Football: Fowler given six-match suspension

ROBBIE FOWLER intends to appeal against the six-match suspension he was given by a Football Association disciplinary commission yesterday for both his "cocaine snorting" goal celebration during the Merseyside derby last weekend and his fracas with Graeme Le Saux last month.

The three-man panel, who met in Birmingham, ordered a four-match suspension for the Liverpool striker's goal celebrations against Everton, when he knelt with a finger to one side of his nose and pretended to snort the goalline. He was also given a record pounds 32,000 fine, which equates to a week's wages and matches the fine independently imposed by Liverpool.

In addition he picked up a two-game ban for his dispute with Le Saux during Liverpool's Premiership match at Chelsea. During those exchanges, Fowler wiggled his backside at the Chelsea defender and taunted him about his sexuality. Le Saux, who was also charged with misconduct after reacting by cuffing the Liverpool man on the back of the head, was banned for one match and fined pounds 5,000.

The suspensions are due to take effect from 24 April, but Fowler intends to contest his ban, which means it will be deferred. His legal representative, Kevin Dooley, said the appeal process had been put in motion.

"It is my view that I should express disappointment on behalf of the player about what I believe to be an unjust and disproportionate sentence. We will be appealing to the FA against what we believe is clearly an unjust sentence," Dooley said.

Neither Le Saux or Fowler, who were dealt with separately by a panel headed by the FA vice chairman, Barry Bright, would comment after the hearing which lasted five hours.

The FA's interim executive director, David Davies, delivered a lengthy statement in which he said both players had admitted misconduct, adding that Le Saux did not seek to justify what he had done in hitting Fowler.

"[Le Saux] didn't condone violence of any kind and suffered what he called a torrent of abuse from a fellow professional, the origins of which were totally untrue and long-standing allegations that he was gay," Davies said in the statement.

"For his part Robbie Fowler denied saying or doing anything that was intended to question the sexuality of Graeme Le Saux but on his behalf was accepted that he had acted inappropriately in his behaviour at Stamford Bridge.

"As far as last Saturday was concerned, he said his actions had been spontaneous and instinctive. He had only realised how stupid they were several hours later. He had suffered for several years in his home city of Liverpool from totally untrue and damaging allegations of drug-taking."

Fowler agreed this week to assist the Merseyside police with their anti- drugs programme, Davies said.

Explaining the size of the fine, the statement said that the panel considered highly paid internationals to be role models. "They are also human beings whose behaviour sometimes falls below the standards expected of them," the statement said. "But mutual respect for each other is the absolute minimum requirement. The FA has an anti-discrimination policy and a commitment to fight drugs abuse which are well known and highly regarded."

Liverpool's manager, Gerard Houllier, who initially dismissed Fowler's goal celebration as a joke, escaped punishment when the same panel ruled he had no case to answer over his criticism of Mike Reed for his refereeing of Liverpool's Premiership game with Charlton on 13 February.

The French contingent in English football could be expanded by the arrival of Zinedine Zidane next season. According to the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport, the world player of the year will leave Juventus at the end of the season to join either Manchester United or a Spanish club. The paper claimed Manchester United had already made a bid for Zidane, whose contract with Juventus, United's European Cup semi-final opponents, expires in 2003. The Spanish clubs said to be seeking Zidane for next season are Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

West Ham United is the latest club to express an interest in playing in the Intertoto Cup in the hope of qualifying for the Uefa Cup. Aston Villa also added their name yesterday to those of Leicester, Middlesbrough, Wimbledon, Southampton and Nottingham Forest, who all hope to win a place in Europe via the much-maligned competition.

Brighton have sacked their manager, Jeff Wood, after nine weeks in charge of the Third Division club. Brighton have lost nine of their last 10 games to slip into relegation trouble. Martin Hinshelwood, Brighton's long time coach under Barry Lloyd, takes charge of the team for today's match at Plymouth.

Otto Baric, a 65-year-old Croat, will become new coach of Austria's national team, the Austrian FA spokesman, Wolfgang Gramann, said. Baric replaces Herbert Prohaska, who stepped down after Austria's 9-0 drubbing by Spain last month, and his appointment ends the hopes of the former Switzerland and Blackburn coach Roy Hodgson of making a quick return to the international arena.

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