Rival fans will tell us we’re foolish for falling for the siege mentality Sir Alex Ferguson tries to instil in his players when we claim the FA are against us. Rival fans cite unfairly awarded penalties, players escaping red cards, more injury time allowed, and the like, as proof we are treated well by the FA. Whilst I don’t want to go in to the details of the decisions that we wrongly get in our favour, for the fact I would then have to look at the decisions we wrongly get against us, I will concede that we, like most teams at the top, get more decisions going for us than the teams in the bottom half of the table.
A referee could hear the roar of the Stretford End and see Ronaldo on his arse in the box and blow his whistle. It is a split second decision that can be influenced by any number of things. A referee could see Rooney slide in with studs showing and win the ball, but see his opponent faking an injury and immediately pull out a red card. It is a split second decision that can be influenced by any number of things. Our argument against the FA doesn’t lie with the referees though, rather, the decisions the FA make when they have time to deliberate and rationalise.
Rio Ferdinand missed a drugs test. He was banned for 8 months and fined £50,000. That same year Manchester City’s Christian Negouai missed a drugs test. He faced no ban and was fined £2,000. Adrian Mutu failed a drugs test the following year. He was banned for 7 months and fined £20,000. Don’t tell me the FA treat United players the same as everyone else.
Gary Neville celebrated a last minute goal against bitter rivals Liverpool by holding his badge up to the travelling Liverpool fans. He was fined £5,000. A week after Neville’s celebration, Robbie Fowler, as a City player, celebrated a last minute goal against United by holding up his five digits, representing the five European Cups won by Liverpool, in front of the travelling United fans. He received no punishment.
Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes received red cards in the pre-season Amsterdam tournament in 2006. The FA banned them for three Premiership games. When Neil Mellor and Steven Gerrard were sent off in the same tournament three years before they received no ban.
Following the ludicrous decision to ban Patrice Evra for four matches they have decided to publish their commission report on their website, something they have never done.
If you’ve yet to read the report posted on the FA’s website, you’ll make interesting reading of this. Whilst the newspapers have sensationalised the headlines, calling Mike Phelan a liar and claiming the testimonies of all our witnesses were unreliable, it is worth while to plough through and take a look at was the FA have actually said. It won’t surprise you to know they have been entirely inconsistent where United are concerned, again, with the appalling bias clear for all to see in their summary of how the punishment was decided for Evra.
To make this easier, I’ll familiarise you with the people involved in the incident.
Tony Strudwick – United’s first team fitness coach
Mike Phelan – United’s assistant manager (then first team coach)
Richard Hartis – United goalkeeping coach
Jason Griffin – Head Groundsman of Chelsea
Sam Bethell – member of Chelsea’s groundstaff
Craig Martin – member of Chelsea’s groundstaff
Evra was said to have: a) pushed Mr Jason Griffin, Head Groundsman of Chelsea, with his chest, b) struck Mr Sam Bethell, a groundsman at Chelsea, on the side of his head, c) ran to confront Mr Bethell, and d) became involved, or attempted to become involved, in a physical altercation with Mr Sam Bethell.
Evra admitted to a and c, but strongly denied b and d.
Tony Strudwick wished to conduct a warm-down session after the match with 7 players. That was his standard practice for players who had travelled but had not played or had played only for part of the match. He was asked by Chelsea security staff to wait until the stadium had emptied. Strudwick agreed and he and his group only went on to the pitch when instructed by the security staff. That would have been very shortly after 15:00
Our introduction to the sequence of events shows United being compliant with the needs of our hosts, taking part in the warm down only when given the go ahead by Chelsea’s security staff.
Evra described how he had to jump over a lawnmower to avoid any contact with it and says that he stopped and asked the groundsman why he had tried to cut his legs. Mr Evra says he was shocked and angry because he could have been injured. He said that some of the ground staff seemed to try deliberately to get in the Manchester United players’ way and that this particular groundsman had suddenly accelerated towards Mr Evra, i.e. with his lawnmower.
The first mention of any conflict in the situation is that of the Chelsea groundstaff. It is important to note that at this stage, the warm-down is not taking place in the penalty area.
