Cardiff face threat of ground closure

National associations of England and Wales launch joint inquiry as Hammam and O'Leary continue confrontation
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The Independent Online

The Football Associations of England and Wales moved urgently yesterday to commission an inquiry into the crowd disorder surrounding Cardiff City's tempestuous FA Cup third-round victory over Leeds United on Sunday.

Yet even as the two bodies agreed to set up a joint review of events at Ninian Park, David O'Leary, the Leeds manager, and Sam Hammam, the Cardiff owner, stirred the boiling pot.

While Hammam belittled O'Leary, the latter added to his criticisms of Hammam and the Cardiff crowd. He compared the atmosphere to that in Istanbul where two Leeds fans died of stab wounds in 1999. O'Leary also criticised Andy D'Urso, the referee, and said Leeds would appeal against the dismissal of Alan Smith.

The behaviour of Hammam and O'Leary was already to be scrutinised by the inquiry along with incidents of missile throwing during the match and the pitch invasion by Cardiff fans at its conclusion. Possible sanctions include Cardiff's expulsion from the competition although it is more likely that they will be ordered to play ties away from home. There was widespread relief among officials and police when the fourth-round draw gave them an unglamorous tie away to Southend or Tranmere. However, the Second Division club clearly have a good chance of reaching the fifth round if they are not expelled or ordered to replay Sunday's tie.

Leeds would relish the latter, as long as it was away from Cardiff. Yesterday O'Leary said: "We lost two fans going to a football match in Istanbul. Cardiff reminded me of that. There were bottles being thrown and I thought the referee was weak. His job is to protect the players but the things Nigel Martyn was getting thrown at him were horrific. If the referee doesn't feel it's right he should take the players off the pitch. Some of my players felt very threatened. Three of them prefer to drive to games when we fly. They were told it was not safe to leave the stadium by car. They had to get on the coach and pick up their car where it was safer."

Speaking at the launch of his controversial book, Leeds United on Trial, O'Leary said security officials had asked for his players not to celebrate goals, a condition he could not recall in his career. "We were told if our players scored they should not celebrate as it would lead to a riot or people coming on to the pitch."

O'Leary said Hammam yesterday told him he had written permission to walk around the ground during play – the action which so angered O'Leary. The FA denied sending such a letter while an FAW spokeswoman would only say: "If Sam Hammam is saying that he has such a letter, then we would ask him to produce it."

Hammam yesterday said pitch invasions were "common practice... on very special occasions". He added: "I'm not aware that there was any danger. They celebrated very well." Of his confrontation with O'Leary he said: "He was extremely aggressive; he almost wanted to attack me and he was extremely lucky he stopped short of that. I had four or five people with me and he would have faced a very, very humbling and instantaneous experience in front of fans. It would have really been embarrassing. If he wants to be a top manager he must learn to control himself."

However, Hammam did add: "If we have done something guilty that requires ground closure and it is in the game's interest, then that is it."

The precedents for that are few. In 1985 and 1992 the FA ordered ties to be re-staged behind closed doors after the goalkeepers of Burton Albion and Kingstonian, playing Leicester and Peterborough respectively, were struck by missiles during heavy defeats. Both lost the replays 1-0. In 1996 Brighton were deducted two points after a pitch invasion by supporters – a penalty that was within a result of costing them their League place.

But not since 1978, when Millwall's 6-1 sixth-round defeat to Ipswich sparked violent scenes, has a British club had their ground closed for offences in domestic competition. On that occasion The Den was shut for a fortnight and Millwall banned from playing FA Cup ties at home for two seasons.

This reflected Millwall's past record; it was their fifth closure. But when their supporters again invaded the pitch, and attacked Derby players, during a promotion play-off in 1994, the FA suspended the two-match ban.

Cardiff also have form. Within the last decade both Uefa and the FAW have fined the club for crowd disorder, including the throwing of missiles.

Administering punishment may be complicated. The FA can only impose penalties with reference to the FA Cup. Thus it can expel Cardiff from this and future competitions or order them to replay Sunday's tie. It can also force them to play future ties away from Ninian Park and/or behind closed doors. It cannot penalise individuals or fine the club. Nor can it close Ninian Park for non-FA Cup ties. Those sanctions fall within the FA of Wales' remit.

However, the FAW said it was setting up the inquiry "in the light of the serious nature of press reports", suggesting it was merely the reaction, not the incidents, which caused it alarm.

There were pitch invasions by Manchester United fans at Villa Park on Sunday but although Graham Poll threatened to halt the tie if they were repeated it is felt there was no violent intent and charges are not expected to result. The behaviour of United's away support, and crowd control at Villa Park, will be monitored.

Back in Leeds O'Leary has to juggle his resources. Ferdinand, who suffered ankle damage in Cardiff, may miss Premiership games against Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Middlesbrough. Smith, if the appeal failed, would miss three games after the visit to St James' Park. A ray of hope for O'Leary is the willingness of Cardiff's Andy Legg, who was involved in the incident that led to Smith's dismissal, to help the striker's case.

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