Scots pair's ban could be reversed

Ferguson and McGregor could play again despite drink and V-signs disgrace
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The Independent Football

The Scottish Football Association chief executive, Gordon Smith, yesterday refused to rule out a dramatic reversal over the decision to ban Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor from representing Scotland ever again.

The Rangers pair were handed lifetime suspensions for their behaviour while on international duty. They were caught indulging in an early-hours drinking session following Scotland's World Cup qualifying defeat in the Netherlands almost two weeks ago, and then reacted to being dropped to the bench for last Wednesday's victory over Iceland at Hampden by flicking V-signs at photographers.

As well as being punished by the SFA, the players were also suspended by Rangers for two weeks without pay, while Ferguson was stripped of the club captaincy. That cast doubt on their Ibrox careers, though recent reports suggest one or both could still have a future at the club. And they may yet pull on the national team jersey again after Smith repeatedly refused to confirm they would never play for their country again.

"I can't answer that because that's something that's going to have to be looked at in the future," he said, speaking as the SFA board took a break from its regular meeting at Hampden. "But the statement that came out on Friday was quite clear that, at the moment, they will not be chosen."

It is unlikely Ferguson and McGregor will be selected again while George Burley remains Scotland manager. However, his position is by no means secure, with the team facing an uphill struggle to qualify for the World Cup.

Smith was speaking as he and the SFA vice-president Campbell Ogilvie confirmed that, after hearing from Burley, the board had decided there would be no further action taken over the events which led to Ferguson and McGregor being punished.

Four other players also stayed up drinking at the hotel at Loch Lomond following Scotland's return from the Netherlands, although they went to bed long before the Rangers pair.

Hearts' managing director Ogilvie, who chaired yesterday's meeting while the SFA president, George Peat, recovers from exploratory heart surgery, said: "George Burley came in and gave us a report on what happened at Cameron House, in respect of the players leading up to the selection of the team for Wednesday night. A lot of the directors hadn't been party to a lot of that detail. There will be no more action against any of the players."

Smith insisted the SFA was not condoning a drinking culture by not taking any action against the other four involved. "The players who stayed on drinking until after 12pm [Ferguson and McGregor] weren't punished until there was a second incident.

"What happened on Sunday was a yellow card; what happened on Wednesday night was another yellow card. That results in a red card and that's what's happened here. The first incident could be regarded as a yellow-card incident and, therefore, nobody gets sent off for that."

Smith also rubbished claims he had changed his position after issuing a statement on Thursday last week declaring the matter closed, just 24 hours before bans were imposed on the players. He insisted the controversy over the V-signs had yet to come to light at that stage and denied being influenced by fan power – even though the SFA confirmed last Friday it had been overwhelmed by phone calls and emails from supporters.

The Scottish game's governing body now plans to introduce a code of conduct for national team players and Smith revealed an alcohol ban would be considered. Ogilvie added: "There's no doubt things will have to be tightened up in the future."

Smith insisted it was not unusual for players to be allowed something to eat and drink when returning from an overseas trip, even at 4am the next morning, but added: "If you're a responsible player and a top-class professional, you've got to been given a degree of credibility that you're going to go and act in the correct manner. If you've sneaked out of your room after being put to bed, is that the manager's fault because he didn't have the bedroom window locked or they didn't have a guard out in the garden?

"You're relying on players to act in a certain way and maybe what we have to do now is put in a code of conduct."