Becks yellow card case branded 'a farce'

The FA prosecutor who turned defence lawyer calls for consistency. Steve Tongue meets Mr Bean
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The Independent Football

When a Football Association disciplinary commission sits down to hear Everton's defence to the charge of failing to control their players in last week's Premiership game at Middlesbrough - the one in which a dozen or more from both sides ended up entangled in the goalmouth - they will find a formidable adversary sitting on the opposite side of the table. Graham Bean, 43, is not only a pugnacious former South Yorkshire detective, but from 1999 to 2003 was the FA's first compliance officer. If not quite the gamekeeper turned poacher, he is undeniably the prosecuting counsel turned defence lawyer. "I know all the scams. I know the system and the right buttons to press."

When a Football Association disciplinary commission sits down to hear Everton's defence to the charge of failing to control their players in last week's Premiership game at Middlesbrough - the one in which a dozen or more from both sides ended up entangled in the goalmouth - they will find a formidable adversary sitting on the opposite side of the table. Graham Bean, 43, is not only a pugnacious former South Yorkshire detective, but from 1999 to 2003 was the FA's first compliance officer. If not quite the gamekeeper turned poacher, he is undeniably the prosecuting counsel turned defence lawyer. "I know all the scams. I know the system and the right buttons to press."

After four years at Lancaster Gate and then Soho Square investigating ticket touting, illegal payments, corrupt directors and dodgy transfer deals as well as the more mundane disciplinary offences, he must also know where a few bodies are buried. The difficulty, on limited resources, was frequently finding sufficient hard evidence to prove who had put them there. His experience of football tells him: "Players look after players, managers look after managers, directors look after directors. And agents look after everybody."

In four years he was able to bring only one of that latter group to book: Mark Curtis received a £15,000 fine for his role in Jermaine Pennant's move from Notts County to Arsenal as a 16-year-old. Despite all the tales of foreigners on a free transfer who suddenly became £1m players once a British agent was involved, or agents being paid by two different parties in the same transaction, Bean was unable to make anything else stick.

Similarly with managerial bungs, of which we are asked to believe George Graham is the only recipient in recent football history: "Football is a rumour mill and I've heard exactly the same rumours as everybody else. But nobody has yet gone to the FA and said there's the evidence that proves, or even suggests, it's happening. Nobody has said there's something to hang your hat on.

"Any investigation needs a starting point, and there never was one. And that's no slight on the FA, that's the football business. You have to use a lot of persuasive skill to get people talking to you. As a policeman, a villain isn't going to start telling you about the bank robbery in the town centre the first time you meet him. He might tell you about somebody handling a bit of stolen gear but he won't tell you about the big job that you really want. It's very much like that in football."

Rather than the ones that got away, he prefers, naturally enough, to dwell on his successes in prosecuting Chester- field, who were deducted nine points, and Boston United, whose manager, Steve Evans, was banned for 20 months - for irreg-ular payments. But not until he was beginning to tire of his task did the FA strengthen the compliance unit, bringing in the current head, Steve Barrow, in a supervisory role above Bean's head. "What pains me was that I was a one-man band," he says. "Now they have seven or eight people. If I'd had that many..."

By September 2003, Bean had recognised a vacuum in the disciplinary process and decided to cross the courtroom floor, as it were, to fill it. "I'd recognised that many participants rarely bothered with expert representation at hearings. The PFA did a good job, but only for players, and the LMA only represent managers. There was nothing for a club as a whole. I just saw the need for that."

So Football Factors, "the UK's first football disciplinary consultancy", was born in Barnsley. In his first case, defending Scunthorpe after a mass brawl against Oldham Athletic, he successfully persuaded the FA to drop a charge of threatening and violent behaviour by agreeing to plead guilty to a less serious one of disorderly conduct. There has subsequently been no shortage of work.

As his website points out, in an average season the FA will hold more than 500 hearings, imposing penalties of about £350,000, and players will miss 500 games through suspension. He has now represented a raft of clients, from Everton and Bolton in the Premiership down to Conference clubs wary of huge legal fees, as well as individuals such as Jamie Redknapp and Clinton Morrison.

Two things he would like to see are greater disclosure of material evidence by the FA, which is often denied to the defence, and - inevitably - greater consistency, as exemplified by the compliance unit's decision last autumn that there was "insufficient evidence" to charge David Beckham after his admission of deliberately collecting a yellow card against Wales. "One of the biggest complaints I get from clients is the inconsistency of charges. The FA will say every case is dealt with on its merits, but you look at it and think, 'There's something not right here'.

"The David Beckham case, for instance, was a farce. I've dealt with people who've said things and been brought before a commission and they turn round and say, 'How come I'm getting done and David Beckham isn't?' "

One suggestion of Bean's the FA have already taken on board: as a former chairman of the Football Supporters' Association who served on the Task Force, it was his idea that replica shirts should have a sell-by date indicating when they would be replaced, as England's now do. They are understandably less enthusiastic about his belief that football should have an independent regulator, and that the compliance unit should be housed in its own building to symbolise a similar degree of independence when considering cases like the England captain's.

But those are battles for someone else to fight. For now, Mr Bean is preoccupied with who did what to whom down by the Riverside last Sunday afternoon.

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