The gradual shift towards police intervention in football's law enforcement took a significant step up yesterday when Northumbria Police announced Lee Bowyer would be summonsed to appear in court after his on-pitch brawl with team mate Kieron Dyer.
Bowyer, who has already served a seven-match suspension and paid fines totalling an estimated £230,000 for his part in the fight, has been ordered to attend Newcastle Magistrates' Court under section four of the Public Order Act. The section covers the usage of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. There will be no action taken against Dyer.
The development will dismay the Football Association. Traditionally the police have allowed the FA to administer justice with regard to on-pitch offences but, last week, the Crown Prosecution Service hinted at a change in approach by threatening to be more pro-active on the issue. If they are serious, dozens of professional footballers each week could be charged with using "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour".
The Bowyer-Dyer fight, while reprehensible, was no worse than many such scraps on the street on a Saturday night, few of which end up in court. Northumbria Police launched their investigation into the incident after a member of the public expressed "concerns" and acted yesterday after taking advice from the CPS.
In a guarded response, an FA spokesman said: "The FA has a very effective disciplinary system to deal with on-field incidents. On the very rare occasions when the police feel they need to make their own enquiries, we liaise closely with them." Steve Barker, Bowyer's agent, was more robust. "It's our intention to have the decision to prosecute reviewed judicially in the High Court," he said. "We have very real concerns that the decision has been made for political rather than legal reasons.
"I spoke to Lee this morning and he's very upset. He has apologised privately, he's apologised publicly. He's taken his fine, he's taken his suspension. He's entitled to say: 'Why me? Why aren't you prosecuting other footballers who've done much worse than me?' I mean, no one was injured in this."
The incident came late in Newcastle's home defeat to Aston Villa in April. Bowyer confronted Dyer then struck him. Dyer retaliated and both were dismissed for violent conduct. Bowyer, having already been dismissed last season, served an automatic four-match ban, Dyer three. The FA then increased Bowyer's penalty by three further matches and fined him £30,000. Newcastle, having exonerated Dyer, fined Bowyer six weeks' wages, believed to be around £200,000, and issued him with a final warning. They are thought to be trying to offload the midfielder.
Bowyer's situation would appear to have echoes of an arrest in Brazil in April. Leandro Desaboto, an Argentine playing for Quilmes of Buenos Aires, was held by police as he left the pitch at the end of a game. Desaboto was charged with "slander, aggravated by racism" after an incident involving Sao Paolo's Grafite, after which the Brazilian was sent off. Desaboto spent 40 hours in police custody before being released on bail and allowed to return to Argentina. Even in Brazil the incident was seen, in part at least, as a politically-motivated publicity stunt.
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