Sam Wallace: 'Battle of Bridge' report highlights inflexibility of FA's disciplinary system

There is no distinction made between a tackle that might end a career and a silly fight

Please do take the time to read the full written judgement of the "Battle of Stamford Bridge" hearing involving Patrice Evra, that Chelsea groundsman and a cast of, well, literally scores of footballers, stewards, fitness coaches and men who may or may not have been holding pitchforks in a threatening manner. It is a fascinating tale.

In parts it reads like the average fight outside a kebab shop on a Friday night in a provincial town, only told through the eyes of P G Wodehouse writing on commission for Nuts magazine. "In the well-understood phrase, Mr Bethell 'lost it'," Nicholas Stewart QC, head of the Football Association's independent commission, explains solemnly at one point. From all this chaos, Mr Stewart QC has to make some sense.

On Saturday, Gary Neville described the FA disciplinary process that gave Evra a four-match ban and £15,000 fine as "erratic", but before he, or anyone else, rushes to judgement, they should take a look at the evidence. The FA's new desire for transparency means that the full 22 pages of Stewart's judgement are available on the governing body's website and the report gives an extraordinary insight into the problems of dispensing justice in these situations.

Stewart's analysis of the evidence was not erratic, it was balanced, thoughtful and well-argued. Evra was involved in three incidents – one where he barged the Chelsea head groundsman Jason Griffin; another where he landed a punch on Sam Bethell, the groundsman cleared of making a racist remark; and a third where he returned to confront Bethell again. Evra never claimed to have heard the alleged racist remark so he cannot claim that as provocation. Violent conduct is a straight red card and a three-match ban and by anyone's standards, Evra fulfilled those criteria by landing what the commission called "a clip" to the side of Bethell's head.

The other two incidents combined earned him another game on top of that. One of the key mitigating factors pleaded by United's lawyers in defence was that Evra's actions had taken place beyond the parameters of the match itself but given the public nature of them – in the middle of the pitch with cameras still rolling – it was a forlorn hope.

With all that taken into consideration, a four-match ban is the least Evra could expect in the circumstances. Where United have a legitimate grievance is how Evra's punishment stacks up against other offenders. The horrendous tackle by Julio Arca on Andy Johnson when Fulham played Middlesbrough on Saturday had far greater potential to do damage to a player's career than anything Evra did on 26 April. The problem for the FA and Mr Stewart QC is that the punishments available are simply not flexible enough.

Last month, Didier Drogba threw a coin back into a crowd of Burnley supporters; an act that was reckless and had much greater potential to injure an innocent person than fighting a bloke on a lawnmower ever did.

Like Evra, Drogba's punishment fell under the all-encompassing umbrella of the offence known as violent conduct. Drogba had committed no other transgression – apart from giving the Burnley fans the finger – and was given a three-match ban, one less than Evra. Danny Guthrie's three-match ban for breaking Craig Fagan's leg in Newcastle's game against Hull City in September fell into the category of violent conduct.

Even Bethell had to admit he endured only a little "redness" around the afflicted area from Evra's punch. Fagan expects to miss three months after Guthrie's tackle.

Guthrie's offence was far worse but – because of Fifa guidelines – the FA is powerless to extend the automatic three-match ban that came with his red card. The flaw in the FA disciplinary system is not the people who administrate it – or as Neville accuses them of being, "non-football people with no understanding of the game". If anything, United should think about hiring Stewart to work for them the next time they find themselves in trouble. Rather it is the rigidity of a system that is the problem, a system which cannot distinguish between a tackle that might end a career and a silly fight where the worst thing that happens is someone ends up with a sore ear.

Publishing the details of the judgement demonstrated just how complicated these affairs can be.

Read the FA commission's account and you will see that Stewart had the tricky task of piecing together the complex details of a fast-moving incident that took place in the space of a few seconds from the contrasting testimonies of two very entrenched sides.

As with all these kind of quarrels the good guys and the bad guys do not fall conveniently into two separate camps. Judgements this complicated demand a system with a little more subtlety than the basic rule that everything from a weak punch to a leg-breaking tackle equals violent conduct.

Good tidings to you, Steve, just don't screw it up this time...

Just when you find yourself about to say maybe Steve McClaren has turned the corner, something bad befalls him – like that 4-0 thrashing for his FC Twente team from Paris St-Germain in the Uefa Cup in midweek. But let's give McClaren his due, his team are third in the Dutch first division after their win against Willem II yesterday. They had already qualified for the next round of the Uefa Cup before the game against PSG.

McClaren has worked wonders with the midfielder Kenneth Perez, now 34, who was picked up for free from Ajax. McClaren's Twente play PSV Eindhoven on Saturday and they go into that game two places above them. He's blown a good start before but you cannot begrudge him a happy Christmas.

Sunderland's Jones snubs his trusty Steed

Steed Malbranque did exceptionally well on the right wing to make Kenwyne Jones' goal for Sunderland against Hull on Saturday but, rather than offer his thanks, the striker held up a palm to his team-mate to warn him off.

Why? So he could engage in a preposterous, pre-planned celebration dance with Djibril Cissé which was amusing to no one but those involved. You can begin to see Roy Keane's point about certain modern footballers.

A pixel-perfect image of Tottenham's future

Why is it that those computer-generated versions of new football stadiums always look so perfect? Not only did the plans for the new White Hart Lane include a revolutionary stadium roof, they also featured a sun-dappled Tottenham High Road miraculously free of bumper-to-bumper traffic with Spurs supporters skipping joyfully to the game.

Don't believe all you read about Capello

Fabio Capello does not care what is written about him in the press, or so we are told. Yet he left the FA's Christmas party on Monday to catch a flight to Spain for Marca newspaper's bash, having already flown into London from Rome that morning. I'd say that's a man who knows the value of a few friends in newspapers.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there