LONDON • Premier League side Everton rallied around their midfielder Ross Barkley, 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, which published the column by former editor Kelvin MacKenzie, would be banned from covering their games and press events.
Fans then gave Barkley a rapturous reception as he came on to the pitch for the 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, which was reported to the police by the mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, was racist.
Barkley, who was attacked in a Liverpool bar the previous Sunday in an incident which prompted the scathing column, was also given a standing ovation when substituted in the final minutes of the game.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman said he understood Barkley's desire to embrace the fans (after scoring for which he was booked by the referee), even if it meant picking up a caution.
"Of course, I can understand. Because 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," he said.
The Dutchman said that Barkley had never been in danger of being left out of the team despite his difficult week, adding: "The best way is to play football and forget what happened last week."
Barkley did not speak to reporters but took to Instagram, saying: "The fans were brilliant today."