Cesc Fabregas has been cleared by the Football Association of spitting at the Hull City assistant manager Brian Horton in the extraordinary aftermath of Arsenal's FA Cup tie with Hull City in March. The allegations against the Arsenal captain made by Phil Brown were one of the most controversial incidents of the season.
Arsenal and Fabregas were always confident that the player would be vindicated and were shocked when the FA decided to charge him. The governing body felt they had little option but to do so given the severity of Brown's allegations – that he made live on Setanta Sports immediately after the tie – but an independent commission has judged that there was not enough evidence to find him guilty.
Bizarrely, the player himself has known for a week that he is not to face disciplinary action – he was the subject of two separate charges – but the FA have delayed the announcement. It is thought that they have held back in deference to Hull City who are playing for their Premier League status against Manchester United on Sunday. However, the delay has meant that Fabregas has had to continue with the charges hanging over him.
The judgement also asks big questions about the FA's disciplinary process when an investigation is launched on the hearsay of an individual's quotes without any firm evidence of the incident having taken place. Hull did not submit any video evidence from the Emirates tunnel – where Brown claimed the incident took place – and instead they just sent the commission the testimonies of Brown, Horton and fitness coach Sean Rush.
Fabregas was the subject of two charges: one in relation to coming on to the pitch at the end of the match and the second for the spitting incident. However, Arsenal were so confident he would be cleared that they did not even require the player to attend the hearing in person. Their documentary evidence included a video which showed that Fabregas was still on the pitch when the Hull staff, including Horton, were down the tunnel.
The FA have not yet revealed any details relating to the case which was heard by a four-man independent commission appointed by the FA chaired by a QC and including one ex-player, referee or manager. However, such commissions are not inexpensive to convene and Fabregas has said all along that he would be proved innocent.
Brown himself was the subject of a charged of improper conduct for his attack on referee Mike Riley after the match in which he implied in his interviews with Setanta and the press that the official had "cheated" Hull. It is understood that he has requested a personal hearing and that his case will be heard after the weekend's crucial game with United
The fallout from the incident provoked one of the biggest rows of the season with Brown attacking Fabregas and Wenger. Fabregas had not been playing in the quarter-final replay on 17 March – which Arsenal won 2-1 – because he was injured but he came onto the pitch at the final whistle. It is understood he abused members of Hull's squad and staff after a combustible game, but it would appear that Brown's allegations of Fabregas spitting at Horton were false.
Famously, Fabregas's choice of clothing on the night – a black hoodie jacket, jeans and trainers – figured prominently in Hull's evidence. The club are understood to have made a number of references to Fabregas' choice of clothes on the night as if to imply that that alone made his behaviour inappropriate. Wenger joked that if the player has been wearing "black tie" he might not have got in such trouble.
The Arsenal manager will speak today about his future, and reaction to the stormy shareholders' forum last week. He is also understood to be considering dropping Emmanuel Adebayor from the squad to face Stoke City on the last day of the season, paving the way for the striker to leave the club.
Emirates spat: Who said what
"For their club captain Cesc Fabregas to spit at my assistant at the end of the game shows you what this club is all about. I was there and witnessed it, he spat at my assistant manager down the tunnel, that's their captain. Hopefully he's proud of himself. He spat at his feet."
Hull manager Phil Brown following the match on 17 March
"I categorically deny that I spat at anybody after the match. I have never done this in my whole career on the pitch, so why would I do it when I am not even playing?"
Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas
"I know nothing about that at all. I'm sorry, I can't speak about something I haven't seen. I'm not a specialist to create newspaper stories or to create things that are minor that might have happened in the tunnel."
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger
"I don't know if we will appeal – I will see what we can do. I am very positive that there was enough evidence in what I have seen that the case should have been dropped."
Wenger following the announcement of the Football Association's charges of Fabregas and Brown
"It's no surprise to me that the FA has decided to bring the charges as I have always been confident in Phil Brown's and Brian Horton's accounts of events. I will not comment further at this time but I have always known that Phil and Brian tell the truth."
Hull chairman Paul Duffen
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