Football: Edwards escapes FA censure

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MANCHESTER UNITED'S chairman Martin Edwards will go unpunished for a premeditated slur on the reputation of the referee David Elleray, the Football Association said yesterday. The news came, ironically, on the day that the FA announced that it was concerned that referees' safety is being compromised by such slurs and promised to "act against those who choose to ignore this reality."

It is more than three months since Edwards accused Elleray of handicapping his side's title chances. Elleray awarded Liverpool a penalty and sent off United's Denis Irwin when the two sides met on 5 May. The game finished 2-2, giving Arsenal an advantage in the table. Three days later, having had time to consider the implications of his actions, Edwards said: "If Arsenal or Chelsea win the Premiership this season by either one or two points, I trust they will strike a special commemorative medal for Mr Elleray because he will have done it for them." He added: "I realise that what I am saying is very contentious but this is far from the first time that we have had good reason to be extremely disturbed by Mr Elleray's performance in one of our matches."

The FA announced immediately that it would investigate the comments to decide whether they warranted a disrepute charge. The FA's enforcer, Graham Bean, is understood to have decided in June that Edwards should receive a formal warning for his conduct, but no such warning was handed out. Elleray later received threats from disgruntled supporters and has since had a panic alarm fitted at his house.

The FA has categorically denied that Edwards has escaped censure for his comments because he has helped the FA recently, including agreeing to take part in Fifa's World Club Championship. The matter has taken so long to resolve, the FA has said, because the parties involved have not had adequate chances to put their cases until recently.

"At our invitation, Martin Edwards and David Elleray spoke together last week," the FA's David Davies said yesterday. "Both men wanted that to be a private conversation. When the conversation was over, both made clear that they wanted to draw a line under this matter. We have respected that view."

Davies said that the conversation was private and hence he could not confirm or deny whether Edwards had apologised to Elleray for his outburst. He said that Elleray now wanted the matter to be dropped so as not to draw attention back to it, or to himself. Neither Elleray nor Philip Don, the Premier League referees' officer, were available for comment last night.

On a day of mixed messages, the FA's chairman, Geoff Thompson, said: "Players and supporters are at the very heart of our game - but so are referees. Today their performance is scrutinised as never before. At the highest level, it is inevitable that their decisions will occasionally lead to controversy.

"I would appeal to everyone within the game to be aware how damaging the more extreme reactions to referees can be, especially in the heat of the moment. Nobody seeks to restrict free speech but, in a passionate sport, people will view the same incident in different ways. We all have a responsibility to recognise the impact of what we say. Where necessary, the FA will act against those who choose to ignore this reality."

Unless, evidently, they are Martin Edwards.