Football: Shearer sails clear of FA sanction

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The Independent Online
ALAN SHEARER breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after a Football Association commission found him not guilty of deliberately kicking Leicester City's Neil Lennon in the face.

A case that became curiously complex reached a predictable conclusion after influential figures, including the alleged victim himself and the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor, formed a queue to give evidence on the England captain's behalf. Even Gary Lineker, football's original Mr Clean and a Leicester City supporter, offered to speak for his successor as England's most effective striker.

A three-man commission decided after the personal hearing that the player himself requested that the incident was provoked by a "genuine attempt to free himself" by Shearer.

In a statement, the FA said: "Gordon Taylor represented Alan Shearer and Neil Lennon was called as a witness in his defence. Statements were also heard from referee Martin Bodenham and assistant referee Alan Kaye. The three man FA commission of Geoff Thompson FA vice-chair, Barry Bright and Ian Stott heard the case and found it not proven.

"In reaching its decision the commission accepted that the incident was initially caused by Neil Lennon pulling at the shirt of Alan Shearer turning round and trapping his leg. The commission further accepted that the alleged incident of Alan Shearer swinging out with his left leg was a genuine attempt to free himself."

Shearer, who had proclaimed his innocence all along, was delighted to have cleared his name and looked forward to Saturday's Cup final for Newcastle against Arsenal and the countdown to the World Cup, which starts next Monday.

"I would like to thank the PFA for representing me and Neil Lennon for giving evidence on my behalf," he said after the case. "I spoke to Gordon Taylor about this matter for the first time after last Sunday's game at Blackburn and was convinced that with his sense of integrity and fairness, he was the right man to put my case.

"I am pleased to put the record straight and in doing so clear my name. I was always confident that I would."

Such confidence was not universal in the immediate aftermath of the incident during Newcastle's Premiership match against Leicester at Filbert Street on 29 April.

First, the replaying of video footage of the incident on television generated mixed opinions over whether there was any intent on Shearer's part when his boot hit Lennon's face; then, other players began to relate what they claimed were examples of the England centre- forward straying beyond acceptable levels of physical contact during their teams' matches against Newcastle.

Shearer has such a high, clean-cut reputation, underlined by two Newcastle directors allegedly referring to him as "Mary Poppins", that there was talk of a witch-hunt to undermine him, and the case was seen by some merely as a question of whether the FA would dare to act against an England captain. To them, consideration of the evidence hardly seemed to matter.

However, a guilty verdict looked unlikely once Glenn Hoddle had expressed strong support for Shearer and the England coach also made a plea for the case to be settled before his captain became involved in final preparations for the World Cup finals in France.

Lennon disagreed with the FA's decision to bring a case against Shearer and Leicester City also wanted the matter to be dropped. Lennon also thought the match referee should have taken action against Shearer at the time. Had Bodenham chosen even to speak to Lennon and Shearer after they had tangled, the protracted FA case would probably not have taken place.