The tabloids and broadsheets alike latched on to a good story this week, following the FA’s decision to publish the documents relating to the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’ case, involving Patrice Evra and Chelsea groundsman, Sam Bethell.
It was alleged by two United representatives that Evra had been called a “f*****g immigrant” by Bethell, an accusation he denied, and was cleared of by the FA.
The sensationalised headlines and stories in the newspapers implied United assistant manager, Mike Phelan, was a liar, following the FA’s claims he was ‘unreliable’ and ‘unimpressive’. This of course came as a disappointment to United fans, obviously not wanting to believe that our employees would lie and knowingly wrongly label someone racist.
It was only when I bothered to read the report that I realised the situation wasn’t exactly as the newspapers had reported, and that actually the FA had stitched us up, yet again.
Why publish the report?
The FA have made a habit of not publishing the documents relating to cases such as Patrice Evra’s. To make the report available to the public goes against their usual practice. So, why would they do this?
Firstly, to justify their reasons behind handing out a four match ban. Much had been made of the fact Didier Drogba was punished with just a three match ban after indiscriminately throwing a coin in to a crowd of men, women and children, in front of the live cameras of the World. To judge Evra’s scuffle with a Chelsea groundsman after a match away from the eyes of the World as worse than the Drogba incident didn’t make a lot of sense.
If the FA could produce a convincingly damning report and let the public gets their mits on it, there would be some reprieve for them. They could justify their stance.
Secondly, Sir Alex Ferguson had publicly criticised the FA for not explaining why the punishment had been so harsh. Manchester United had requested a transcript of the events and the FA had failed to act on this. Rather than behave as adults, as you would expect the governing body of this country’s football to do, they immaturely gave the United manager what he wanted. ‘Here’s your transcript, Mr Ferguson’ is what the decision to publish the report said.
Thirdly, the FA will grab any opportunity to muddy United’s name whenever they can. United’s Rio Ferdinand and City’s Christian Negouai both missed a drugs test, yet Ferdinand was banned for 8 months and fined £50,000, whilst Negouai recieved no ban and was fined £2,000. Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes were sent off in the Amsterdam Tournament and the FA banned them for three league games. Steven Gerrard and Neil Mellor were sent off in the same pre-season competition three years before the FA dealt no punishment. When Gary Neville celebrated a last minute goal against bitter rivals Liverpool by holding his badge up to the away fans, he was fined £5,000. The next weekend, when Robbie Fowler celebrated a last minute goal against bitter rivals United (whilst playing for City) he held up his five digits to the away fans to represent the five European Cups have won, yet faced no punishment. Evra’s case is just one of many examples where the FA bend their own rules to ensure United are made an example of and punished more harshly than other clubs.
Needless emotive language
What was striking was the decision of those compiling report to use emotive language and negative personal opinion in regards to the statements from United representatives.
‘Unreliable’, ‘unimpressive’, ‘exaggerated’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘poor judgement’ are the ways in which the FA describes the testimonies and behaviour of United players or staff.
For example, Evra claimed he feared for the safety of Strudwick (United’s goalkeeping coach) when he was embroiled in a heated discussion with Griffin (Chelsea’s Head Groundstuff). Griffin had a pitch fork in his hand at the time. Both Evra and Strudwick claimed Griffin told them he would “shove the f*****g fork up your arse!”.
Yet the FA report said Evra was ‘ridiculous’ to fear for Strudwick’s safety. Really? I would say it would be quite reasonable to fear for someone’s safety if they were having a row with someone carrying a pitchfork who threatened to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.
The same negative slants and opinions are not interjected where any Chelsea testimony is concerned though.
Mike Phelan has been the main focus of the newspaper reports, with him receiving a lot of stick and essentially being called a liar. I imagined there had to be pretty compelling evidence for the FA to write this in their report. It appears as though I was wrong.
Phelan’s first statement was written three weeks after the incident. He claimed that Bethell called Evra a “f*****g immigrant” during the first coming together between the two men. Five months later he was asked to write another statement, in which he claimed the comments were made during the second coming together of the two men. It is the mistiming of when the racist comment was made that has lead the FA to damn Phelan as ‘unimpressive’ and the press label him a liar.
I imagine if I saw two men swinging for each other, being pulled apart by scores of people, before they clashed again, and amongst this mass brawl I heard the words “fucking immigrant” being shouted, five months later I would remember the words said, not the precise moment they were said.
The FA report agrees. “We should not have expected complete detailed accuracy and consistency in witnesses’ recollections of a fast-moving disorderly series of events.”
Richard Hartis, United’s goalkeeping coach, didn’t agree with Phelan on the timing, as stated by the report. “There is some confusion and inconsistency in their placing of the alleged racist insult.”
It is because of that United’s testimonies are regarded ‘unreliable’ and ‘unimpressive’.
