Football: Nicholson cleared of drug charge

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The West Bromwich defender Shane Nicholson was yesterday cleared of wilful misconduct after failing a random drugs test.

A Football Association disciplinary commission accepted Nicholson's explanation, after a witness gave evidence that the player's drink had been spiked at a party 36 hours previously. The former Lincoln and Derby player had tested positive for amphetamines.

However, the FA did find Nicholson guilty of a technical misconduct charge and, after the two-hour hearing at Lancaster Gate, warned players against spending time in bars frequented by drug-users.

Swansea City have been forced to postpone today's Third Division match against Chester after their Vetch Field ground was ruled unsafe following safety inspections by city council officials. The problems include loose masonry, the lack of a back-up electricity generator and an inadequate internal radio network.

The West Ham striker John Hartson has been fined pounds 1,000 by the FA and warned about his future conduct following comments made about the referee, Mike Reed.

Hartson branded Reed a "homer" and said he deserved "none out of 10" for his performance in the Hammers' match at Leicester on 27 October. He subsequently apologised for his remarks.

Hartson, the Premiership's leading scorer with 14 goals this season in all competitions, also wrote a letter of apology to Read and repeated his regret over the incident when he appeared before an FA disciplinary committee yesterday.

West Ham have signed the Portuguese international forward, Paulo Alves, on a three-month loan from Sporting Lisbon, with a view to a permanent transfer.

Blackburn's manager Roy Hodgson yesterday confirmed that he is trying to tie the England striker, Chris Sutton, to a long-term contract. Hodgson said: "It's important that the best players stay here, but there is no hurry over Sutton, who has two years left on his contract."

Debt-ridden Oxford United will listen to offers for any of their players, the club announced yesterday. Goalkeeper Phil Whitehead and striker Nigel Jemson were both placed on the transfer list earlier this week but the club has made it clear that every player is for sale.

Oxford's managing director, Keith Cox, said the club are "millions" in the red and have budgeted for further losses of pounds 800,000 this year, but he insisted they were not about to go into receivership because their major creditors were being co-operative.

Bruce Rioch has turned down an approach to become Northern Ireland's new manager. Jim Boyce, the Irish Football Association president who, along with its general secretary David Bowen, has been charged with finding Bryan Hamilton's successor, revealed that he had sounded out the former Arsenal mnager. Boyce claimed that Rioch, who lost his job as Queen's Park Rangers' assistant manager earlier this month, was not interested because he was lining up another job.

Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has signed his younger brother, Martin, who will act as a scout on a world-wide basis. United used him in the search which uncovered the Chilean striker Marcelo Salas, whom the manager is planning to watch in action for Argentina's River Plate.

Martin is no newcomer to football. He coached at Hibernian for 11 years but left Easter Road in a backroom shake-up last season.