FOOTBALL: Wright charged over `red mist'

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The Independent Online
IAN WRIGHT could miss the start of next season through suspension after he was charged with misconduct by the Football Association.

The West Ham United striker will face a disciplinary hearing after the referee's room at Upton Park was damaged last Saturday. Wright was the first of three West Ham players to be sent off by the referee, Rob Harris, during the match against Leeds United. Shortly after Wright stormed off the pitch, the official's changing room was discovered in a state of disarray.

Wright, who has since issued a public apology, has 14 days to respond to the FA charge - meaning that any ensuing suspension is almost certain not to come into force until next season. The player, who kicked open the door to the referee's room and is said to have disturbed the belongings inside, has not been charged in connection with his actions on the pitch, when he had to be restrained following his dismissal in the 17th minute.

The England striker declared after the game that he had been disappointed at having been sent off for only the second time in his career and for letting his manager and club down. "I was so upset that I behaved in an unacceptable manner. It was as if I was watching someone else," said Wright. "I don't even remember properly what I did - only that I went into the ref's room. I hope and pray to God that I can be forgiven for this stupid and reckless act by the match officials, the club, the fans and the authorities."

The FA, which acted after receiving a report from the fourth official, David Elleray, will now consider what action to take against a striker who is no stranger to controversy. While a suspension would seem to be the most likely outcome, a large fine is also a possibility.

The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, who commented that Wright's behaviour on and off the pitch has been excellent over the past few years, said yesterday: "He has overreacted and we will wait for the FA to take their action before we deal with it internally."

Meanwhile, the FA has also charged the Nottingham Forest midfielder Carlton Palmer with misconduct following gestures he made to the crowd at Leeds on 3 April.

Premiership referees and their assistants are set to be driven to and from matches in "safe cars" from next season. The announcement of the scheme is timely in the wake of concerns over the security of officials following an attack on referee Harris's car last weekend after the match at Upton Park. Harris said he was confronted by Hammers fans at traffic lights near the ground and had to drive away quickly to escape.

The proposal has actually been in the planning stages since March and forms part of a wider plan to improve the relationship between referees and their assistants, as well as consistency in decision-making and links with managers and players.

From next season, referees will stay overnight at a hotel near the following day's match venue before meeting up with the two assistants as well as the fourth official in the morning. They will then be able to discuss tactics and compare notes before being driven to the ground together well before kick-off to inspect the pitch and possibly meet club officials as well as managers and players. After the game, the four officials would then be transported back to the hotel in safety to discuss the match and their decisions in order to help improve the levels of consistency and self-assessment.

The proposed change from officials driving themselves separately to the ground would, it is believed, help prevent incidents such as that at West Ham on the weekend and a similar experience suffered by another referee, Mike Reed, a couple of years ago.

However, the Premiership referees' officer, Philip Don, was quick to stress that problems with fans attacking officials should not be overstated. "The authorities are doing everything in their power to alleviate any problems but when you look at the number of games played, you can count on one hand the incidents involving referees," he said. "There have been isolated incidents over the last two or three years but it is only a handful of people involved."

The proposals have already been discussed by the Premiership chairmen following initial consultations with referees back in March. The Premier League spokesman, Mike Lee, said: "If these suggestions are taken forward, it should help towards creating greater consistency and improved standards of refereeing in the Premiership."