THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Ian Plenderleith reviews the FA disciplinary website and their take on the Stamford Bridge debacle

Despite all the billions of pages out there on the internet, there are still times when you can’t find what you want. On some sites it can seem like there’s just enough information to tantalise you, while withholding anything that might be of actual interest. Such as the disciplinary page at the official FA website.

Just before Christmas, Liverpool reserve-team coach Gary Ablett was called up on FA Rule E3 for “the use of abusive and/or insulting words” at the Premier League North Reserves game against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium on December 10. There’s no further context, and so, naturally intrigued to find out the full story, I delved further to find out what had caused him to lose it. Match reports at the Warrington Guardian, and both teams’ official websites, mentioned nothing besides the scoreline, 2-1 to Bolton, and the basic details of the game. The rest is frustratingly left to the imagination.

We envision a modern Premier League stadium all but empty bar a few doughty pensioners and maybe some dads with their young lads who can’t be bothered with the hassle and expense of first-team games. We see a match that no one cares about bar the junior hack from the Warrington Guardian, the only paper that feels obliged to report on events because Warrington is where Liverpool Reserves play their home games. We picture Liverpool’s Daniel Ayala being sent off for a studs-up challenge, and his team-mate Ryan Crowther being denied a second-half penalty. Was it either one of these events that triggered Ablett’s rage, causing colourful, insulting and abusive words to echo around the 28,723 mostly vacant seats? Maddeningly, it must remain just another of football’s untold stories.

The less important the game, the more that guesswork comes into play. East Thurrock United’s Victor Bellamy was charged with “improper conduct” relating to his side’s game against Waltham Forest in the Isthmian League Division One North on December 6. An internet search yields a report from the Thurrock Gazette that makes no mention of Bellamy or any incident involving improper conduct. A search of the team’s spartan official website then reveals that Bellamy is in fact the club physio.

Victor, your team won 5-0, what on earth caused you to descend into improper conduct? How can we go on without knowing your untold story? Where’s the impassioned entry at victorbellamy.blogspot.com to tell us how unjust the charge is, and what complicated circumstances in your personal life caused you to lose control?

Thankfully, the FA occasionally satisfy the public lust for detailed scandal on exactly how players have improperly conducted themselves, and after the investigation into the clash at Stamford Bridge last April between a number of Manchester United players and coaches and the ground staff of Chelsea, saw fit to release their findings in their entirety. As Sam Wallace wrote in the Independent: “In parts it reads like the average fight outside a kebab shop on a Friday night in a provincial town, only told through the eyes of PG Wodehouse writing on commission for Nuts magazine.”

The 22-page pdf is written more or less as Wallace describes. Take, for example, the understated scene-setting, which one must speak out loud in a most cultivated accent: “The atmosphere in the Manchester United dressing-room and among its players after the game was not good. It was a very big game, they had lost and they were frustrated and angry (mainly with themselves but certainly a number of Manchester United players were in a rather wound-up state).” Which you can interpret as follows: “Sore losers that they are, some of the spoilt and overpaid tossers from Old Trafford were itching to take out their frustration on the first innocent party to cross their paths for yet again failing to win at Stamford Bridge.”

There is scepticism about Patrice Evra’s claims that ground staff deliberately drove towards United warming-down players on their lawnmowers, an image more fitting to fiction or fan fantasy. “We find Mr Evra’s description exaggerated,” notes the report. The player’s violent intervention in the dispute between United coach Tony Strudwick and Chelsea groundsman Jason Griffin “was unnecessarily and gratuitously aggressive”. In a very civilised and roundabout way, the report accuses most of those involved from United of making things up like a bunch of schoolboys caught in a rather pathetic playground scuffle. The charge against Evra of violent conduct towards groundsman Sam Bethell came from a punch that caused “some redness around his ear. It is not even clear whether it was a true punch or more of a slap. It is probably best described [as] a clip.” Billy Bremner and Kevin Keegan could have shown these lads a thing or two.

Let’s not pretend we wouldn’t be interested. In the name of openness and transparency, not to mention our unbridled curiosity as to who started it, we call upon the FA to publish the transcripts of all disciplinary hearings for the delight and entertainment of fans everywhere. Want to bet they’ll get more hits than the site’s Respect campaign film?

From WSC 264 February 2009

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