United fans face ban over 'assault'

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The Independent Football

Manchester United have pledged to fight Charlton Athletic's attempt to ban fans from the Old Trafford club visiting the Valley after one woman steward was the subject of an alleged sexual assault and another steward was injured there during celebrations by away fans during Saturday's match between the two clubs.

The Charlton chief executive Peter Varney made the announcement after a man who was in the away end at the Valley was charged with sexual assault and six other men were arrested for running on the pitch after Ruud van Nistelrooy scored United's second goal. As the Dutch striker and captain on the day ran towards the crowd, supporters surged forward, a metal gate was broken and a steward was crushed.

Varney thanked United supporters who witnessed the alleged assault on the woman steward for coming forward to give evidence, but warned that he would apply to the Premier League to get United fans banned in the future. Old Trafford responded by saying that while they shared Charlton's concerns they did not want to see their supporters punished for the actions of a few.

The problems between the two clubs have built up over the last four years, in three of which Charlton have had cause to complain about the behaviour of United fans - usually for persistent standing - during matches at the Valley. The right of away clubs to a ticket allocation is enshrined in the Premier League rules and in order to get United supporters banned, Charlton would have to apply for an exemption in this case.

"We will be seeking the views of the FA Premier League once the post-match safety report and the referee's report have been taken into account," said a United spokesman.

"While we share the concerns over the incidents in question, we do not believe it is right to punish all of our fans who follow the team away from Old Trafford for the alleged actions of a few."

One of the most intriguing mysteries of the season has been solved by Sir Alex Ferguson who has revealed it was The Sun newspaper who "bugged" the Old Trafford home dressing room for this month's Premiership match against Chelsea. The tabloid claimed they had been handed tapes by an unnamed third party and then went on to reveal some of the unremarkable content before solemnly handing them over to the club.

However, Ferguson claimed: "We know exactly what happened, it was The Sun. They bugged us. They were behind it. I've no worries about it, but it won't happen again."