Drunken Leeds players 'appalling' says Tessa Jowell

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Indy Politics

The Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell,attacked the yobbish behaviour of Leeds United's drunken players yesterday as "appalling" and called on the club and England to put their houses in order. Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Ms Jowell said the attack on a student, Sarfraz Najeib, had damaged the FA's attempts to stamp out racism in the sport.

In spite of growing condemnation, Lee Bowyer, who was cleared but fined by his club, and Jonathan Woodgate, who was found guilty of affray, were in the Leeds squad for yesterday's home game against Newcastle United.

Ms Jowell's remarks revealed the extent to which football has fallen out of favour with Tony Blair's ministers and led to speculation among colleagues that Labour will distance itself from football until the sport is cleaned up.

Stopping short of calling for the pair to be barred from representing their country, Ms Jowell said: "It's not for the Secretary of State to select the England team, but I am sure Leeds and England will make clear it's a reminder of the standards that are expected.

"These players should remember they have become famous because fans admire them and they are their role models," she said. "That places an enormous responsibility on them, quite apart from the damage this kind of incident does to the efforts that football is making to get rid of the racism."

Alastair Campbell has been a leading supporter of closer ties between the sport and the Government. He is a close friend of the Manchester United coach, Alex Ferguson. And Tony Blair had a famous photocall with then England coach Kevin Keegan including a game of football heading.

Labour MPs expect that warm relationship with soccer to cool after another pre-Christmas drunken night out by West Ham players suggested that calls for better behaviour are falling on deaf ears.

Ms Jowell signalled a tougher stance against the FA over the return of £20m in lottery money to Sport England after casting doubt on the FA's choice of Wembley for the new football stadium. She called on the FA to publish the secret report into allegations of a possible conflict of interests on the project which forced ministers to delay the FA's announcement at the last minute.

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