did: “Oh yeah, there was this one time I spent a number of nights hunting black men.”

I tweeted that Liam had asked me to meet him down the park as a joke, and was struck by the number of people – exclusively white – rushing to his defence, telling me I have no right to comment as Liam is far more talented, or that I am the wrong colour to make that joke, or just telling me to shut up. All of these arguments have their merits, but they had added impact, because they came soon after a similar reaction to something I tweeted at Millwall football club.

A number of Millwall fans (the exact number is subject to some impassioned debate) were filmed singing “I’d rather be a P**i than a Scouse” at an FA Cup game against Everton last month. Having not apologised for that incident, Millwall’s official Twitter account posted a video of their fans singing something else, and commented on how great the atmosphere had been at the game. I replied: “Not as catchy as the P**i one they were singing earlier.”

I was immediately besieged by Millwall fans telling me I shouldn’t generalise, and that I was unfairly labelling all Millwall fans. In the interests of balance, I should point out that I also received many replies condemning those fans. I was staggered, however, by the vitriol directed at me for “labelling” people.

I am not saying that Millwall football club is racist. I am not saying that Millwall fans are racist. What I am saying is that, if someone is at a football match and they feel comfortable enough among the fans to start singing that song, and rather than being condemned, hundreds of fans start to join in, then your football club has a problem. And if you are as “not racist” as you say you are, then take it up with your club and not me. I would be equally appalled were I to hear antisemitic songs from Arsenal fans when we’re playing Tottenham (despite the fact I would definitely much rather be a P**i than a Spurs fan).

As for Liam, I don’t actually think he is racist. It is arguably brave of him to admit that he had those thoughts, thoughts that many people have, but would never admit. The issue for me is that he decided to bring this up as part of a promotional interview for a film. The only worse time to mention it would have been at a Love Actually cast reunion. The other issue is the number of nights he did it. I almost understand immediately going out for one night on some racially charged rampage. But surely, by the fifth night, you might wonder, “Am I being a massive twat?”

In the end, the saddest thing for Liam is that John Barnes came out in his defence. He didn’t even win that bet.