Football: Liverpool to investigate Collymore allegations

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The Independent Online
STEVE HARKNESS will be at the centre of a full inquiry by Liverpool into allegations that he hurled racial abuse at his former team-mate, Stan Collymore.

The 27-year-old defender has been accused by Collymore of making racist comments during Saturday's fixture between the two Premiership clubs, which ended in a 2-1 victory for Aston Villa with Collymore scoring twice.

It has also emerged that Collymore complained about the abuse to the referee, Graham Poll, during the match.

Liverpool spent the day yesterday digesting the implications of Collymore's claims and then issued a statement promising to launch their own investigation.

Their manager, Roy Evans, was out of the country on a scouting mission in Europe, while their chief executive, Peter Robinson, was away from the club on personal business. Both men were contacted during the day, but it has been decided to delay any further discussions until they can discuss the situation with Harkness in person.

It seems likely that the club solicitor, Kevin Dooley, and their chief executive designate, Rick Parry, will also be involved in the meetings.

Liverpool's statement, issued through a club spokesman, Ian Cotton, said: "These are serious allegations which have been made against Steve Harkness - ones that the club do not take lightly. But until we have had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the matter with Steve, Liverpool Football Club are not in a position to comment further on the matter."

Liverpool know they will have to consider their and the player's position carefully in the light of several well-publicised cases of players being subjected to racial abuse in the recent past. Only last week, West Ham's Eyal Berkovitch claimed that Blackburn Rovers players made anti-Semitic comments to him during the FA Cup tie between the clubs, and it caused the Israeli midfielder to be subjected to torrents of abuse from Blackburn fans during the replay at Ewood Park.

Now, with the Professional Footballers' Association at the forefront of a "Kick Racism Out Of Football" campaign, Liverpool will have to be thorough and open about their own internal investigations.

The Football Association will await the outcome with concern. Initially, it has said that it will wait for the referee's report to see whether he mentioned the incidents on the pitch, and also an alleged tunnel confrontation and an alleged attempt by Harkness to continue the row with Collymore by bursting into the Villa players' dressing-room.

However, Poll said yesterday that he had seen and heard nothing and would not be reporting the incident, although he admitted Collymore had complained to him on the pitch about his treatment.

Now the FA will have to decide whether to launch its own investigation without a statement from Poll.

Poll said: "I cannot include things in my report that I didn't see or didn't hear. I heard nothing on the pitch and I saw nothing in the tunnel, the players were all back in the dressing rooms by the time that me and my two assistants left the pitch.

"But Stan told me on the pitch that things had been said to him. I could see he was incensed about something in the second half, and asked him what was wrong.

"It's then that he told me. I tried to calm him down and said I hadn't heard anything. Stan didn't tell me who had said things to him.

"He was upset, and I had asked him what had been wrong. But I have not included anything about what he said in my report.

"If I put everything in my report that players told me was being said on the pitch, I would be writing it all week."

An FA spokesman said: "There is a route for Villa to complaint to us if they so wish. Obviously we are concerned about what is being claimed, and we will be keeping an eye on the situation."

Organisers of the "Kick Racism Out Of Football" campaign have called on Collymore and Villa to make an official complaint.

Piara Powar, the national co-ordinator of the campaign, said: "If Stan Collymore is suggesting that is what happened to him, then he must make a complaint to the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Association.

"Unless there is an official complaint then often nothing can be investigated."

He added: "It is generally accepted that there used to be a bigger problem with racism among players than there is now, but this allegation is not a totally isolated incident.

"There is still a problem with racism in the game and players have a responsibility to give a lead to supporters."