Football: `Rematch' protest instigated by Celts

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THE HISTORIC FA Cup rematch between Arsenal and Sheffield United went ahead despite the fierce objections of three of the country's four home associations. It has emerged that lawmakers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were all strongly in favour of the original result being allowed to stand and are furious that Fifa sided with Lancaster Gate and sanctioned a rematch.

It was assumed that Fifa was responsible for initiating moves to have the replay scrapped when it met the four home associations at the International FA Board meeting in Wales last weekend. In fact, the matter was raised by the Irish, supported by the Scots and Welsh, before Fifa announced it was launching an inquiry into the unprecedented set of circumstances at Highbury.

Two days later, in Zurich, Fifa reluctantly sanctioned the rematch which Arsenal won, ironically, by the same 2-1 scoreline. "We told Fifa that we were of the opinion that the original result should have stood in order to preserve the integrity of the laws of the game," said the Scottish FA secretary Jim Farry. "We remain undimmed in that view. This would not have happened in Scotland because we are very proud of Scottish law. I am all in favour of fair play but it should be consistent rather than selective. When the whistle goes and the ref says 2-1, there should be no comeback."

David Collins, the secretary of the FA of Wales, said: "I am in total agreement that the laws should have been upheld."

The fiercest criticism of Fifa's decision came from David Bowen of the Irish FA. "I believe this could open a can of worms," he said. "The English FA may be hanging its hat on the fact that both teams agreed but we would have said tough, these things happen in football. There is no way we would have interfered with the laws of the game."

Three years ago, Bowen himself was under pressure to order a Cup tie replay between Glentoran and Linfield but declined to sanction another game, instead upholding the referee's original decision. "In the end, we had to apply the laws of the game," he said.

Although Bowen stopped short of accusing Fifa of double standards, there is a strong precedent to suggest that. Last year, the German Football Federation was forced to overturn its own decision to replay a Bundesliga game between Munich 1860 and Karlsruhe after being threatened with World Cup expulsion by Fifa. A goal by Karlsruhe in the last minute was allowed to stand even though TV replays showed that the referee had blown for a foul moments earlier. The International Board immediately tightened the rules, reinforcing the finality of referees' decisions.

Franz Beckenbauer, Germany's most famous player, said Fifa's decision was laughable. "It was populist. There was no reason to replay the game," he said. "Arsene Wen-ger knew that by making such a gesture he would pass responsibility to the English FA. Everyone should have lived with the original mistake."

Michel Platini, now the right-hand man to Fifa's president Sepp Blatter, was also critical. "I know how football people's minds work," he said. "Every little mistake by the referee will be scrutinised from now on. What happened at Arsenal is very dangerous for the future of the game."