Football: Players' union joins the case against Kelly

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THE pressure on the Football Association to instigate disciplinary proceedings against its chief executive, Graham Kelly, mounted yesterday as the players' union joined with referees in condemning both his presence and his evidence at last week's court case involving the former Torquay defender, John Uzzell, and Gary Blissett, of Brentford. Kelly countered last night by saying he 'had to tell the truth'.

At the same time Mike Bateson, the Torquay chairman, is warning the FA that the matter will not go away and has taken legal advice to challenge its claim that it will take no action over comments made while on oath.

He has written to the FA chairman, Sir Bert Millichip, demanding that the governing body consider charging Kelly with bringing the game into disrepute.

FA councillors in Devon are also unhappy and after a meeting last night will tell Lancaster Gate that they 'deplore' Kelly's words.

The chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, is writing to his opposite number at the FA to express the disappointment of the Torquay players and also intends raising the matter with Kelly personally at a meeting tomorrow in London.

At Salisbury Crown Court Blissett was cleared of causing grievous bodily harm to Uzzell in a clash during a game last December which left the Torquay player- coach with a broken cheek-bone and eye-socket.

He has been unable to resume his career and still suffers pain from his injuries.

Kelly spoke as a defence witness and claimed the collision was an 'ordinary aerial challenge', the like of which he could see '200 times a week' at four games.

Kelly yesterday explained his decision to appear in court, saying: 'I was faced with a stark choice. I had to decide whether to avoid upsetting referees or to see whether I was free over Christmas to visit Gary Blissett in jail. I chose to tell the truth.

'I can understand why the referee concerned and referees generally would be upset at having a decision questioned and I would not normally do that.

'I felt I had to stand up and be counted. My honest opinion, based on an FA inquiry, was that Gary Blissett was not guilty of 'cynically and deliberately thrusting his elbow into an opponent's face' as the prosecution alleged.

'That is a very serious allegation to have to face in a court of law with a jail sentence hanging over you.'

Although they gave advice to both players the PFA deliberately kept away from the court hearing to maintain its neutral stance. 'While we never like to see any of our members involved in litigation through an incident on the field we can't whitewash what has happened particularly when the player has such a bad injury,' Taylor said.

'That's why we must deal evenly with so delicate a matter and that's why we were surprised that Graham Kelly chose to give evidence.

'If he had just stated that the FA had charged him (Blissett) with disrepute, but then found there were no grounds for further action that would have been fair enough. But he went beyond that.

'To say it was an ordinary challenge was not being even-handed and was certainly not a statement we could support because it was not the kind of challenge we wish to see on a football field.'

Taylor is concerned at the increase in injuries caused by the use of elbows. Last season 'elbow' offences resulted in 20 sendings-off compared with nine the previous year. There have been 10 already this season.

'Obviously it's a physical contact sport with a risk of injury but players have a duty of care to their fellow professionals and we are anxious that care does not go out of the window because of this latest case.'

Taylor's intervention follows a strongly worded statement from the Assocation of Premier League and Football League Referees and Linesmen in which it said Kelly had 'caused immeasurable harm to the game'.

'Referees throughout the country are outraged that Mr Kelly should express opinions which were in direct contradiction to the evidence offered by the match referee.

'In so doing he has not only undermined the authority of referees but also done a great disservice to the game.'