LONDON — A penny for Lee Bowyer’s thoughts as he watched the pitch brawl at the end of England’s 40-3 rugby union victory over Samoa at Twickenham last weekend would be money well spent.

Christopher Davies

Not only that, Bowyer needs every penny he can get.

Next month the Newcastle midfielder is set to stand trial under section four of the Public Order Act for his part in a “handbags fisticuffs” with teammate Kieron Dyer eight months ago that lasted about five seconds.

While Bowyer’s previous actions on and off the pitch will lose him any real sympathy vote, what he did was nothing compared to the haymakers Lewis Moody and his Leicester Tigers teammate Alesana Tuilagi landed on each other before being sent off at the end of the rugby union international between England and Samoa last Saturday.

Lewis was handed a nine-week suspension and Tuilagi six weeks.

Bowyer, whose court summons said he used “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior intending that someone would believe violence would be used against them,” was banned for seven games and fined a total of around £300,000 by Newcastle and the Football Association.

Northumbria police launched an investigation into the incident involving Bowyer and Dyer after a member of the public expressed “concerns.”

Presumably no one at Twickenham was concerned by the far uglier punch-up at the end of the rugby union international when a few other players got away with behavior just as bad as that of Moody and Tuilagi. It would be difficult going on impossible for the authorities to satisfactorily justify to most the police action against Bowyer and the lack of it against Moody and Tuilagi.

While accepting rugby is a far more physical game containing within-the-laws challenges that make armchair fans wince, when players fight and are sent off it ceases to be part of the sport.

Duncan Ferguson, the Everton striker, spent six weeks in jail after, as a Glasgow Rangers player, he head-butted John McStay of Raith Rovers during a game in 1995.

Bowyer’s punishment was disproportionate to his crime — Dyer received no fine and only a three-match suspension — and if he ends up with another addition to his criminal record he can be excused for believing it is tantamount to victimization.

The problem with any pro-Bowyer argument is that he is far more a sinner than sinned against.

Nine years ago he was found guilty of assault and fined £4,500 after an incident in a McDonald’s restaurant when he called a member of staff “a Paki” though to the surprise of most, the magistrate did not deem it a racially motivated attack.

Shamsul Mia, a Bangladeshi, served Bowyer with a cheeseburger, but the player threw it away saying he wasn’t going to be served by “a Paki,” demanding another cheeseburger which was to be served by a white person.

Bowyer then began throwing chairs at Shamsul which ultimately cost Bowyer, who was with Charlton at the time, three weeks’ wages.

In 2001, Bowyer was charged with affray and causing grievous bodily harm following a vicious attack on Asian student Sarfrez Najeib who sustained a broken leg, but the player was cleared at Hull Crown Court. However, the judge branded Bowyer “a liar” and ordered him to pay his own costs of around £1 million.

Earlier this week, Bowyer agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Sarfrez, the payout, according to one newspaper report £170,000. Bowyer’s solicitors Barker Gillette also confirmed a cash settlement had been agreed to with Sarfrez’s brother Shahzad.

The player’s lawyers said: “We confirm that Lee Bowyer has agreed to pay a sum of money to Mr. Sarfraz and Mr. Shahzad Najeib in full and final settlement of all claims made by them and arising out of the incident in Leeds city center as long ago as January 2000. This payment is made without any admission of liability by Lee, who has maintained consistently throughout two criminal trials and still maintains that he had no part in the infliction of any injuries sustained by Mr. Sarfraz and Mr. Shahzad Najeib.

“The payment made is substantially less than claimed and is made in recognition of the simple fact that should he have to prove his innocence once again, the legal costs he would incur would be far greater and would not be recovered even if he defeated the claim once again.

“Additionally, the disruption to his private and professional life, and the lives of many others who will once again have to re-live the events of five years ago, is something that any reasonable person would want to avoid.”

So for all the inconsistency of his arrest for the Dyer incident, Bowyer, who was also banned after stomping on the chest of an opponent, has enough on his cv for him to become an outstanding candidate for the Premiership’s least popular player.

For good measure, Bowyer also faces a court appearance for allegedly driving at 112 mph (180 kph) in a 70-mph (112-kph) zone.

At the same time, and with the heaviest of hearts, it is hard not to believe his scheduled court appearance early in the New Year is a waste of taxpayers’ money and that far worse outbreaks of violence, notably on rugby pitches, have gone unpunished.

IT IS not so much the Group of Death as the Group of Dearth in which Manchester United’s Champions League future will be decided next Wednesday.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson calls it “squeaky bum time” as United travel to Lisbon in search of the win over Benfica it needs to guarantee a place in the knockout stages of European football’s premier club competition.

The 10 matches in Group D — the Group of Defense would also be apt — have produced just eight goals with six goalless draws.

FC Porto, bottom of Group H, has still managed to score eight goals in its five games to date.

Arsenal, the only team with a perfect record, will attempt to make it six wins out of six when Sparta Prague visits Highbury, while Chelsea and Liverpool battle it out in the English derby to determine which finishes top of Group G.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho questions the value of the seeding, which means you do not play another side finishing first, that goes with first place.

Last season, Chelsea topped its group and was then drawn against Barcelona. Among this season’s second-place teams will be Real Madrid and either Juventus or Bayern Munich, while the top seeds could include PSV Eindhoven or Lille.

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