By Tony Attwood
As you will probably have seen Arsène Wenger was given a four-match touchline ban by the Football Association following the Burnley game. Arsenal have said they will not appeal and so the ban starts today. Mr Wenger can sit in the stand and communicate with Steve Bould by telephone, or should the line be bad, by smoke signals, semaphore or other devices.
The long term stadium ban, which the Daily Telegraph was calling for, was not imposed. The other matches affected are the games against Watford, Chelsea and Hull City.
Mr Wenger was also fined £25,000. The FA made no comment about the fact that Mr Wenger claimed he did not know where it was supposed to go, and thought he could watch from the tunnel area. He pointed out that the “not knowing where to go” issue arose the last time the FA tried to take action against him following his sending off at Manchester United for kicking a water bottle. On that occasion the FA found him not guilty of anything other than making them look a bunch of idiots.
But clearly the FA are guilty of failing to clarify their regulations when they obviously know that there is muddle and confusion, and since they don’t like being made to look like a bunch of turnips they have struck back in the only way they know. Punish Arsenal and get the press to join in.
Thus now we have this: The Guardian said of the hearing that “It was also noted Wenger had a reasonably clean recent disciplinary record.”
So let us see what “reasonably clean” actually means, or if it is a slur.
Sadly the Guardian gives no evidence for its use of “reasonably clean”, and in writing this I must admit I have found it hard to check for sure on Mr Wenger’s disciplinary record. I have details of two other infringements, but nothing more, so I’d be very grateful to receive details of other times Mr Wenger has been up before the beak, so to speak.
The 2009 fiasco involved Mr Wenger being sent to the stands for kicking a water bottle. He famously stood in the stand with his arms outstretched since there was no where else for him to go. Now it seems that ludicrously, the FA failed to resolve although it has had eight years to do so. But still, they move slowly in the FA.
League Managers’ Association chief Richard Bevan, said, after that incident, “I’ve spoken to Keith Hackett and he fully recognises the situation was an error and an apology will follow to Arsene Wenger,
“Lee Probert totally failed to manage the situation and created a needless pressure point taking the focus away from the pitch in a big event with only a minute to go. Although correct in ‘law’, the decision was completely out of context in the game and it was followed by the nonsense which followed over where Arsene Wenger should sit.”
So clearly that case does not taint Mr Wenger’s record since he got the apology. But what about other cases?
Well, there is only one other case I know of before that.
In August 2000 Arsenal played Sunderland. It was suggested that after the game Mr Wenger, who until that moment had an utterly unblemished record as a manager, had indulged in violent or threatening behaviour against Mr Taylor, the fourth official at Sunderland.
On 10 October 2000 Mr Wenger went to a hearing on the issue but considering the matter utterly trivial given that there was no evidence against him, did not call any witnesses. He then got a 12 match ban – which is interesting that the Telegraph has not mentioned as they have been asking for a 12 match stadium ban for this infringement.
Mr Wenger then appealed on 2 February 2001 and appeared complete with Thierry Henry, David Seaman and Robert Pires as witnesses.
Even before the final hearing got under way the charge was reduced to “improper conduct”. In the event Mr Wenger was given a reprimand, fined £10,000 and ordered to pay the costs of the appeal board which consisted of Charles Hollander QC, Geoff Thompson chair of the FA and Ray Kiddell from the Norfolk FA. Their finding was that Mr Wenger was guilty touching the official, and not “jostling or holding” him as Taylor had alleged.
Taylor had argued that he was “manhandled” by Wenger on in the tunnel after the 1-0 defeat on 19 August 2000. But it emerged that although Thierry Henry and Darren Williams of Sunderland were involved in a bit of of tunnel pushing and shoving and that was all that happened. Mr Wenger agreed that he then touched Taylor with a gesture that most people recognise not as manhandling but as “I’ll sort this out” and he then pulled Thierry away.
The FA accepted in the appeal that contact was “minimal”, and “not intended to be aggressive and not threatening or violent.”
But even then the fine was ludicrous for an action which had the effect of calming a situation which the fourth official could not handle, for it was clear from the second hearing that Taylor had lied in the hearing in terms of what he claimed against Wenger. We waited to see what the FA would do with Taylor in this regard.
In fact they did nothing but for Referee Taylor, matters then got worse when he himself was charged with misconduct for insulting comments to Notts County’s Sean Farrell during the game against Wigan on October 14. That was heard on 6 February 2001.
That case was found to be “not proven” after a four hour secret hearing. Farrell said that, “The finding of not proven indicates the incident had to be witnessed by more than one person for an official to be found guilty. While Ian Hamilton and Scott Green were witnesses to the incident, they did not directly hear the remarks. I hope this result does not deter other players from coming forward when subjected to inappropriate behaviour.”
Notts County said in a club statement, “While respecting the difficult job referees have to carry out we think there must be a level of accountability in their performance. There is no question an incident took place. Those of us who watched the game and viewed the video could clearly see this. But only one person witnessed the actual remarks directly. His testimony alone did not constitute sufficient evidence by the FA’s standards to find the official guilty, only not proven.”
Mr Wenger said after his appeal hearing in that case, which lasted two days, “It was very important for me that the charge of threatening behaviour and violent conduct was dropped. When you get a 12-match ban and you have my clean disciplinary record, you have to look at why you got such a ban. The fact that I was charged with improper conduct means my reaction was too big. But as I got only a reprimand, I believe the FA recognised that my intention was clear. It was not to provoke violence but to avoid further violence in the tunnel.
So what we have is a man who after the Burnley match touched an official, which we all know is wrong. But before then, in all this years in the Premier League, he has had just one reprimand, 16 years ago, and that for a situation in which he was reducing tension not heightening it. Meanwhile the FA are clearly guilty of gross negligence in failing to clarify their own rules following the Man U affair.
As a result Mr Wenger will not be allowed in the dugout or on the touchline during the four matches of his suspension but he can speak to his players before and after them and, also, in the dressing room at half-time.
Mr Wenger apologised for his behaviour after the Burnley game. “I regret everything,” he said. “I should have shut up, gone in and gone home. I apologise for that. Look, it was nothing bad. I said something you hear every day in football. Overall, nine times out of 10, you are not sent to the stand for that. If I am, I am, and I should have shut up completely. I was quite calm during the whole game, more than usual. But just in the last two or three minutes.”