Thursday 28 February ~
So last night's FA Cup fifth round replay between Middlesbrough and Sheffield United turned out much as expected, except maybe for the lack of a penalty shoot-out. A dull game and extra time, finally settled by a goal described by Kevin Blackwell as “spawny”, leads Middlesbrough to a quarter-final against Cardiff. The row that dominated build-up to the game, yet dropped quickly out of today's headlines, revolved around a word that seems amusingly out of kilter, yet suitably pompous for the language of the FA's disciplinary structure.
The word in question is “frivolous” and the issue is Middlesbrough's appeal against Jeremie Aliadiere's three match suspension following his dismissal at Anfield. When heard by the one of the FA's mysterious “regulatory commissions” the suspension was not only upheld but the appeal was deemed to be “frivolous” and thus Aliadiere's ban extended to four games. Unsurprisingly, Middlesbrough were upset about losing a vital player at an important stage of the season but chief executive Keith Lamb seemed more upset about the description of the appeal, grabbing his Oxford dictionary for a definition of “frivolous” like a teenager sulking at being grounded, and defensively stating that “in fact we spent more than two days considering whether or not to appeal the incident”. Compared to other appeals this season, however, Boro do have a very good point. When Michael Essien was given a straight red card for a push on Derby's Kenny Miller, Chelsea appealed against the ban. The suspension was upheld but the FA did not consider the appeal to be “frivolous”. Why not? The mind boggles. And as Steve Gibson pointed out, Burnley, Mansfield, Luton, Tranmere and Hartlepool have also had bans extended on appeal this season alone.
A sense of seismic injustice gripped Teesside and conspiracy theories were quick to spring up on Middlesbrough fan boards. Though it's doubtful that there was systematic favouritism in this case, you can see where suspicions arise and fans of other clubs across the country were quick to sympathise with Middlesbrough's cause. PFA boss Gordon Taylor described the FA's disciplinary process as a “kangaroo court” and expressed concerns that the secretive regulatory commissions are held in private, not allowing clubs to attend or indeed know who is sitting on their appeal. This issue seems destined to appear after every controversial sending off until some consistency is applied at the highest levels of the game. Ed Upright