James Lawton: Charlton brings voice of sanity to drugs debate

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The Independent Football

The statement by the Manchester United director, Sir Bobby Charlton, that any punishment received by Rio Ferdinand, or the club, over that notorious missed drugs test has to be taken squarely on the chin, arrives like a gust of fresh air.

Could it just be a signal of a return to some kind of order and sanity in the national game? This has to be our solemn hope.

Certainly it compares favourably with the denial mantras of track and field which have surfaced in the wake of the THG steroid scandal. The lawyer of Dwain Chambers set the tone when he announced that doubts about his client's status as a clean athlete would not be "tolerated". Well, unfortunately, there is a place called the real world and from time to time it intrudes even into the lives of top athletes.

At least Chambers' coach, Remi Korchemny, who introduced the British No 1 to the goodies list of the Balco lab, tried a gentler approach. "Please don't write bad things about Dwain," said the Ukrainian who trained the great Valery Borzov. "He is in a lot of pain. It is better to let him heal his wounds than open more. Dwain is not a bad man. He is a victim of circumstances."

What Bobby Charlton is saying is that in the end we all have to be responsible for our own actions. It is a simple but, especially in modern sport, utterly unfashionable premise, and that the football knight should be espousing it will ring an old bell with his brother, Jack.

Many years ago, Jack told a television interviewer that he had a black book which contained the names of players on whom he would inflict some painful revenge when the right opportunities came. Not wishing to inflame war between the most famous brothers in English sport, but genuinely intrigued, I asked Bobby what he thought of the revelation. He said: "If it had come from some young apprentice it would have been a disgrace, and I just can't believe that after all his experience in the game Our Kid said it." Yes, it was on the record and, predictably, the headline went up: "Come off it, Our Kid."

It was good to hear again an old and reassuring voice.

Wenger pays price for myopic Pires defence

It was staggering that Arsène Wenger should recall the cheating of Robert Pires while casting doubt on the legitimacy of the penalty award to Charlton's Matt Holland in Sunday's game.

Wenger still plainly doesn't get the point. Well two points, as it happens. The first is that Pires made contact with a Portsmouth defender before going down. He sought out the collision, and it was a manoeuvre of shocking transparency. If Holland dived like Pires - and the Irish international has no form in the matter - it was an infinitely less flagrant offence than the one of the Arsenal player. Holland was involved in the play and did not seek out the contact, which, however slightly, certainly did occur.

But enough of the sharply separate circumstances. What Wenger forgot most crucially when he whinged about the Charlton penalty is that when you relentlessly turn a blind eye to the misbehaviour of your own players, you simply have to accept what comes along. As a moral arbiter of the game you are supposed to nourish, you are as naked as the day you were born.