We find Mr Evra’s description exaggerated.
There is no cited evidence to explain why Evra’s version of events is exaggerated. This is just one of many occasions where United’s evidence is ‘assumed’ to be faulty, rather than any evidence provided for why this judgement is given.
The warm-down started off with the group doing laps of the perimeter of the pitch. No instructions had been given by the Chelsea ground staff about where the Manchester United group should do their warm-down and although Strudwick told us that there was not much space and it was difficult to know where to carry out the session, he did not ask either.
Strudwick’s detailed description of the warm-down session is not important until we get to his decision to use part of a penalty area for the session. He knew that was against the Premier League rule but he decided there was simply nowhere else to run.
Every team is entitled to a warm-down after matches but this was made increasingly difficult for our players because of the presence of the groundstaff.
At the start of the report, the rules of warming down are made explicit: Paragraph 26 of Premier League Rule I.26. Paragraph 26.9 states: “any warming down after the conclusion of the League Match shall last for no longer than 15 minutes and for that purpose neither penalty area shall be used”.
If a warm-down takes just 15 minutes, would it not have been common sense and usual practice for the groundstaff to wait quarter of an hour before they got to work? The FA do not at any point question Chelsea’s decision to work on the pitch when United players were taking part in the warm-down, even though common sense would tell you they should have just waited 15 minutes.
This was not a good judgment by Mr Strudwick.
The report informs us that there were 17 members of groundstaff working that day, with a Champions League game to follow in the week. Following a disappointing result, one would imagine United were eager to get their warm-down out of the way and back on the coach home. With 17 men to compete with for space, surely the poor judgement is on the part of Chelsea FC or Griffin, for starting work whilst the warm-down was going on, not with Strudwick, who was eager to find any patch of grass he could to accommodate the 7 players taking part in the warm-down. The FA are quick to give their opinion on Evra’s statement, yet don’t take time to give an opinion on Chelsea’s decision to allow their men to get to work. They couldn’t possibly have been wanting to wind United players up following Chelsea’s 2-1 win, and that’s why they were so eager to get to work? It seems the FA are only willing presume things when considering United’s testimony they’re looking at.
Strudwick’s account is that Griffin “was carrying a pitchfork and his body language supported an angry demeanour. He was instantly aggressive and the tone of his voice was hostile and confrontational.” Strudwick says he was surprised at how aggressive Mr Griffin was being and he seemed more intent on confrontation than accommodation. An argument then ensued, during which Mr Griffin was swearing.
At the same time, another Chelsea groundsman continued to drive machinery into the path of the players, which Strudwick thought was extremely dangerous. Evra then ran over and pushed his chest into Griffin to separate Griffin and Strudwick. Evra told Mr Griffin to put his fork down and Mr Griffin replied, “I’ll shove the ******* fork up your arse.”
Evra’s account of those events is very similar. He was about 10 yards away from Strudwick and Griffin. He saw them arguing. He saw Griffin pull at Strudwick’s shirt and act aggressively towards them. He was concerned about Strudwick’s safety and so ran over and barged Griffin with his chest to try to separate them. He told Griffin to put his fork down and Griffin gave the response in exactly the terms described in Strudwick’s evidence.
Regardless, the FA choose to overlook the two supporting stories about Griffin’s behaviour because of how he behaved in the witness box. They acknowledge that the behaviour in the witness box may bear no resemblance to how a person behaves in real life, but then go on to ignore that acknowledgement.
Though we recognise that demeanour in the witness box may not always closely reflect demeanour and behaviour on other occasions, Strudwick struck us distinctly more likely than Griffin to have become angry and aggressive in their argument on the pitch.
Despite their previous acknowledgement, they cite his demeanour in front of them as reason to believe his testimony over the two co-operating statements of Evra and Strudwick.
The clear implication by Evra that Griffin’s pitchfork gave some reason for concern about Strudwick’s safety is ridiculous.
