West Ham braced for heavy FA fine after crowd trouble verdict

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The Independent Online

West Ham face a severe punishment after the club was found guilty yesterday by the FA of two charges of failing to control their fans following an investigation into serious crowd trouble at a Carling Cup match against Millwall at Upton Park last August.

A Millwall supporter was stabbed as hundreds of fans from both clubs fought in the streets surrounding the east London ground before the game. There were also pitch invasions by West Ham fans after each of their side's goals in the 3-1 extra-time win. More than 20 people have been charged by police in connection with disorder inside and outside the ground.

West Ham will find out tomorrow what their punishment will be. A heavy fine is most likely, although the FA does have the power to force the club to play behind closed doors, and such a sanction has not been ruled out. The club's lawyers and officials will meet the three-man panel, chaired by a QC, tomorrow at Wembley to offer their mitigation and, in all probability, hear their punishment.

West Ham were found guilty of the charges of "failure to ensure their supporters refrained from violent, threatening, obscene and provocative behaviour," and "failure to ensure their supporters did not enter the field of play."

The club were also cleared of two charges which concerned failure to prevent racist behaviour by supporters, and failure to prevent missiles being thrown on to the pitch. Millwall were also cleared of three charges relating to the match: concerning fans' violent behaviour, racist behaviour, and throwing objects on to the pitch. West Ham hope that the fact that they were cleared of two charges will mean their punishment will be reduced.

The future ownership of the club became even more uncertain last night after it emerged Massimo Cellino, the owner of Italian side Cagliari, has flown to London with a view to become a fourth potential bidder. It is believed Cellino, 53, will make an offer in the region of £60m for a majority stake in the club, which its owner CB Holdings values at £100m. Cellino is close friends with West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola, who played for Cagliari for two years at the end of his career. Cellino was reported in the Italian media as having said: "I want to save the team."

CB Holdings has so far received two firm bids to buy the club; one from the former Birmingham co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold which is around £50m for a 50 per cent stake; the other bid is believed to be from the Malaysian Air Asia entrepreneur Tony Fernandes. InterMarket, a London investment company, has proposed a bid of £100m and the firm is in the process of proving to the merchant bank Rothschild that it has sufficient funds in place to secure the future of West Ham. Rothschild is acting for CB Holdings to assess the financial strength of the potential bidders. CB Holdings insists it will only sell if the long-term security of the club is assured.

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