Football: Portsmouth may pay penalty over assault

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Portsmouth may be punished with a heavy fine or even the temporary closure of Fratton Park following the assault by a spectator on a referee's assistant during Saturday's First Division match against Sheffield United.

Edward Martin, who was released from hospital yesterday after treatment for bruising, shock and concussion, was knocked unconscious by a Blades fan after he had consulted with the referee over an incident which led to the sending-off of the visitors' goalkeeper, Simon Tracey. A man has been charged with assault.

A Football Association inquiry will focus on Portsmouth's security arrangements. Several Pompey fans contacted BBC Radio Five Live's 606 programme on Saturday to complain that stewards at the ground do little to curb hooliganism. However, others said they were "no better or worse" than at most other clubs.

The FA, which has wide-ranging powers of punishment, will want to be assured Portsmouth took all reasonable safety precautions. In particular, it is likely to want to know why a man was apparently able to run unhindered down the touchline.

Portsmouth's safety officer, David Watson, defended the club. "We have 180 stewards on duty at a game like this with a 12,000 crowd," he said. "But to really make sure you stop one idiot getting on to the pitch you would need 12,000 stewards."

David Elleray, the Premier League referees' spokesman, called for a change in what he claims is the common policy of security forces not to chase pitch invaders.

He said: "There has been for a long while a policy where police and stewards don't pursue fans on the field of play. They think it's undignified to chase people to try and stop them. But as referees we have, for some time, been asking them to review that policy. At a number of grounds, police have said they will pursue people on the field if they feel they are a threat to match officials or players."

Martin, meanwhile, said yesterday that he could remember nothing about the assault. "I have never felt in any danger before," he added. "Running the line is the highlight of my week."

He continued: "I'm not going to let that one idiot stop me doing what I love. I'm having one week off and I'll be back on the touchline. We get a lot of abuse shouted at us by the fans but that's part and parcel of the job. Words can't hurt us but this is something else all together. I wouldn't want it to go back to the days of fences at grounds. I just hope this doesn't wreck our chances of hosting the 2006 World Cup."

John Michael Corker, a butcher from Eastbourne, East Sussex, has been charged with assault causing actual bodily harm. He also faces charges of affray and an offence of running on to the field of play. He has been bailed to appear before South East Hants magistrates at Portsmouth on 16 February.