However, when there are conflicts between the accounts of Bethell and Martin (another member of Chelsea’s groundstaff), no such judgments are made.
“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.”
Why were the groundsmen on the pitch?
Whilst the men compiling the report are more than happy to give an opinion and place emotive language where United is concerned, they seem to miss something which is glaringly obvious, something Sir Alex Ferguson questioned at the time. Why were Chelsea staff on the pitch at all whilst the warm-down was going on?
Premier League rules state that a warm-down may take no longer than 15 minutes. The FA report informs us that the 7 players wanting to take part in the warm-down waited until they were given the go ahead from Chelsea security staff before they went on to the pitch. United were compliant with Chelsea staff, eager to get their 15 minutes done, get on the coach, and go home, following a very disappointing result.
With a Champions League game to follow in the week, Griffin authorised 17 members of groundstaff to be at work that day. The FA reports that Strudwick was concerned about the lack of space the players had to warm down. As supported by video evidence, as the players were jogging they had to avoid men with lawnmowers, whilst other men walked around with pitchforks. Clearly, not ideal conditions to carry out actions the Premier League rules state they are totally entitled to.
Whilst the warm down began with the players jogging around the perimeter of the pitch, Strudwick wanted a larger area to work with, finding it difficult to conduct the warm-down suitably jogging around the edge of the pitch.
With little to no room to work in, Strudwick lead the players to the penalty area, knowing they were not permitted to warm-down here, but unable to find a patch of grass large enough for 7 players elsewhere on the field, with 17 men at work.
How does the FA report this? The decision to warm-down in the penalty area “was not a good judgment by Mr Strudwick.” There is no mention of the judgment shown by members of Chelsea staff to allow 17 members of staff to get to work, mowing the lawn in the paths of the warming-down players, following a demoralising result. Wouldn’t good judgment be to wait 15 minutes for the players to finish what they were doing and then start work on the pitch? The FA don’t seem to think so, or at least, don’t want to voice their opinion on that in their publicised report.
Part of Evra’s punishment comes because the belief that he threw a punch at Bethell, hitting him on the right ear. Evra has denied this from the very beginning (just as Bethell had the racist allegation), whilst admitting he pushed Griffin and ran to confront Bethell.
The FA report acknowledges that the footage they have of the scuffle does not show Evra punching Bethell. The FA report acknowledges Evra has consistently denied the charge relating to punching Bethell. The FA report acknowledges that Bethell was hit on his right ear, meaning a right-handed Evra would have had some difficulty making contact with the right ear. Yet the FA report still finds Evra guilty, with no other evidence than Bethell’s word.
I’ll refer you to the report again.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.
When Evra gives accounts of events, he is ‘ridiculous’ or ‘exaggerating’, yet when Bethell gives his account, his word is taken as truth, despite all the other evidence indicating he is lying.
Is this because the FA deem Bethell to be an exemplary member of society? I’ll redirect you to another part of their report.
“******* idiot”, which Bethell thinks was a phrase he used, would not have been the strongest term… 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.
The report then goes on to describe the ‘defensive’ stance Bethell took, when he was confronted by Evra, who according to what Bethell thinks, had just been called a “f*****g idiot” by the Chelsea groundstaff.
As Evra approached near to Bethell, 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. Bethell says that this was a defensive position: If Evra touched or got past Bethell’s front (left) hand he was going to punch Evra with his right hand.
We’ve all seen the pictures of Evra sticking his tongue out and Bethell pulling his arm back with his hand in a fist. The DVD does not show Evra punch Bethell, but it does show Bethell swing for and miss Evra.
What happened next was that Bethell took a swing at Evra with his right hand, but missed… It is after the first altercation between Bethell and Evra that Bethell is alleged to have shouted at Evra “I’ll ******* have you, you ******* immigrant”. The two witnesses who say they heard those words directed by Bethell at Evra are Mike Phelan and Richard Hartis.
Bethell claims that throughout this period, despite attempting to punch Evra, that he was not out of control. This is an opinion the FA cannot agree with.
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.
Again, no negative opinions or emotive language is used to describe Bethell’s statement. Bethell had to be held back by several colleagues and swung a punch at Evra. Is it not ‘ridiculous’ for him to claim this behaviour was not out of control? The FA don’t bother to comment on this.
The FA report suggests Bethell couldn’t have called Evra an ‘immigrant’ as there were two members of black Chelsea staff in the vicinity at the time. If Bethell had done such a thing, the FA assumes that these members of staff would have reported Bethell. They also claim that if such a thing had been said, Evra would have heard it. That makes sense right? How could Strudwick and Hartis hear something Evra didn’t? The FA answer that question for us.
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.
The FA talk of how the Chelsea employees have not confirmed the allegations made by the United representatives.
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.
The FA base their decision on assumptions, but as far as their own report suggests, these assumptions are entirely flawed.