Both Evra and Strudwick say Griffin threatened to stick the pitch fork where the sun doesn’t shine, so on what grounds would it be ridiculous to think the Chelsea man might use it as a weapon? The men were having a heated debate/row. I’d argue it’s not so ridiculous to fear for someone’s safety if one of these riled men had a pitchfork is in his hand! Yet just as they wanted to cast doubt on Evra’s earlier statement, calling it ‘exaggerated’, they move to put further doubt on Evra’s testimony, unnecessarily calling it ‘ridiculous’.
The DVD evidence does not itself show whether or not Evra actually struck Bethell. It is just not clear enough. Evra denies it but we accept Bethell’s evidence that he was struck on or near his right ear and it was clearly Evra who struck him. We note that Evra is right-handed but do not see that as a reason to reject that conclusion.
Let me get this straight. The DVD doesn’t show Evra hit Bethell, Evra says he didn’t hit Bethell, Evra would have had to hit Bethell with his left hand, despite being right-handed, to hit Bethell on his right ear… but the FA will go with Bethell on it anyway. Logic? Again, don’t ask me.
Maybe it’s because the FA believe Bethell is an exemplary member of society, whose word should be trusted over that of Evra’s, despite the evidence working in Evra’s favour, with him being right-handed.
“F*****g idiot”, which Bethell thinks was a phrase he used, would not have been the strongest term – though Bethell has never accepted that he used racist language of any sort. Evra was also shouting back, though probably not in as strong terms as Bethell.
Bethell says, and we accept, that as Evra was walking away he turned and gestured to Bethell in a manner understood as “I’ll see you outside”. We have absolutely no doubt that at this point Bethell was engaged in a sustained very strong and angry verbal abuse towards Evra. This would certainly have provoked Evra, who had himself not calmed down from the physical altercation with Bethell.
Ok, there’s the exemplary member of society theory down the pan. Any ideas why a man who thinks he called Evra a “fucking idiot” (not an immigrant), using stronger language than Evra for a sustained period of time, is someone the average person would rely on to be truthful? Why is his testimony trusted more than Evra’s despite circumstantial evidence to the contrary?
When Mr Evra was some 15 or 20 yards away from Mr Bethell he broke free of whoever was restraining him and (as he expressly admitted) ran back to confront Mr Bethell. As Mr Evra approached near to Mr Bethell, Mr Bethell adopted a stance – with his left hand held up flat out in front and his right hand held back in a position ready to punch. Mr Bethell says that this was a defensive position: If Mr Evra touched or got past Mr Bethell’s front (left) hand he was going to punch Mr Evra with his right hand.
We’ve all seen the photographs, with Evra sticking in tongue out and Bethell ready to throw a first in Evra’s jaw.
I’m not entirely sure on what grounds the FA can side with Bethell and call this stance ‘defensive’. Shielding your face is defensive, turning your back and covering your head is defensive… pulling your arm back with your hand in a fist is an ‘attacking stance’, not a defensive one.
Regardless, the FA take Bethell’s word for it again.
Evra says that when he ran back towards Bethell it was never his intention for that confrontation to be of a physical nature. He wanted to confront Bethell and stand his ground and to ask him why he was threatening him and shouting abuse. Bethell says that Evra was in attack mode. What happened next was that Bethell took a swing at Evra with his right hand, but missed. It is after the first altercation between Mr Bethell and Mr Evra that Mr Bethell is alleged to have shouted at Mr Evra “I’ll f*****g have you, you f*****g immigrant” – an allegation which Mr Bethell has consistently and vehemently denied.
The two witnesses who say they heard those words directed by Bethell at Evra are Mike Phelan and Richard Hartis.
There is some confusion and inconsistency in their placing of the alleged racist insult. We should not have expected complete detailed accuracy and consistency in witnesses’ recollections of a fast-moving disorderly series of events.
Phelan’s second signed written statement is dated 3 October 2008, more than 5 months after the events.
Phelan’s first statement was written on May 17th 2008, three weeks after the incident. The FA concede that it would be difficult for a statement to be too accurate given the nature of the situation, with fists flying and groups of people colliding.
To then expect a second statement that was written five months later to correspond directly to what was written before, after reports in the paper, discussions amongst the staff, and denial after denial from Chelsea, would be even more demanding.
