Football: FA bans Wright for three matches

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The Independent Online
IAN WRIGHT was yesterday suspended for three matches after he was found guilty at a Football Association hearing of punching Tottenham's David Howells during the White Hart Lane game on 12 December. The punishment for the Arsenal and England striker is the same as if the referee had seen the offence and sent Wright off.

Before the same disciplinary commission at Lancaster Gate, London, the Arsenal manager, George Graham, was fined pounds 500 for remarks he made to the match official, Alf Buksh, at the end of the north London derby.

Both Wright and his manager pleaded guilty to the misconduct charge and both can feel relieved that their punishments were not more severe, particularly Graham who feared a ban from the touchline for his 'improper comments'.

Arsenal's leading scorer will miss games at a crucial period in their season as they seek to make progress in both major cup competitions and revive their sagging title ambitions. But as the ban starts on Saturday week he should be back in the side with two appearances under his belt before Graham Taylor names his England squad to face San Marino at Wembley on 17 February.

Taylor, who watched the incident involving Wright and Howells which was shown and repeated on BBC's Match of the Day, has previously stated that he will not be taking his own disciplinary action though the player knew a long spell out of the game in the run-up to the World Cup qualifier could have cost him his place alongside Alan Shearer. And with Taylor reminding all his squad of their special responsibilities as representatives of their country he knows further indiscretions will not be tolerated.

Wright will be free for next Tuesday's Coca-Cola quarter-final at home to Nottingham Forest and will miss the League visits to Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday which come either side of the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Highbury against either Leeds or Charlton on 25 January. He can look forward to returning to the Gunners' line-up for the home game with Liverpool on Sunday 31 January.

There was speculation that Wright would be put out of the game for a long period. Paul Davis, the Arsenal midfielder, received a nine-match ban and pounds 3,000 fine when TV cameras caught him punching Southampton's Glenn Cockerill in an off-the-ball incident in 1988. In that instance, however, Cockerill suffered a broken cheekbone. When television spotlighted Dean Saunders elbowing a Bristol Rovers opponent in an FA Cup match last season, again behind the back of the referee, he was banned for three matches.

The disciplinary panel which comprised Jack Hayward (Essex FA), Barry Bright (Kent) and Roy Barston (Leicestershire and Rutland), studied video evidence in which Wright turned and hit out at Howells after a seemingly innocuous challenge. He was represented by Graham, the Arsenal chief executive, Ken Friar, and a club director, Richard Carr. Buksh was also in attendance and, after a two-hour hearing, the FA spokesman, Mike Willmore, said: 'It's the standard ban for a sending-off of that nature. If the referee had seen the offence at the time and decided to send him off the automatic ban would have been for three games.

'Television is a fact of life and when you have got something like that attracting national attention we have no alternative but to look at it. The message is that even if the referee does not see an offence a player won't necessarily get away with it.'

Graham, who was charged only this week with his offence, asked if the two cases could be dealt with at the same time. He had been reported by Buksh following an outburst in the tunnel at the end of a fractious game in which five players were booked and Arsenal were left furious when a penalty claim was denied. Following the fixture Graham wrote to the FA asking that Buksh should not take charge of any more Arsenal games.

The Wimbledon manager, Joe Kinnear, was handed a five-match touchline ban for a similar offence last month and pounds 500 will not make a large hole in the pocket of a manager who earns in the region of pounds 250,000 a year. There was no fine imposed on Wright and neither he nor his manager were warned as to their future conduct which tends to be normal FA procedure in cases like theirs.

Neither made any comment as they left FA headquarters. Friar said both accepted they had a fair hearing and did not intend to challenge the decisions.

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