Who, us? FA calls for fair play in plane row

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The Independent Online
The Football Association was astonished. How could it possibly be claimed that England players drank too much and broke two television screens on an airliner?

Nevertheless, the airline concerned, Cathay Pacific, has submitted a pounds 5,000 bill for two such screens which its staff claim were smashed during the team's flight home from Hong Kong.

The England coach, Terry Venables, promised a full inquiry yesterday, but not before MPs had called for those responsible to be kicked out of the squad before the start of next month's Euro 96 championships.

According to early reports, the two screens, measuring 6in square and located in seat armrests, were damaged at the end of a drinking and card- playing session in the upstairs "bubble" section of the Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 during the flight home on Tuesday morning. A table was also reported to have been broken.

Inevitably, the first man accused of causing the damage was Paul Gascoigne, who was known to have been celebrating his 29th birthday. A high spirited Gascoigne later apologised for upsetting a stewardess after an altercation. Neither the FA nor Cathay Pacific would name Gascoigne as the culprit. His agent, Mel Stein, said Gascoigne would not comment.

The airline reported the damage to Scotland Yard, which promised to conduct an investigation, and yesterday the FA was shown a bill for pounds 5,000.

Russell Stenhouse, spokesman for Cathay Pacific, said: "It will cost us that much to repair the damage.

"We waited for about eight hours after the plane landed so we could report the incident to the police and get engineers on board. They examined the damage and established that it had not been caused accidentally. It was done with intent."

The FA sought to play down the fracas yesterday and promised that Venables would carry out "face-to-face" interviews with the players before taking action.

Despite evidence relating to the damage, it issued a statement which said: "The Football Association is very concerned by some exaggerated media comments today in connection with the behaviour of the England team on its return journey.

"At this stage it is by no means clear who was responsible. Then, whatever action is needed will be taken."

It seems likely that Venables will resist calls to suspend those responsible, particularly because the Uefa deadline for replacing players passed yesterday.

John Carlisle MP, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party's backbench sports committee, said: "This has happened at a time when obviously we are worried about what is going to happen over the next few weeks when the competition gets under way. It sets a terrible example. The culprits should be identified, publicly exposed and thrown out of the squad at once. And if that includes Paul Gascoigne, then so be it."

Venables is not likely to conduct his interviews until next week.

Jim White, page 19

Ken Jones, page 28