The problem with their statements is merely the timing of when the racist remark was made. In his first statement, Phelan claimed Bethell racially abused Evra during the first coming together, (before Evra returned and Bethell tried to punch him) whereas in the second statement, he said it occurred during the second coming together.
It is because there are discrepancies between these two statements, written five months apart, that the FA have attempted to muddy Phelan’s reputation, thereby justifying their ridiculously harsh ban on Evra. To imply that United have come out and lied, falsely accused someone of racism, is disgusting, but that is exactly what the FA have done. Why? Because over a period of five months, every stage of the incident weren’t exactly the same in Phelan’s head.
The important part of their recollection are the words ‘f*****g immigrant’. There were a couple of scuffles and five months after the event Phelan couldn’t remember during which scuffle the words were said. That is essentially all the FA’s case against United hangs upon. The timing of the insult would easily be forgotten, the nature of the insult, the words said, would not be.
Of course, English is not Evra’s first language and when he gave evidence to this Commission it was apparent that his own spoken English is far from fluent.
What is important to note that Evra’s behaviour cannot be justified from the point of view that he was defending himself against racist insults. He never heard the words immigrant therefore his behaviour was solely down to the “very strong and angry verbal abuse,” which the FA confirm they believe he was subjected to.
Some would claim that if Evra didn’t hear the insult, then how is it that two other people, further away from the incident did? Well the FA have answered this question for us in their report. Evra’s grasp of the language isn’t very good. He didn’t hear or understand initially the word ‘immigrant’, but two of his colleagues certainly did.
Even if we disregard the fact that Evra has never claimed to have heard such a remark on that day, it is notable that there were several other people far nearer to Bethell at the critical point in time than were either Phelan or Hartis. Nobody else has come forward with an allegation of any such remark.
Despite whatever understandable loyalties might otherwise exist among Chelsea staff, we do not consider it plausible that if either of them had heard the remark he would have withheld that allegation and attended to give evidence to this Commission on behalf of Bethell.
If Bethell was the one who was going to be punished for calling Evra an immigrant, then this statement would make complete sense. There were two black members of Chelsea staff amongst the rabble and one would assume they would land Bethell in it if he had said something racist. But it wasn’t Bethell’s neck on the line, it was Chelsea’s. Chelsea are the ones facing the charge here, not Bethell. It’s all far too presuming of the FA to decide that the two black members of staff would speak up against Bethell, whilst knowing it would be their employer who would face the rap for it. Also, just because somebody is black, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are offended by the word “immigrant”, just as white people may not be. Whilst it’s accepted to be an offensive term, to argue that the other groundstaff would certainly be offended by the word “immigrant” and would without question dob in their mate, is weak.
When Mr Bethell gave evidence before this Commission, we found his firm denial of the racist remark convincing. We do not accept his own judgement that his behaviour on that day was not out of control. Whatever his own view, by any reasonable yardstick it was out of control.
So, Bethell says he was not out of control, but the FA don’t believe him. Bethell says he did not say anything racist, but the FA do believe him. Logic? Don’t ask me.
There was a discrepancy between his [Bethell] evidence and Martin’s evidence about when Bethell first knew that who Evra was by name, but that does not lead us to doubt that Bethell was telling us the truth when he consistently denied the racist remark.
When United representatives have muddled statements, they are deemed ‘unreliable’ and ‘unimpressive’. When Chelsea representatives have statements that don’t correspond, suggesting Bethell was lying whether he knew who Evra was prior to the incident, the FA make the decision to trust them regardless. Logic?
Essentially, United have been stitched up by the FA again (just like we were with the FA Cup) but on several counts. Had Evra been involved in this situation on the pitch, as the FA believed it to happen, in front of the eyes of the world on live television, he would have been sent off and given a three match ban, yet for some reason, the FA deem it worse for it to occur away from the television cameras. Also, they have posted the transcript of the case, uncharacteristically, as a way to portray United as ‘unimpressive’ liars. Thirdly, in every instance, they have assumed United representatives to be exaggerating or not telling the truth, whilst with Chelsea, assume them to be truthful, despite their mismatching statements.
“Talking about this would take up too much time but we’re disappointed with what they’ve done and I don’t think it’s very clever,” said Ferguson.
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