FA disciplinary process is 'a joke'

John Terry is banned for four matches for a racist insult, while a 14-year-old schoolboy is banned for five matches after telling the ref his name was Santa Claus. No wonder a former FA compliance officer is so critical...

Steve Tongue
Sunday 07 October 2012 18:14

Graham Bean, the man once employed by the Football Association to clean up the game, has said in the light of the John Terry case that the whole disciplinary process in this country is "a joke" and that the FA can no longer be trusted to run it. In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, he mocked the independence of the regulatory commission that passed judgment on Terry, and contrasted the four-match ban they imposed for racial abuse with a five-match suspension recently handed out to a 14-year-old boy in Leeds, who gave his name as Santa Claus after being sent off.

Bean is a forthright 50-year-old former CID officer who served as chairman of the Football Supporters' Association from 1996-8 before becoming FA compliance officer. Labelled a "bung-buster", he was involved in a number of high-profile cases, but resigned in 2003, citing insufficient resources for his work as a "one-man band".

He now runs a company called Football Factors, frequently defending clubs or managers at all levels charged with disciplinary offences, and has become frustrated by the fact that more than 99 per cent of those charged are found guilty by what the FA insist are independent tribunals. "They're not independent," he says, using as an example the three-man panel that heard the Terry case.

"Maurice Armstrong from the Huntingdonshire FA is on the disciplinary committee [and an FA vice-president]. Stuart Ripley is from an independent panel but on the payroll of the FA for his duties, so he's not independent. The barristers are independent but they're using a firm called Sporting Resolutions in London and the more they use them, the less independent they become."

His solution would be for the Premier League and Football League to handle their own respective cases, with the FA hearing any subsequent appeal and otherwise concentrating on grassroots and non-league level through the county football associations. "The whole system is a joke," he said. "The FA can't be trusted to run the disciplinary process. It's time to overhaul it because the FA can't be trusted to be consistent with penalties. The Football League already has a disciplinary process and it's a very good system."

When Football Factors conducted a survey of clubs two years ago, Bean says "something like 89 per cent didn't have faith in the FA disciplinary process". He admits that the judgment in the Terry case did criticise the FA at one point, over full disclosure of evidence. But he sees that as an illustration of the organisation's shortcomings rather than the commission's independence and claims the same fault was exposed in the Luis Suarez case last year.

"It's a very strong judgment against John Terry but there are still flaws in the case. Once again the FA say all the documents have been disclosed and in the middle of the hearing it comes out that they kept hold of some stuff. They did the same with Suarez. It's highly embarrassing for the FA. They told the police and the CPS they'd disclosed everything but they hadn't."

When Terry and Ashley Cole were interviewed at Chelsea's training ground, Terry's answers were tape-recorded but Cole's were not. This led to Cole and Chelsea's secretary, David Barnard, disputing what was said and indirectly to Cole's abusive tweet about being called a liar. Adam Sanhaie of the FA took written notes and the judgment says: "Mr Sanhaie's notes were initially omitted from the FA's disclosure of relevant documents and other material in its possession, and only came to light just before the commencement of the substantive hearing."

It adds that "the FA does not have any kind of established system, procedure or protocol for dealing with the type of disclosure order that was made in this case". Later, however, the report states: "The Commission is satisfied, insofar as it reasonably can be, that the FA did comply with its disclosure obligations in this case. Disclosure in any jurisdiction is an imperfect exercise."

Bean's other criticism concerns a change of regulation last summer on the burden of proof, which became a point of debate at the hearing. Until July, the FA had a sliding scale under which the more serious the charge, the higher was the level of proof required for a conviction. That has now been abolished. "The sliding scale was the right way to do it," Bean said. "But they've slipped this new rule in very quietly."

Bean's latest Football Factors newsletter highlighted the case of a 14-year-old in Leeds sent off in a Sunday-morning match for giving his name to the referee as Santa Claus. It reported: "An extra three games were added to his two match sending off suspension because of his youthful sense of humour! Once the festive comment had been made, the player actually gave his true identity, although I think it would be fair to assume that the referee in question had realised that was an incorrect name due to the player's white beard being missing. Putting the Terry case alongside the 'Santa Claus' penalty, you can see why the FA are continually open to criticism with their disciplinary process."

What the Terry panel said about the FA

7.28 On 28 October 2011 The FA's Head of Off-Field Regulation, Jenni Kennedy, attended at Chelsea's training ground to interview Mr Terry, Mr Cole and John Obi Mikel in connection with the incident. She was accompanied by a colleague who was employed by the FA at the time, Adam Sanhaie. Mr Terry's interview was tape-recorded, but that of Mr Cole was not. Mr Barnard was also in attendance. Both Ms Kennedy and Mr Sanhaie made hand-written notes of the interview of Mr Cole. Mr Sanhaie's notes were initially omitted from the FA's disclosure of relevant documents and other material in its possession, and only came to light just before the commencement of the substantive hearing.

7.34 Ms Kennedy gave oral evidence to the Commission and her recollection as to whether Mr Sanhaie was, or was not, taking notes was, in places, difficult to understand (although the recent disclosure shows that he clearly did take detailed notes).

8.1 The late disclosure of Mr Sanhaie's notes served to fuel concerns that Mr Terry's advisors have harboured over the adequacy or, rather, the inadequacy, of the disclosure that the FA had given, whether voluntarily, or in compliance with the order for specific disclosure that had been made at a preliminary hearing.

8.2 The oral evidence of Matthew Johnson [the FA's main prosecutor] demonstrated that the FA does not have any kind of established system, procedure or protocol for dealing with the type of disclosure order that was made... The paucity of documentation in connection with certain specific matters was surprising, and attracted adverse comment from Mr Terry's advisors.

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