Football: FA right to follow Wenger's lead

Arsenal 2 Sheffield United 1: FA Cup: English reputation fo r fair play is upheld by agreement to replay Highbury tie after ungentlemanly goal

Glenn Moore
Monday 15 February 1999 00:02

"Common sense - not so common that," Howard Wilkinson said in response to one question last week. The Football Association showed at the weekend that, contrary to popular belief, it does possess it.

The FA's decision to grant the joint request of Arsenal and Sheffield United to re-stage their fifth round FA Cup tie, controversially won by Marc Overmars' ungentlemanly goal, scored after Sheffield United had kicked the ball out of play to allow an injured player to be treated, is to be commended. So is the speed with which it was made, within an hour of the final whistle. First Glenn Hoddle's relatively swift exit, now this. The FA may be in the hands of caretakers but they appear to be taking good care.

There will be complaints from some about an FA acting above the law, but these should be ignored. There are enough arcane laws in the FA's rule book to find one to fit the bill, probably the catch-all, "bringing the game into disrepute".

Nor does this set a dangerous precedent. The FA has been ordering teams to replay FA Cup ties for more than a century. In the 1888 competition three matches, involving such teams as Swifts and Mellors Limited as well as Sunderland and Crewe Alexandra, were ordered to be replayed, including one tie because of a protest about the size of the goals.

More recently games have been replayed due to crowd trouble, notably Newcastle's sixth round tie with Nottingham Forest in 1974. Newcastle had come back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 after a pitch invasion. The last such case was in 1992 when Peterborough, having beaten Kingstonian 9-1, were ordered to replay the match behind closed doors because the Kingstonian goalkeeper had been hit by missiles. Bizarrely, Kingstonian were reluctant to do so as it meant players had to take more time off work.

However, there has never been an incident, as far as various statisticians and football anoraks could recall, anywhere in the world, which involved the nebulous concept of "sportsmanship".

At a time when the English game is again under seige following the controversial departures of the FA's chief executive, chairman and national coach, has been tarnished by association with an alleged betting scam, and is frequently regarded with mixed emotions due to the wealth and behaviour of some of its stars, this has been an important application of ethics.

The policy of kicking the ball out when a player is injured started in England and has spread across the world and down to the parks. As Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the players' union said, "it is one of the best things that has happened on the field in recent years".

However, it is time it was enshrined in law, for this is not the first occasion it has been ignored. Ironically, the most high-profile previous cases were against Arsenal. In 1996 Andy Sinton scored in a north London derby which Arsenal then won, and in 1997 Chris Sutton was the prime culprit as Blackburn gained a last-minute equaliser.

The first case was not as clear cut as Saturday's, but the second was. At that stage the FA should have let referees know that, in the event of such reprehensible behaviour, they could disallow the goal. What can be immediately instituted is a booking, under Law 12, for "unsporting behaviour", but it is not clear whether that law empowers the referee to stop the game because an offence has been committed.

The FA should press Fifa for a ruling. It does not necessarily require a change in the laws, merely a guideline as to how they should be interpreted. This was the method used recently to crack down on the tackle from behind.

Were the players involved on Saturday, Ray Parlour, Nwankwo Kanu and Overmars, aware of what they were doing? Parlour threw the ball towards the Sheffield United corner flag presumably for Alan Kelly - who had kicked it out as Lee Morris was injured in the other penalty area - to collect, though he threw it quite close to Kanu. The Nigerian, who had looked bewildered in his few minutes on the pitch after coming on as substitute to make his Arsenal debut, ran on to the ball and, with Kelly and his defence out of position, squared it to Overmars. The Dutchman should have stopped the nonsense then, but instead tapped the ball in.

United, understandably, were furious. Overmars was surrounded and took a couple of slaps on the face. Kanu and the referee, Peter Jones, were besieged. The far end, where the away supporters were gathered, was in uproar, the home support largely embarrassed.

A six-minute delay followed while Bruce, his coaching staff and some players heatedly discussed the situation with Jones and Adrian Titcombe, a senior FA official who was present. At one stage it seemed United were going to walk off but eventually they were persuaded to play the remaining 13 minutes.

As soon as the game finished Arsene Wenger and David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman and a prominent FA councillor, offered to re-stage the game. This was put, by telephone, to David Davies, the FA's acting chief executive, and Terry Annable, chairman of the Challenge Cup committee. They swiftly agreed. Much credit is due to Wenger and Arsenal; had the offer not been made the FA would have been in a far more difficult position.

Bruce, meanwhile, had said he felt "robbed, cheated and furious" adding: "We were 15 minutes from a replay. We deserve another crack. I could say it should be at Bramall Lane but I don't want to be greedy."

By rights it should. Arsenal, who were missing five key players, will surely be much stronger when it is replayed, probably on 23 February. Wenger said: "We didn't mean to cheat. Kanu did not know. We want to repair what happened." He added: "We want it here. We have a fair spirit but are not stupid."

The incident inevitably overshadowed a match which had begun quietly but was building up to a promising conclusion. Arsenal had struggled to penetrate a United team in which the teenager Curtis Woodhouse impressed until Patrick Vieira glanced in Dennis Bergkamp's free-kick after 28 minutes.

That precipitated a period of Arsenal pressure during which the stocky but impressively quick-footed Kaba Diawara could have capped his full Arsenal debut with a hat-trick. The pounds 2.5m signing from Bordeaux was denied by Alan Kelly once and the woodwork twice.

Shortly after half-time, Marcelo headed in Paul Devlin's cross and, with United again cancelling out Arsenal, but apparently unable to cause problems themselves, the game appeared to be drifting towards a draw. Then a patently unfit Kanu arrived to prove that the world's oldest competition can still throw up something new.

Goals: Vieira (28) 1-0; Marcelo (48) 1-1; Overmars (77) 2-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Vivas, Grimandi, Bould, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Garde (Hughes, 42), Overmars; Bergkamp, Diawara (Kanu, 64). Substitutes not used: Anelka, Upson, Manninger (gk).

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Derry, Holdsworth, Sandford, Quinn; Devlin (Twiss, 90), Stuart, Woodhouse, Hamilton; Morris (Ford, 76); Marcelo. Substitutes not used: Jacobson, O'Connor, Tracey (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: United: Stuart, Hamilton, Holdsworth, Derry, Marcelo.

Man of the match: Woodhouse.

Attendance: 38,020.

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