United, who escaped punishment when they were found guilty of an illegal approach to Arsenal's Matthew Wicks, were not so fortunate over David Brown, 17. In addition to the fine, they must also pay costs of the FA commission's hearing and agree compensation with Oldham. The eventual price could be as much as pounds 100,000.
A spokeswoman for the FA, Claire Tomlinson, said United had fallen foul of Premier League rule 20.9. "The fine reflects the seriousness of the offence," she said. "We don't want any illegal approaches to schoolboys. Clubs spend a lot of money, time and effort on the development of their young players and we feel we have to afford them protection."
Earlier this month United were reprimanded by the FA over Wicks - the son of the former Chelsea defender, Steve - but were spared punishment when the youngster decided to return to Highbury.
United, who have maintained their innocence in both cases, are considering an appeal concerning Brown and have asked for a clarification of the regulations. Maurice Watkins, a solicitor and club director who presented United's case to the FA, said: "I don't think the rules are particularly clear and this was the point I was trying to make before the commission. We need to make it very clear that if a player takes a view that his career is best served elsewhere then, as long as proper compensation is payable, then he can be allowed to move."
It was a lucrative day for the FA's disciplinary arm because, in addition to United's fine, the Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, was docked pounds 750 and his players Neil Cox and Nigel Pearson pounds 500 each after being found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute.
The charges related to incidents near the players' tunnel and dressing- room areas after the match at Blackburn on 16 December. All three were found guilty of making foul and abusive remarks to referee Paul Danson after Middlesbrough's 1-0 defeat and warned about their future conduct.
There could be trouble looming, too, for Ian Wright, who has been ordered to appear before a disciplinary committee to discuss remarks he made about referees on Arsenal's club-call telephone line. He allegedly described some officials as "little Hitlers". Arsenal's manager, Bruce Rioch, has apologised to the FA for his part in a touchline confrontation with the Newcastle coach, Terry McDermott, during a Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final at Highbury on 10 January. "Mr Rioch apologised, stressing in his letter that the incident was purely verbal and nothing else," an FA spokesman, Steve Double, said.
On the transfer front the wave of foreign imports appears likely to be swelled by the Brazilian international, Branco, who is in line to join his compatriot, Juninho, at Middlesbrough. He is valued at around pounds 6m but Boro expect to get him for considerably less because the full-back holds his own registration. The club has applied for a work permit for him.
West Ham are also looking abroad, having made a pounds 2.5m offer for the player described as Portugal's Ryan Giggs, Sporting Lisbon's Dani. The 18-year- old striker flies to London tomorrow to join the Hammers for the rest of the season with a view to a permanent move.
Newcastle United yesterday were still not responding to reports that the Colombian striker, Faustino Asprilla, had failed a medical, which has stalled his proposed pounds 6.7m move from Parma. The Italian club's coach, Nevio Scala, insisted all was well. "It's nonsense to say he's carrying an injury... He has been in training and playing for me and I am not aware of any medical problems."
Wolves last night rejected a pounds 3m offer from Coventry for Dean Richards, the England Under-21 defender for whom they paid Bradford City pounds 1.8m last year.Reuse content