FA puts case as PFA fears worst for Ferdinand

Governing body presents evidence against Manchester United defender over missed test as inquiry begins
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The irony was that Rio Ferdinand turned up early for his hearing. Had he displayed this kind of punctuality on 23 September when the drug testers came calling, none of this soap opera would have been necessary.

Some had left even earlier. As a red dawn broke over Bolton's Reebok Stadium, which conveniently for these kind of contingencies has a hotel built into it, the three men of the FA disciplinary commission left for the scene of the alleged crime; Manchester United's training complex at Carrington.

Barry Bright, the retired estate agent from the Kent FA who chairs the commission, and his colleagues, Peter Herd and Frank Pattison, were interested in the layout of the building. Ferdinand had opted to shower before taking his drugs test and part of his defence is that while doing this he forgot about the arrangement and left to go shopping in Manchester's Deansgate. The commissioners would have wanted to know how he could have gone from the dressing-rooms to his car without encountering the drugs testers from UK Sport.

It was 10am when Ferdinand, accompanied by his lawyers and his agent, Pini Zahavi, pushed through the crowd of photographers and into the Reebok, that the main event properly began. The hearing would be held in the Chairman's Suite on the first floor, dominated by a loud tartan carpet and a large conference table around which sat the three commissioners, along with their barrister, John Mason, and Alan Wilkes, a member of the FA's disciplinary committee who is acting as a secretary.

There were two other tables, one for the United party, consisting of Ferdinand, his solicitor, Ronald Thwaites, his assistant, Ed Canty, and the Manchester United director Maurice Watkins. The FA table was made up of three lawyers from the firm Denton Wilde and Sapte, headed by Mark Gay, and two members of the FA compliance unit, Steve Barrow and Mark Knowles.

The pre-lunch session was taken up with opening statements while the FA's case started at 2pm, centring around evidence from the testers from UK Sport which sparked the alleged breach of FA rule E26, "the failure or refusal by a player to submit to drugs testing as required by a competent official". Today will be largely given over to Ferdinand's case and a verdict is likely either tonight or on Monday.

At the back of the room sat a member of the Professional Footballers' Association. The organisation's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, has been vociferous in his support of Ferdinand and his conviction that the doping test had not been carried out properly. Yesterday, he was one of the few prepared to talk publicly, voicing a fear that the verdict had already been decided.

"It's become a world issue with the involvement of the World Anti-Doping Agency and Fifa," he said. "I'm worried it has become a question of how long the suspension is going to be - between three months and two years - and they [the commission] have not taken the opportunity to be as objective as they should be."

By the time the hearing finishes there will have been evidence from 30 witnesses, some of whom will appear in person, while others including the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, are due to submit written statements. The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, will deliver his evidence as a character witness, probably in person, later today.

If matters cannot be resolved tonight, further problems arise. The Reebok Stadium is due to be used for a match between Bolton and Arsenal tomorrow, while Ferdinand will be travelling with the United squad to London for Sunday's fixture at Tottenham. Still, nothing in this affair has ever moved quickly. It took more than a month for Ferdinand to be charged and nearly three for this hearing to be set up. It will take more than a day for the issues in this case to be settled.