Newcastle United were yesterday shocked by the news that their midfielder Lee Bowyer remains ineligible for European competition after Uefa confirmed that he has yet to serve a six-match ban.
Bowyer and his club believed that the suspension, stemming from his time at Leeds United when he was found guilty of stamping on the head of an opponent during a Uefa Cup tie, had been completed.
This season the Magpies have played two Champions' League qualifying matches and four Uefa Cup games to reach the third round of the latter competition, where they face Valerenga in the first leg tomorrow. Although Bowyer was excluded from the squads for those earlier games, Uefa have stated he should have been declared "eligible to play" when the club submitted its player lists before each match.
In the eyes of European football's governing body, the administrative mix-up means that Bowyer has not yet started his ban. Despite an appeal by Newcastle and the Football Association, a ruling made by Uefa's control and disciplinary body was recently upheld by the internal appeals court.
The FA is adamant that it is not the fall guy in the case and disputed claims made by Newcastle that it was consulted when the player lists were first drawn up in August.
However, while the FA may disagree with Newcastle on that matter, it did offer its support when it came to ensuring that Bowyer would be available for United's games from the third round onwards.
A statement from the FA read: "The FA was first asked by Newcastle United to clarify the situation with Lee Bowyer in October 2003. The FA immediately contacted Uefa to seek clarification of Bowyer's status, as happens on a regular basis concerning players with English clubs competing in Europe. If Newcastle United had consulted the FA earlier, the FA would, of course, have sought clarification from Uefa at that time.
"Given the wording of Uefa's competition regulations, the FA was equally surprised at Uefa's interpretation of the situation and therefore gave its full support to Newcastle United's appeal, including making representations at Uefa headquarters in Nyon.
"The FA believes that the rules on eligibility are ambiguous and should not be open to differing interpretations, and are continuing to make this position clear to Uefa."