LONDON — It is with the heaviest of hearts that this correspondent sticks up for Lee Bowyer, the Newcastle midfielder who would undoubtedly figure in most supporters’ top five least popular players.
His behavior on and off the field has rightly given him a reputation of being a nasty piece of work, someone who always seems to make the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Yet it is difficult to see why the Crown Prosecution Service have decided to take action against Bowyer for his scrap with teammate Kieron Dyer when the pair were sent off during the game against Aston Villa on April 2.
Bowyer is to be prosecuted under Section Four of the Public Order Act, which is a total waste of taxpayer money and court time.
Bowyer was apparently unhappy that Dyer did not pass the ball to him, words were exchanged and the pair came to blows, with other players breaking up the fisticuffs in seconds. Neither was hurt and both served a mandatory three-game ban for violent conduct.
On top of this, the Football Association handed Bowyer an extra three-game suspension and a £30,000 fine.
Newcastle, who unlike the F.A. deemed Dyer the totally innocent party, took no action against him but fined Bowyer six weeks’ wages, around £230,000.
Now Bowyer must appear in court — effectively the fifth punishment for his “crime” — though his solicitor, Steve Barker, is to have the decision to prosecute him reviewed judicially in the High Court. I hope the case is thrown out and the judge tells the CPS to concentrate on rather more important matters.
It is difficult to believe that had Dyer and Bowyer come to mini-blows outside a pub, separated in three or four seconds by friends, the police would have taken any action. If they did, no court would fine Bowyer £260,000.
So why is what Bowyer did a public order offense and, say, what Andy Cole did against West Bromwich not?
Cole was sent off by referee Mike Dean for lashing out at Neil Clement in a brawl involving half a dozen players — the F.A. gave the Fulham striker an extra game ban for violent conduct on top of the mandatory three matches (a la Bowyer) and fined him £10,000. Fulham also fined Cole two weeks’ wages.
Fulham’s Papa Diop was also sent off for striking Darren Purse in the same game. Neither constituted a public order offense though . . .
Timothee Atoube of Spurs was banned for three games for a nasty off-the-ball elbow at Manchester City’s Joey Barton, which left the City player needing eight stitches to an eye wound. Many would probably consider it a pre-meditated and vicious act but not a public order offense it would seem as Bowyer’s was.
There have been many other similar instances.
Manchester United’s Mikael Silvestre was sent off at Highbury for head-butting Freddie Ljungberg of Arsenal. Presumably if one did that to someone in a pub it would be a criminal offense.
Was it worse than what Bowyer did? Obviously not.
Perhaps the worst case of on-field violence recently happened in rugby union when Neil Back thumped his England teammate Joe Worsley so badly he required 13 stitches for a head wound.
The CPS has opened a huge can of worms by charging Bowyer who is, I believe, only the second player to be charged for a football-related offense involving another player.
Chris Kamara (Swindon) became the first Football League player to be charged with pitch violence when he was found guilty of grievous bodily harm following an assault on Jim Melrose (Shrewsbury) in 1988. Kamara was fined £1,200 and ordered to pay £250 in compensation to Melrose who sustained a fractured cheekbone.
In 1993, Gary Mabbutt of Spurs sustained multiple fractures to a cheekbone and an eye socket when his face was on the wrong end of an elbow belonging to Wimbledon’s John Fashanu, who was not sent off and the F.A. took no action.
Around that time, Brentford’s Gary Blissett was sent off for elbowing Torquay’s John Uzzell, but was subsequently found not guilty of assault.
Memorably, Graham Kelly, then the F.A. chief executive, said it was the type of challenge he might see regularly during a normal League weekend.
How can it be in the public interest to prosecute Bowyer who is entitled to ask “why me?”
ASHLEY COLE faces the most difficult of tasks to convince the public that his row with Arsenal is not about money.
Cole was fined £100,000 by a Premier League disciplinary commission for his role in the tapping-up case involving Chelsea.
“If they offered me £100,000 or £200,000 a week now I wouldn’t accept it,” he said, presumably from Dreamland. “It’s not about money, it’s about being treated right.”
The Observer may ask whether Cole treated them right when they did an interview with him last Sunday. Cole agreed to do the piece as long as the newspaper kitted him out in a Pravda suit for the photo shoot, which they duly did.
But Cole then liked the suit so much he wanted to keep it and, to cut a long story short, he eventually walked away with a £1,000 suit from Paul Smith.
The photo of Cole, who earns £28,000 a week, with the article showed him wearing a wristband for the cause “Make Poverty History.”
CHELSEA WAS fined £300,000 for its part in Colegate, yet a few days after the judgment found itself at the center of a similar controversy after Tottenham’s technical director Frank Arnesen resigned to join the Premiership champion.
Tottenham claims an illegal approach, because when Chelsea wrote asking for permission to speak to Arnesen the letter was sent “cc” to the Dane.
Chelsea denies any wrongdoing, as it has when the club and manager Jose Mourinho were found guilty of various disciplinary excesses over the past season.
Talks are ongoing to find suitable compensation, with Chelsea midfielder Scott Parker reported to have been offered to Spurs, though one wonders what the player feels about being traded for a 49-year-old Dane.
Parker earns £55,000 a week with Chelsea and, as Spurs have just offered England goalkeeper Paul Robinson £30,000 a week for a new contract, they seem unlikely to pay the midfielder double that should he agree to move.
It is puzzling why clubs are willing to stump up ridiculous sums for ordinary players yet balk at the idea of paying for a manager or technical director.
If Didier Drogba is worth £24 million, how much is Mourinho or Arsene Wenger worth?
The general feeling in England is that Chelsea should be reported (again) and if found guilty the encyclopedia, rather than the book, is thrown at it.
On the field, Chelsea is well-disciplined, plays good football and has players such as Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Damien Duff who personify all that is good in football.
Off the field there is an arrogance that comes with being owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich which proves that while money can buy many things, it cannot buy class.
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