Firstly, Evra’s grasp of the language isn’t great, meaning he easily could have missed the racial insult. He was responding to the “sustained very strong and angry verbal abuse” from Bethell, not a remark he considered to be racist, but that does not mean the racist insult didn’t occur.
Secondly, the charge is not against Sam Bethell, the charge is against Chelsea FC. If the two black employees testified that Bethell had called Evra a “fucking immigrant” they were not landing Bethell in trouble, rather their employers. How can the FA assume that these men would support United in their claims against Chelsea, just because they were black? That assumes that these men would risk losing their jobs, that they are offended by the word ‘immigrant’ (the FA assume that every person who is not white would be personally offended that a Senegalese man earning his living in England was called a “fucking immigrant”), and that they haven’t been financially compensated for remaining loyal to their employers and saving Chelsea FC from a whole load of hassle (we can only guess what punishment they would have faced had the charge of racism been upheld. Presumably, a damn sight worse than the £25,000 they had to pay for failing to ensure Bethell conducted himself in an orderly fashion).
The FA make assumptions which again favour Chelsea, with no concrete evidence to suggest this point of view is any more believable or true. It is certainly a lot easier to dismiss a case of racism though, than it to follow it through. Barry Bright, one of the four men who compiled this report, has learnt that the hard way.
Bright, Millwall and Racism
In October 2004, Millwall were charged by the FA for supposed racist chanting from their fans in a match against Liverpool. Djimi Traoré was booed and Millwall claimed it was because of a nasty challenge on one of their players, having nothing to do with his skin colour. Some reports suggested the FA had studied the footage and audio of the game and decided the booing was actually making monkey noises.
“God knows what the FA are up to,” said Millwall’s chairman. “There was never any indication of racist abuse being brought into the discussions. The charges are completely ridiculous and we’ll see what evidence the FA has got to back them up. It just seems like the FA is a rudderless-ship at the moment and is seeking publicity for its own aim.”
Liverpool had two other black players on the pitch that day, Salif Alassane Diao and Florent Sinama-Pongolle, yet neither of these players received any hassle from the home Millwall support, suggesting events were exactly as Millwall said, and Traoré had challenged and squared up to Millwall player Marvin Elliot (as reported by the BBC).
Bright was on the panel that dished out a £32,500 fine to Millwall. Is this a case of once bitten, twice shy, with Bright unwilling to dish out another punishment to Millwall support, for fear it would appear he was targeting the club? I’d say that suggestion is far less outrageous than implying Phelan and Hartis lied and falsely accused someone of racism.
In 2005, Millwall won their appeal against the FA, with our footballing authority deciding that they couldn’t hear monkey noises, and in fact they were just singling out a player with boos who had wound up the fans, which was an incident irrelevant of skin colour. Bright was never held accountable for his massive error, he refused to apologise, didn’t offer to cover the costs of Millwall’s legal fees in clearing their name, and refused to correspond with Millwall on the topic . Bright, amongst others, assumed racist behaviour was going on, despite evidence to the contrary. Now they’re flogging a different idea, the reputation of Manchester United instead of the Kick Racism Out Of Football campaign, they’re back to their assuming ways… and Patrice Evra misses four games because of it.
- The FA had no need to publicise this report, other than to serve their own purpose. They were well aware their four match ban was too harsh and thought putting this on the internet would lead to sensational headlines in the papers that would let the FA off.
- The report is full of assumptions. Chelsea testimonies are given the benefit of the doubt, United testimonies are described as exaggerated or ridiculous or unreliable.
- Evra’s four match ban hangs on the player punching Bethell. Evra has consistently denied doing this (whilst admitting other charges), the CCTV shows no footage of Evra punching Bethell, and Evra would have had to punch Bethell with his left hand, despite being right-handed, for Bethell’s account to be correct. The FA take Bethell’s word over Evra’s and all the evidence that supports our player telling the truth.
- There was no good reason for the Chelsea groundstaff to be on the pitch at the same time as United players. United players were entitled to a 15 minute session on the pitch to warm down. Chelsea’s job of tending to the pitch was made more difficult by having to mow around United players and staff, so it doesn’t take a genius to work out they had an agenda by being there (ie. winding up United players who’d suffered a defeat that could have cost them the title). United only moved to the prohibited penalty area after finding they didn’t have room elsewhere. Premier League rules state travelling teams are entitled to no more than 15 minutes, so common sense would tell you the Chelsea staff should have waited 15 minutes to get to work on the pitch. This is an obvious point the FA’s report fails to touch on.
- Two testimonies from United representatives single out Bethell as a man who called Evra a “f*****g immigrant”. Their testimonies are torn to shreds because a) minor details in their accounts change in a five month period, b) two black members of Chelsea staff didn’t testify against their own employer.
- Barry Bright had his own reasons not to convict a Millwall supporter of racism, after ending up with egg on his face in 2005 and risking his reputation as a supposedly non-biased representative as actually being anti-Millwall.