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Football: United to appeal over player's life ban

MANCHESTER UNITED and the Belgian club Royal Antwerp will go to law to try to lift a worldwide life ban on the young United player, Ronnie Wallwork, although they may have to settle for a four-year suspension.

Wallwork, who was due to return to Antwerp this season as part of their "feeder club" arrangement, was found guilty of attacking the country's top referee, Amand Ancion, after Antwerp missed out on promotion in a play-off game.

The clubs hope to have the ban lifted until an appeal is heard. Wallwork's United and Antwerp team-mate, Danny Higginbotham, who was also involved in the incident, is hoping to have reduced a one-year ban for swearing at Ancion. United are anxious to have Higginbotham, a possible successor to Denis Irwin, available for their Champions' League fixtures.

Wallwork, a central defender, denies grabbing Ancion by the throat, but the Antwerp secretary, Paul Bistiaux, said last night: "I saw what happened. Ronnie did attack the referee in some way on the spur of the moment. It was a very foolish thing to do. There was some aggression we cannot deny that. But he did not grab his throat. The players were both out of line. They have behaved in a very unsportsmanlike way.

"This should not go unpunished, the players know our feelings about that. It should not be a death sentence. We could live with suspensions or fines, but this is medieval."

The penalty recommended by the Belgian federal prosecution office was four years for Wallwork and he may yet be handed that reduced sentence.

The official who banned him for life is Antoine Vanhove, the chairman of the country's sports committee that judges such offences and a director of Bruges. He is a well-known hardliner who previously banned a 14-year- old for life when he spat at a referee. That was reduced on appeal.