Peter Corrigan: More power to the elbow of the ditherers

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The Independent Online

In what the headlines described as a crackdown, the Football Association last week charged four top Premiership players with misconduct offences that were missed by match officials at the time but were picked up by the FA's video advisory panel.

It read like a dawn raid by the Flying Squad. Alan Smith of Leeds was cited for a body check on Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux; Arsenal's Patrick Vieira was pulled up for elbowing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink of Chelsea, who himself is up before the beaks for an elbow in the face of Southampton's Claus Lundekvam; and Leeds' Mark Viduka is accused of elbowing Martin Keown of Arsenal.

How's that for a decisive pounce on a bunch of prime suspects? Not very good, I'm afraid, if we are talking about urgent action. The first alleged offence occurred on 8 November, the second on Boxing Day, the third on New Year's Day and the fourth as recently as two weeks ago.

This is not lightning justice, and we are bound to ask the reason for the delay. Did the panel have to wait a long time for the videos? Had someone else taken them out and were late bringing them back? Even rugby has a citing system that works within a few days.

Why can't the FA react at that speed, or were they waiting for a job lot to save on hearing expenses? Delayed justice loses impact, certainly as a deterrent. Who knows, with firm and rapid action on the first couple of charges, they might have deterred the alleged perpetrators of the other two offences.

And we are not even near a conclusion yet. Each accused has 14 days in which to respond, so the cases may take another few weeks to hear. Then there's the probability of appeals.... When there are more elbows flying around our football pitches than there are in the violin section of a major orchestra, the game needs to spell out its disciplinary priorities far more clearly and rapidly than that.

An even more urgent priority, you may think, is the outbreak of coin and bottle throwing that has become popular among the idiot fringe. The notorious Cardiff-Leeds FA Cup-tie at Ninian Park took place exactly a month ago today. The only official action yet to be taken is the confining of Cardiff's owner, Sam Hammam, to the directors' box which, judging by his behaviour at Tranmere last weekend, he doesn't seem to be heeding.

To be fair, the FA's chief executive, Adam Crozier, did seem set for prompt retribution until he was reminded that Cardiff come under the control of the Football Association of Wales, who are now handling the case. But the Cardiff incident was by no means the first of its kind. Bottle throwing occurred on Sol Campbell's return to White Hart Lane in November, and object-hurling has been the vogue before Cardiff and since.

Ninian Park and Highbury, last weekend, will probably take the rap but it is only the accuracy of their throwers that makes them special. The epidemic needs to be dealt with in general and, unless they hurry, the FA are in danger of making the FAW look quick for the first time in 125 years.

The other urgent item that was left dangling last week concerned the efforts of Wimbledon FC to wriggle free of the restrictions of ground-sharing with Crystal Palace and move to Milton Keynes. This is a long-mooted attempt by the new owners to turn the club into a going concern. Apart from creating a precedent that could lead to American-style franchising, the move is opposed by most Wimbledon fans and by Merton council, who want the club to move back to their original home at Plough Lane, Wimbledon.

The Nationwide League have rejected the application and the club appealed to the FA, who are the governing body. The FA appointed a three-man tribunal to consider the matter. They met a week last Monday and last Wednesday, nine days later, announced that they were referring the matter back to the League.

There was no accompanying explanation and all parties now face another delay while the League review the case. It may well be that the situation is complicated by the threat of litigation, but all the parties concerned deserve a much quicker answer. There is also a compelling need to address the ownership of clubs generally. There are too many owners who are seemingly intent on making money out of their clubs by means other than the advancement of the club.

It is bad enough that the top directors of major clubs are paying themselves big wages for services that used to be given freely. There are also an unhealthy number of gents in control of clubs in the lower leagues who have their eyes on a profit which the clubs are never going to see. This is by no means a new problem and it has been sidestepped by administrators for many years. It is time we had a strong and inviolable policy on it.

There is more to being an FA official than having swanky offices, wrapping yourself in the England shirt, enjoying the glorious trappings of World Cups or European Championships and employing the finest architects to design super stadiums that never get built. There's the little matter of ensuring that the domestic game is properly run, dutifully administered and carefully supervised.

Digital warfare

For the first time in 20 years or so I have reached Super Bowl day with nothing but a hazy knowledge of who is in tonight's final. I am aware that the St Louis Rams are playing the New England Patriots in New Orleans and, thanks to my sports-writing colleagues who are reporting back from there, I will have done some catching up by today. But I have missed out on most of the action.

The games have been shown on Sky Sports Extra, which is a digital channel I cannot receive. Replays have been scattered on other channels but I have rarely found them.

In response to complaints, they are putting the final on Sky Sports 1 tonight, but I cannot get that either because of the cock-eyed service I receive from ITV Digital, OnDigital as was.

This defines television sport these days. They are either stuffing it into you from every direction or placing it somewhere where you cannot get at it. They do not seem to care that the main victims of their little battles are the viewers.

I believe that the villains of this particular piece are Channel 4. They created the British interest in American football 20 years ago and built up an enthusiastic and knowledgeable following. Then they threw us upon the suspect mercies of Sky. And it's even left to Channel 5 to give us the highlights at midnight tomorrow.

They did much the same with their Tour de France coverage; creating an excellent early-evening programme which then went walkabout. And whatever happened to sumo wrestling? I trust their brilliant horseracing service is not next to be replaced on their porn development policy.

I have heaped praise on Channel 4's adventurous sporting spirit in the past, so I feel entitled to consider most of their present output as a heap of a different nature.

Suite dreams

Chelsea FC are trying desperately to sell their £1 million-a-year luxury boxes, or suites as they prefer to call them, and have given them imaginative names in order to attract the right sort of customer.

Alas, these ideas do not always work out as planned. A friend was at Stamford Bridge for the match against Leeds on Wednesday night and was seated close to the Hilaire Belloc suite. The great writer would be spinning in his grave had he heard the effing and blinding coming forth from thence.

Next door was the Emily Pankhurst suite which, presumably, contains a set of railings to which guests have to be chained before having to watch Chelsea play.

I would prefer the Captain Scott seats. If you get bored with the game you get up and say: "I'm going outside, I may be some time."

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