FOOTBALL Tait's `prank' finishes with an FA charge

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The Independent Online


Paul Tait was really in the ordure yesterday after his T-shirt stunt at Wembley. As the 23-year-old midfielder was stepping off the bus which took Birmingham City to meet the mayor, the Football Association was placing him on a disrepute charge to go with a club fine of two weeks' wages and condemnation from all sides.

Tait stripped off his Blues jersey to reveal a T-shirt bearing the words "Birmingham City shit on the Villa" after scoring the only goal in Sunday's Auto Windscreen Shield final against Carlisle United, which was seen live on Central and Border Television.

The repercussions continued yesterday as City, who are second in the Second Division, drove in an open-top double-decker bus from their St Andrews ground to Birmingham city centre.

Hundreds of fans cheered their team outside the ground, but there were few people on the four-mile route. The drive, with a motorcycle escort, was due to take one hour, but it arrived at Birmingham's Council House 20 minutes after setting off.

Tait, born in Sutton Coldfield and a keen Birmingham fan all his life, has 14 days to reply to the disrepute charge relating to the T-shirt. An FA spokesman said: "Clearly, Paul Tait has a case to answer."

In addition to fining Tait £3,000, his manager, Barry Fry, has apologised to Aston Villa and said he hoped the incident would not affect the Blues' visit to their neighbours next month in a testimonial for the Villa defender, Paul McGrath. Fry hinted that Tait may not play in that game.

Tait claimed the incident was no more than a prank enacted in front of a 76,663 crowd and screened live in two television regions. "It was just a private joke, intended as a bit of a laugh. There was no malice intended," he said. "A lot of Aston Villa fans are friends of mine. If anybody takes it the wrong way, I'm perfectly willing to apologise."

First with the olive branch was Fry. "I apologise to all players, supporters and staff of Aston Villa," he said. "We had a wonderful day, but this was still a silly prank that went horribly wrong.

"Paul's a talented footballer, but he's got to learn how to behave. I thought he had grown up a lot this season, and then he goes and does a daft thing like this."

David Sullivan, the club's owner, condemned the player's action as being "very silly", while Brendan Batson, the assistant secretary of the Professional Footballers' Association, said: "This was a showcase occasion, and not the right time to parade a T-shirt like that."

Conduct of a different kind was also taxing the FA yesterday, with a spokesman describing the incident involving the Wolves manager, Graham Taylor, as "obnoxious behaviour of the worst sort".

Taylor tried to make a citizen's arrest after being spat on at the end of Wolves' 3-3 draw at Sheffield United on Saturday, but the culprit got away. The FA are to consider any further steps that could increase protection for officials and players.

Taylor has admitted that his action was questionable. "I think it was the right thing to do, but not necessarily the sensible thing. My actions could have created an incident much worse, and I wouldn't advise other people to do what I did."

Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, has insisted that Gary McAllister is staying at Elland Road, despite renewed speculation linking him with Rangers. Leeds turned down a £2.5m offer earlier this season.

McAllister's team-mate, Anthony Yeboah, steered Ghana to a place in the African Nations' Cup finals with the only goal of the match against Niger.

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