FOOTBALL : Armstrong return in doubt after Cup ban

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The Independent Online
Chris Armstrong will not be able to play in Crystal Palace's Coca- Cola Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool tomorrow after the Football Association insisted yesterday that the striker completes a drug rehabilitation programme.

Armstrong was refused permission despite an appeal by his club. The FA also refused to say when he could resume his career. His enforced absence follows a drug test on 23 January that revealed traces of marijuana. He has already missed two matches.

The FA said in a statement: "We deeply regret the publicity in recent days surrounding Crystal Palace's Chris Armstrong. Confidentiality in medical matters is a universally accepted concept. When it is broken it is bound to be detrimental to all involved. The FA cannot consider drug- taking a minor matter.

"Less than a week ago Crystal Palace agreed to a programme of assessment and counselling for Chris Armstrong. It is less than two weeks since the player was confirmed as taking marijuana.

"A drugs programme drawn up jointly by the FA and the Professional Footballers' Association, with professional advice from the Sports Council, cannot be adjusted to meet the understandable desire of any club to play its strongest team in every game."

Armstrong is likely to be out for a further two weeks as the FA is determined to be shown to be dealing firmly with drug taking. It is within its powers to charge the player with bringing the game into disrepute but the ruling body is unlikely to do that as long as he abides by its rehabilitation scheme.

Nevertheless, the FA has yet to address the problem of ensuring anonymity in cases involving high-profile footballers. According to the PFA chairman, Gordon Taylor, nine players have been found to be taking drugs since random tests were introduced this season. However a trainee at a lower-division club is more likely to receive treatment without publicity than a £5m- rated striker. Taylor confirmed yesterday that the same criteria will be applied when punishment is considered in all these cases.

Alan Smith, the Palace manager, said he would not comment until he had spoken to his chairman, Ron Noades, but earlier he had said: "This has been going on for weeks now and I don't want the boy destroyed by it."

Not only will Armstrong miss tomorrow's match as Palace try to overturn a 1-0 deficit, but also the FA Cup quarter-final against Wolves on Saturday.

Graeme Souness yesterday dismissed newspaper allegations against him as "completely untrue" and issued a writ over the report concerning the financial details of a transfer during his spell as Liverpool manager. The allegations centre on the £550,000 purchase of the Dane, Torben Piechnik. "Certain serious allegations have been published about Mr Graeme Souness, in today's edition of the Today newspaper. These allegations are completely untrue," the former Anfield manager said through his solicitors.

On the same theme, Graham Taylor, the Wolves manager, yesterday denied claims that there were irregularities in the transfer of John de Wolf to Molineux. Allegations have been made that a £50,000 payment was made to an agent when the Dutch international defender was signed from Feyenoord in December but Taylor insists no rules were breached. "This story has come from Holland," he said, "and the Football League has stated there was no problem."

A bone scan yesterday revealed that the Arsenal goalkeeper, David Seaman, has fractured a rib for the third time in 10 months. He will almost certainly be out for a month, missing the return leg of the European Cup-Winners' Cup quarter-final against Auxerre in France a week on Wednesday as well as Premiership games away to Blackburn, Newcastle and Manchester United.

The Norwegian right-back, Pl Lydersen, who was involved in one of the two Scandinavian "transfer bung" allegations which led to George Graham being sacked by Arsenal two weeks ago, is terminating his contract with the Gunners. He will return to Norway and regain his amateur status, playing part-time for his former club, IFK Start.

Brian McClair is poised to receive a Scotland recall after a 21-month absence from international football. Craig Brown, the Scotland coach, will check on the Manchester United striker's form at tonight's Premiership game at Wimbledon and may include him in the squad for the European Championship qualifier in Russia on 29 March.