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The FA scandals: a history of the destruction of football: 4 Wenger v FA

This is a series of articles about the Football Association and some of their misdemeanours in terms of handling football in England.

Part 4:  The world of the fake innuendo.

By Tony Attwood

In 2017 Arsène Wenger was given a four-match touchline ban by the Football Association following the game against Burnley.  He was sent off, and instead of going to the changing rooms or elsewhere, he stood to watch the remaining minutes of the game from the tunnel. Mr Wenger was fined £25,000.

Mr Wenger made the point that when he was sent off in a previous match at Manchester United for kicking a water bottle, there was no indication of where he was supposed to go so he famously stood in the stand much to the amusement of supporters.  He argued that the FA still had made no indication of where he was supposed to go if sent off, so this time he stood in the tunnel.

The 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 and the FA were made to look utterly stupid.  But what about other cases?

Well, there was one other case 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.

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On 10 October 2000 Mr Wenger went to a hearing on the issue but considering there was no evidence against him, did not call any witnesses since there was only one man’s word against his.   He then got a 12 match ban.

Mr Wenger naturally 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”.  That is interesting, because before the first case the FA must have known what it was charging Mr Wenger about.  Yet now four months later having had one hearing, it changed the complaint.

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.

Further, it emerged that although Thierry Henry and Darren Williams of Sunderland were involved in a bit of of tunnel pushing and shoving, 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.  What’s more it was clear from the second hearing that Taylor had lied in the hearing in terms of what he claimed against Mr Wenger.

In fact they did nothing about Taylor, 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 on the grounds that not enough people heard the comments.

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.

As a result Mr Wenger was not allowed in the dugout or on the touchline during the four matches of his suspension.

The incidents and the fact that Mr Wenger had to pay an enormous amount of money for the costs of the hearing was largely covered up by the FA supporting media, but it made it clear to those who wanted to look, that the FA were in the business of handing our charges and costs without any real thought.  When it came to referees, the FA were making it quite clear that managers were “guilty by default” and if proven innocent still had to pay costs.

That was not and never has been justice but has always been the FA way.

1 comment to The FA scandals: a history of the destruction of football: 4 Wenger v FA

  • Les Williams

    Thanks Tony

    The more you write about the FA, UEFA and FIFA the more I realise that the problem with football lies with the administrators.

    They are ONLY interested in money and that is where the problems come from.

    I remember reading a quote from UEFA saying they wanted people to talk about their matches the next day. Now I am not saying this is done deliberately, it might even be just a coincidence, but poor referee decisions make sure that the game is talked about!

    Seeing as UEFA, the FA or FIFA never ever do anything about poor decisions makes me wonder whether this is a policy they follow.

    I remember the incident you mentioned above with Arsene Wenger. I thought at the time it was odd that the charge was changed, now I know why – thank you

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