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Schmeichel faces racist abuse charge

Peter Schmeichel could become the first footballer to face criminal charges for alleged racist abuse as his feud with Ian Wright burst back into life.

While everyone expected the Arsenal striker to be charged with misconduct by the Football Association for his behaviour at Highbury on Wednesday night, it was the Manchester United goalkeeper who found himself in deeper trouble.

Wright's complaint that he subjected him to racial abuse during last November's Premiership game at Old Trafford had not, as everyone believed, been quietly shelved.

Instead, the police have been carrying out an extensive investigation and papers have now been lodged with the Crown Prosecution Service.

There were no close witnesses to the alleged incident, but several lip- readers claimed that television pictures showed the Danish international swearing at Wright and, if the CPS decides that evidence is strong enough, Schmeichel will find himself in a unique test case.

"There has been a long-running police investigation into the original incident at Old Trafford," Steve Double, an FA spokesman, said. "As a result of police inquiries into the alleged racist remarks a report has been compiled and is currently being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service."

It would be the third time that United players have found themselves in a criminal court. Eric Cantona assaulted a Crystal Palace fan with his infamous kung-fu leap two years ago, while Paul Ince was acquitted for his part in the same incident.

Schmeichel could also find himself in trouble with the FA for the tunnel scuffle with Wright after Arsenal's 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.

Arsenal believe he provoked Wright, who needed restraining by three policemen and the physiotherapist, Gary Lewin. Inquiries were continuing yesterday to see if there may have been a racist element to the incident.

Schmeichel was incensed by Wright's reckless, two-footed lunge which has left him with a badly-bruised ankle and doubtful for tomorrow's game at Chelsea. The keeper was seen wagging his finger at Wright.

Arsenal, conscious of the bad blood between the pair, had taken precautions to isolate Wright as he came off, crowding the tunnel area with police and stewards. But United appeared to leave their goalkeeper to his own devices and he seemed to be involved in exchanges all the way down the crowded Highbury pitch exit.

Significantly, the FA has received an independent report on what happened from the match observer, Kelvin Morton, but it will not make any comment or decision until the match referee, Martin Bodenham, submits his summary.

He did not see the scuffles but the police officers involved gave him a full account and he has indicated that it will feature prominently in his report.

Indications are that Wright, who collected a booking which will already ensure another two-match ban, will certainly face a misconduct charge.

Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, defended Wright on the night and refused to comment further yesterday, although having reviewed television pictures of the tackle, following through on the goalkeeper though whistled offside, Wenger may change his mind.

However, with Arsenal five points behind and a game worse off than the leaders, United, Wenger can ill afford to suspend Wright, who is one of the club's most popular players.

Warnock for Oldham, page 24