Peter Corrigan: Show heart over Sol but keep an eye on his club

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The Independent Football

By the standards of the damaging lunges our brave boys are willing to aim at each other during the course of a game of football, Sol Campbell's back-heel up the backside of Manchester United's Eric Djemba-Djemba during the Community Shield two weeks ago was way down on the Richter scale.

It might have registered higher on the rectum scale, but even as a kick up the arse it was pretty low-key. Under normal circumstances, it might even have been regarded as symbolic of what many in the upper echelons of football need right now. It certainly was not worthy of providing the tinder for the blaze of controversy that has had Arsenal and the Football Association flinging harsh words at each other over the past few days.

Not that we should condone any act of retaliation, however petty, but a sliding scale of seriousness must be applied whenever these incidents are examined, especially when they are being judged retrospectively.

The charge of violent misconduct that has been levelled against Campbell has its roots in a late challenge by Djemba-Djemba for a ball that had run ahead of him. He thrust an outstretched leg at midriff height as Campbell came running in.

It was a highly reckless move, and the Arsenal centre-back could be forgiven for venting his spleen - I felt at the time that he was lucky to still have a spleen. Campbell's reaction after taking the boot and spinning around was to plant a back-heel on Djemba-Djemba as the United player turned to face the referee.

It was far more of a petulant than a violent act, and reminded me of the peevish but harmless little kick on Diego Simeone that got David Beckham sent off in the 1998 World Cup. Referee Steve Bennett gave Djemba-Djemba a stern lecture, but did not punish him.

Under those circumstances, I doubt if he would have punished Campbell's reaction either - a yellow card for both of them would have been an acceptable decision - but the fact that he didn't opened the way for the FA's post-event inquisitors, aka the video advisory panel, to recommend the violence charge.

In the same bad-tempered match, Ashley Cole clattered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a far more venomous and unprovoked manner, but as the referee witnessed it and took no action it did not come within the panel's jurisdiction. Just because a referee is looking it does not necessarily follow that he is seeing clearly, though, and the panel's remit should cover every incident. Obviously, they should be paying particular attention to what was happening away from the action and out of the sight of match officials, but it cannot be right that a split-second event can be taken out of its context in this way.

This is going to be a long, hard season, with the accent on the hard, so a sensible revisit to the panel's brief would be in order. If Campbell is called to account, Djemba-Djemba's contribution should also be re-examined.

What frightens Arsenal is that the charge, added to the automatic one-match ban he receives for his red card - accepted without complaint - for a professional foul against Everton last weekend might earn him a four-match suspension. He collected one of those at the end of last season and missed the FA Cup final.

It is not an enviable record to take before the beaks and, of course, this matter would not be occupying the centre of attention if it was not part of a much wider issue concerning Arsenal and their deplorable disciplinary record. While I fully support Campbell's annoyance about this issue, I would not want to be numbered among the subscribers to Arsenal's persecution theories.

When Patrick Vieira, the Arsenal captain, accused the FA of bias and said that Campbell was being victimised because he was a Gunner, the governing body reacted with indignation, and rightly so. But if anything has drawn attention to Arsenal's penchant for committing the odd foul in pursuit of their cause it is the club's record for transgressions, which surpasses all others. Only they can improve that, and until they do they deserve to be subject to the closest scrutiny.

Next year, they would be advised to stay clear of the Community Shield, which is beginning to outlive its usefulness, particularly when it brings two fierce rivals into confrontation. This overture to the season dates back to a time when football used to have the decency to remove itself from the centre stage for about four months. It seemed a good idea then for the League champions and the FA Cup winners to exhibit themselves for the sake of charity before the serious stuff began.

Now the charities take a back seat, and the event has been renamed the Community Shield. Which community takes the proceeds I am not quite sure, but I am certain that these days it takes on far too serious a tone, to the benefit of no one in a footballing sense.

One sending off and five bookings, plus Campbell's citing, tells its own story of the pressures. Perhaps, they should introduce a special disciplinary code for it. Instead of red and yellow cards they could adopt the name of the event and hand out Community Service orders for wrongdoers. Think of the jobs around the country that could be done as a result. Even Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira wouldn't mind doing a bit of gardening at an old folks' home.

Defeat Serbs us right

As a long-time Welsh whinger about our luck in the big football tournaments, I don't expect any sympathy for Wales's 1-0 Euro 2004 defeat by Serbia and Montenegro in Belgrade last Wednesday. But it is not the defeat I'm moaning about, although I assure you it was much less than Mark Hughes and the lads deserved.

My complaint is that Wales should not have even been there. They were due to play that fixture on 2 April, five days after playing Azerbaijan in Cardiff. But two weeks or so earlier the Serbian premier, Zoran Djindic, was assassinated. In the political turmoil that followed, the Serbians asked for the match to be moved to a new date, or offered to exchange fixtures with Wales, thereby switching the 2 April match to Cardiff and the return game to Belgrade in October.

The Football Association of Wales decided that the notice was too short to arrange to accommodate 73,000 in the Millennium Stadium. They were urged to play it at Ninian Park, which would have been much easier to arrange.

It would have meant a big loss of revenue, but with most of their players fit, John Hartson especially, and already gathering in Cardiff for the Azerbaijan game, they would not have a better chance of clinching a lucrative place in Portugal.

When the Welsh FA refused, no one was more relieved than the Serbian manager, who admitted his team were in total disarray. On Wednesday, when every other country were playing friendlies, Wales met a Serbian team under new management and completely revitalised.

Wales still have a solid chance of qualifying, but they would have been as good as there if they had taken that chance in April. If that's not a sob story, I don't know what is.

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