Ferguson free to play after judge quashes ban

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The Independent Online

On the day that Everton, along with their neighbours from Anfield, received the freedom of the city of Liverpool, Duncan Ferguson was also pronounced free to play on when a judicial review quashed the remaining seven games of a 12-match ban imposed by the Scottish Association.

In his judgment, delivered in Edinburgh yesterday, Lord Justice MacFadyen ruled that the SFA acted "outside its powers" by suspending the pounds 4m Everton striker for butting Raith Rovers' John McStay while playing for Rangers in April 1994.

The decision challenges the SFA's practice of acting on a report by the refereeing supervisor when a referee has failed to take action against a player during a match. The officials for the Rangers-Raith game missed the offence, although it was spotted by the supervisor and by television cameras. Ferguson later served 44 days in Barlinnie prison for assaulting McStay.

Lord MacFadyen's decision represents a setback for the game's governing body in Scotland. The prominent Glasgow lawyer Donald Findlay, who is vice-chairman of Rangers, urged the SFA to have a "complete re-think" about its disciplinary procedures. Tony Higgins, the chief executive of the Scottish players' union, said the rules would have to be "re-drafted".

Findlay, claiming vindication, said: "From day one I argued that the rule under which the disciplinary committee was punishing Duncan Ferguson was incompetent. The idea of an additional penalty was invalid when there had been no initial penalty on the day of the game."

The SFA, added Findlay, had to admit that the present system was a shambles. "There must be a complete re-think, with discussions with the clubs, referees and the Scottish Professional ers' Association, to get something clear on paper."

Higgins pledged his union's backing for an overhaul, the need for which he felt was made more urgent by the likely introduction of TV evidence next season: "The aim must be to show that football can police itself rather than have the law intervening."

In a terse statement, the SFA acknowledged the judgment, concluding: "It would appear that the action taken by the Association in dealing with an act of violence on the field cannot be sustained." Ferguson, who had sought the judicial review, now faces Southampton this weekend knowing he can play a full part in what is left of Everton's season and in Scotland's build-up to the European Championship finals - provided he avoids further trouble.

Newcastle yesterday broke their silence over Faustino Asprilla, the Colombian striker for whom they have offered Parma pounds 6.7m. Nearly a week after Asprilla left Tyneside following a medical, the Premiership leaders' chairman, Sir John Hall, said the deal was still on but added that Newcastle wanted "to resolve a number of matters to our satisfaction".

Asprilla himself, interviewed on a Colombian radio station, admitted that Newcastle are worried about an old knee injury, and want him to undergo tests "to see if the knee is the same or has got worse." He added: "If it does not happen, I'm happy with Parma and will return to Italy."

The Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, last night dismissed reports linking him with a trio of internationals. Robson had been linked with offers for the Internazionale defender Roberto Carlos, the Lazio striker Alen Boksic and the out-of contract Brazilian left-back, Branco. However, Robson insisted the last bid he made for a player was when he signed Juninho in October. "The reports are cheating our fans who may believe we have failed with our offers," he said.

Ulf Kirsten, the Bayer Leverkusen striker, said last night that he was discussing a move to Tottenham.