Sir Alex Ferguson's increasingly fractious relationship with the Football Association has been set back yet further by his discovery that the chairman of the independent commission which investigated the Patrice Evra affair was an Arsenal season-ticket holder.
Such was Ferguson's indignation at this revelation about Nicholas Stewart QC – whose panel's decision to ban Evra for four matches the United manager described as the worst FA ruling in his experience – that he alluded to it in his programme notes for Sunday's match against Chelsea. In view of the fact that Ferguson's power does have some limits at Old Trafford, the paragraph referring to this was removed from the match programme by United, with the chief executive David Gill the ultimate arbiter on such issues. Gill, an FA executive board member for the 2018 World Cup bid, evidently wanted to draw a line under the row which has raged followed the commission's verdict last month.
Though there is no suggestion that Mr Stewart's football allegiance might have influenced his decision in any way, Ferguson believes that the FA should at least have informed United of them – a view which the club indicated yesterday that it shares, despite the editing of Ferguson's script.
Ferguson has grounds for some indignation where Stewart is concerned, since it was at the QC's behest that the contents of the commission's ruling were made freely available on the FA's website before United were informed, a decision the FA chairman Lord Triesman later admitted was a mistake.
Mr Stewart, who headed a four-man team appointed by the FA to examine the brawl which followed United's match at Stamford Bridge last April, is aware of this latest twist. Though he declined to comment and add further fuel to the fire yesterday, he is understood to be exasperated by the way Ferguson has interpreted things.
Ferguson's response is predictable though, to judge by the way he and United feel about the way the whole Evra scandal was dealt with – and particularly the FA's decision to publish them in full before Evra had decided not to appeal against it.
The 28-page commission report found heavily in favour of Chelsea, claiming that the evidence of Ferguson's fitness coach Tony Strudwick was "exaggerated and unreliable". The commission said Ferguson's assistant, Mike Phelan, "particularly did not impress us" with his allegation that Evra had been racially abused. The statements of Phelan and the United goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis were riddled with inconsistency which "cast serious doubt on the reliability of their overall evidence", it ruled.
United declared Evra's four-match ban as "a very poor decision" and "unduly harsh", but decided not to appeal and instead be bound by the rules of the FA.
The decision to remove a section of his programme notes will surprise many who consider Ferguson to enjoy autocratic power at Old Trafford. Far from it where the notes are concerned. At least two levels of management view them before they reach Gill.
Ferguson still managed to get some of his views on Evra into the programme. "I am shocked by the four-match ban handed out to Patrice following the incident at Stamford Bridge that saw him at odds with one of their groundsman," was all that remained. "It's gone now of course." Evra returned to action on Sunday and supplied the second goal.Reuse content