Graham Kelly: Spinning the web of misconduct

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The Independent Online

There are certain conventions in football. Managers are expected, unless their name is Sir Alex Ferguson, to speak to the press after matches and reporters are expected to quiz them about controversial refereeing decisions, if they have not already blown their fuse.

Often the managers plead that the sword of Damocles is hovering above in the form of the rules of the Football Association, which state that it is misconduct to bring the game into disrepute or use abusive, indecent or insulting words.

A new convention is the additional requirement to furnish his club's website with his views. Webmasters can be particularly voracious. As it would be galling for a manager to find his after-match views causing offence at the FA a few days later in an age when freedom of expression is enshrined in legislation, there is thankfully no evidence that Soho Square has employed a cyber-censor to vet the ramblings.

However, Kevin Keegan launched a bitter personal attack on Uriah Rennie after the Sheffield referee had sent off a Manchester City player, but has not been charged by the FA, because, a spokesman said, he had not exceeded the bounds of its rules. In effect, the City manager accused the referee of being a publicity seeker. It was confusing that Keegan managed to escape a charge after insulting the referee in the national press.

Leeds United, of course, have felt the glare of the national spotlight more than most this season. The words that Lee Bowyer allegedly used to referee Jeff Winter after he was sent off in August managed to combine abuse, indecency and insult, but, because of the Hull Crown Court case, the hearing has yet to be held by the FA.

The FA announced that it was writing to Arsenal to "seek their observations" on the Thierry Henry incident or non-incident at the end of the Newcastle United match. Arsène Wenger, needless to say, didn't see it, but the FA could always take a view from Martin Keown, who, at the critical moment, was seeking to apply his own unique interpretation of interactive by preventing Sky's cameraman from doing his job.

It was unfortunate for Leeds that the Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate court verdicts coincided with unprecedented publicity attaching to a meeting of the élite group of referees from which had emerged specific criticism of the striker Alan Smith for "hissing and snarling" at referee Neale Barry in the match against Aston Villa. Smith, it was said, was never going to complete the most unpleasant Premier League match Barry had ever controlled.

These are relatively routine matters of regulation, compared to the pressing issue of public policy to be discussed by the FA board, that is the direction to be given to England coach Sven Goran Eriksson over the selection of Woodgate in advance of the friendly with the Netherlands in Amsterdam next month, following the young defender's conviction on an affray charge. Here, the wisdom of Solomon would be useful.

Already, the early indication that Bowyer's acquittal left him free to resume his international career provoked some unpleasant right-wing rantings when he briefly – and quite understandably given his stance over the club fine – became the target of the tabloids, and the FA may feel it is on safer ground by insisting upon a further period of international exile on the grounds that role models should set the proper example, etc, etc.

I hope the FA is strong enough to resist this temptation. I have had experience of this sort of thing and it can be unpleasant. When Paul Gascoigne was in Glenn Hoddle's England squad, he was the subject of some unpleasant stories alleging wife beating. Hoddle discussed the matter with the player and decided he wanted to pick him. I supported the coach, because the player seemed to be displaying an improved attitude. We no more condoned brutality towards women than presumably the FA now countenances racist violence, but we knew we were in for a rocky ride.

Before that, Tony Adams had come back from a drink-drive prison sentence to play for England – and who is to say he did not deserve another chance?

Woodgate is a very fortunate young man to be paid obscenely handsomely for playing the game we love. If the moral compass of football is wavering, the FA has plenty of targets within the sport at which to aim for clarity and consistency. I would feel very uneasy if they should feel the need to impose any penalty additional to that the proper judge has thought necessary. After all, Woodgate already suffered an exclusion while on trial for two years. And both he and Bowyer presumably realise they will be subject to unprecedented scrutiny if they do pull on the international shirt again.

grahamkelly@btinternet com

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