FA holds fire on club sleaze claims

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The Independent Online
THE FOOTBALL Association said yesterday that the Newcastle United sleaze allegations had strengthened its intention to introduce a code of conduct for clubs. But it has been advised against bringing disciplinary action while the club's position remains unclear.

A statement is due from Newcastle United Plc today, when it announces its half-yearly results to the City, and the club will find it impossible to dodge the question of its management crisis. Stock market rules meant that no statement could be issued before the figures were released.

Chairman Freddy Shepherd and vice-chairman Douglas Hall, both major shareholders in the club, have faced a barrage of criticisms over allegations in the News of the World that they indulged in sex and drinking sessions around the world. They were quoted calling Newcastle women "dogs" and mocking players.

Three non-executive directors, Sir Terence Harrison, John Mayo and Denis Cassidy, have made clear their concern over the claims and were expected to raise them at a crunch meeting of the board yesterday.

The directors, who faced calls of "Sack the board" from fans as they entered St James' Park yesterday, were locked in discussions nearly all day.

Graham Kelly, the Football Association's chief executive, said the allegations surrounding Mr Shepherd and Mr Hall were "deeply damaging".

"The anger of supporters is utterly understandable. They have deserved better, much better," Mr Kelly said.

In response to criticisms that the Football Association was doing nothing, Mr Kelly said it had been advised that disciplinary action was not the way forward at this stage. "Our legal advice has been clear, we should await a statement then action by Newcastle United."

But he said the FA was giving urgent consideration to proposals from Sir John Smith, the former deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in a report for the association.

"His recent report called for a code of conduct by which all those active in the game can be judged. Such a code would be bound to reflect the lessons learned in recent days."

Jim Cousins, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central, has also called for Northumbria Police to investigate because the allegations "are seriously damaging ... to the good name of the city".

A spokesman for the force said they would be trawling the evidence to see if any offences had been committed.

As the storm surrounding Mr Shepherd and Mr Hall, the son of former chairman Sir John Hall, showed no signs of abating, Tony Banks, the sports minister, added his voice to calls for the men's resignation.

Sir John Hall, the wealthy businessman whose money helped Newcastle to success, has been tipped for a return to the chairmanship if his son steps down. But Kevin Miles, chairman of Newcastle Independent Supporters' Association, suggested that not all fans would welcome Sir John's return.