The Last Word: The Fletcher of football must pay for crimes

Ferguson always gets out of jail with his tirades at referees so the FA have to throw the book at him

"Alexander Chapman Ferguson, you are an habitual referee abuser, who accepts FA charges as an occupational hazard – and who presumably accepts touchline bans in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences: you will go to the stand for a few games."

Notwithstanding any differences in criminal morality, Fergie is much like Fletch. The Porridge protagonist would certainly have commended the manner in which the Old Trafford manager brazenly threw the furore back in the Football Association's faces on Thursday with his suggestion that England may be playing a friendly with Brazil in Qatar this month just so the blazers can enjoy "a nice trip away".

Like Fletch's baiting of Mr Mackay, Fergie sees this as a game of brink-manship he alone can win. After all, with what can the FA possibly punish him that they have not before? A fine, which to Sir Alex would amount to nothing more than an ounce or two of snout? A bit of solitary in the directors' box? Been there, done that, still won the championship.

It must be as frustrating for the FA as it was for the prison warder; although the difference is, of course, that Mackay was always at least willing to front up. It's a shame that Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, is crying "misquote", as the comments attributed to him last week were spot-on. The FA are indeed running scared of a 66-year-old who has every honour imaginable to his name but who strangely does not seem to have that much to lose.

Sir Alex will turn up to the personal hearing in a few weeks' time and be confident of his mere presence holding an intimidatory sway. Sure, he will admit it was wrong to say Alan Wiley was not physically fit enough to be a top-flight referee and, sure, he may recognise how personally destructive such an uninformed insult can be. But at the same time he will look into his disciplinarians' eyes and dare them: "Go on then, bow to the outcry and make an example of me."

No manager has ever been banned from the touchline in England for media comments; if they do so, the FA could claim to be making a powerful and courageous precedent. No doubt Sir Alex would fulfil his end of the bargain and publicly bleat about the unfairness of it, perhaps even chucking in his now favoured "witch-hunt" accusation. Yet, in truth, both parties would accept the truth. The great man has been let off lightly. Again.

The list of the "Fergie ref tirades" grows by the season – and it grows at an ever-quickening rate. Some are simply the routinely vitriolic, such as last Sunday's "he's too inexperienced" rant concerning Andre Marriner. Yet some are the startlingly vitriolic, such as the on-field onslaught against Mike Dean a year ago which resulted in, you guessed it, a two-match touchline ban.

The Wiley slur falls squarely into the latter camp. Only his most shame-faced apologists would deny that Ferguson grotesquely overstepped the line in this instance. And such is his influence in Gafferdom that the line is in constant danger of being redrawn.

So the FA have to act, and act with some genuine authority. That does not have to be as forlorn an ambition as they, and yes, the accused, may think it is. In the week, the former referee Jeff Winter raised the intriguing possibility of a "Fifa-style stadium ban". This would entail the manager having no contact with the players before, during or after the game – and no contact with his coaching staff either.

It would be a proper punishment, and in invoking it the FA could even declare they have taken all of Ferguson's "previous" into account. It would send out a message. It might make Alexander Chapman's fellow inmates think twice.

Serena shambles shows tennis has hole in soul

Nobody should be surprised at Andre Agassi's revelation that he tested positive for drugs and that the tennis authorities did nothing. The case of Serena Williams should have confirmed that when it comes to punishing superstars, they fall a blade or two short of the guillotine. It has been seven weeks since Williams loomed over a line-judge at the US Open and screamed: "If I could, I would take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat." Beyond a $10,000 fine, no other punishment has been meted out. She threatened an official and deserves her sentence. Why do they prevaricate? It may have something to do with the fact that the only suspension available to the Grand Slam committee is that of the next Grand Slam – the Australian Open. So what do they do? What is right and will leave a big hole in the sport's pocket? Or what is wrong and will leave an irrevocable hole in their sport's soul?

Letter of the week

There have been some sorry excuses for articles since Rafa Benitez took over. At least Mr Corrigan has been able to see that most Liverpool fans feel Rafa has made mistakes, some glaringly obvious ones, but he has earnt the time to take us forward and improve us despite the blips. Benitez has been given £122m over six years. Coming second with a poor team last year was a massive over-achievement and one he should have been credited for, not used as a rod to beat him when his team finally hit a rut. Thank you for a balanced article.

Phil Ewins

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