BELLS, Sarfraz smells, Woodgate got affray. Oh what fun it is to see Bowyer get
is the chant from Leeds United fans at Elland Road, and they have it about right.
Football Association need not and should not set down hard and fast
rules governing the national team eligibility of footballers who have
been hauled into court on criminal charges for off-the-pitch conduct.
Only a case-by-case approach, taking into account the peculiar
facts of the case at hand, affords the flexibility required
to assure that the ultimate decision at once reflects fair treatment
of the footballer and adequate protection of the integrity and
reputation of the national team.
the integrity and reputation of the national team are at
stake. Insistence that footballers must behave
impeccably because they are role models for the young is both
unrealistic and absurd. Far better that the young look to those
they know for guidance in their behaviour and that they learn that
footballers are not idols to be imitated, but real people with real
problems, like the rest of us despite the talent, fame and fortune
that are uniquely theirs. Yet representing England on the field
of play remains a great honour, even in an age when values are jaded
and cynicism rules. It should be regarded as just that--a great
honour--by the men who play for England and by those who select the
men who play for England, indeed, by the football establishment in
general and the football-viewing public at large. It is a matter
concerning the reputation, as well as the integrity, of English
football if only because the mass media throughout the world
exhaustively report the proceedings against footballers charged with
should be done about footballers pending their trial on criminal
claim that the F.A. treated Lee Bowyer and Jonathon Woodgate unfairly
because it barred them from playing for England before their trial on
charges of thuggery is
false. The presumption of innocence is a legal doctrine that
binds only the criminal justice system. The pendency of criminal
charges means that duly appointed law enforcement authorities have
determined there is
probable cause to believe the accused is guilty of the charged
offence, and it always has been sufficient ground for refusing employment or office.
it is a legitimate ground for refusal to confer an honour.
Footballers do not have a right to play for England; that is a
discretionary privilege conferred on those deserving the honour. The F.A. was entirely within its rights in refusing to confer
the honour of selection for England on two players facing serious
criminal charges. It is the F.A.'s duty to protect
the integrity and the reputation of English football.
the F.A. should bar a player charged with crime from playing for
England depends on the circumstances of the case.
There are cases and there are cases.
When Bobby Moore was detained in Colombia on a trumped-up
shoplifting charge obviously brought to disrupt the England team’s
preparations for the World Cup 1970 final tournament in Mexico, it
would have been perverse to suspend him pending disposition of the
charge. On the other
hand, when serious criminal charges involving violent conduct are
brought against footballers, the F.A. should not allow them
to represent England on the field of play.
Plainly the F.A. must retain the discretion to look at the
legitimacy and the seriousness of the charges before it decides
whether suspension is warranted.
about fair treatment for footballers are easily resolved.
When the F.A. makes a preliminary determination that suspension from national team
eligibility is appropriate, it should issue an order commanding the
footballer to show cause why he should not be suspended at a hearing
presided over by an independent hearing officer of suitable
footballer then has a choice. If
he wishes to contest the suspension ahead of his criminal trial, he
may do so. If he decides not to—and, as we shall see, he may not want
to—then the suspension goes into effect.
In either event, fairness is served because the footballer has
been given the opportunity to contest the basis for the suspension at
should be done about footballers after their acquittal of criminal
claim that the criminal jury that acquitted Lee Bowyer found him
innocent is false. The
jury decided only that Bowyer's guilt had not been proven beyond
a reasonable doubt. It found him not guilty; it did not
find him innocent. There is a big difference between the
two. That is why the criminal trial verdict of not guilty does
not preclude the civil suit the victims and their families are
bringing against Bowyer (as well as Woodgate, who was found
guilty of affray). There
may be cases in which the F.A. should continue to impose suspension
from eligibility for the national team even after acquittal.
the F.A. and Leeds United did Bowyer and Woodgate a huge favour by
letting the questions of further suspension from the national side and
their standing at the club ride on the outcome of the criminal trial rather
than conducting independent inquiries and hearings themselves.
That gave Bowyer and Woodgate huge advantages they would
not have enjoyed in a football disciplinary hearing, among them a
requirement that their responsibility be shown by proof beyond a
reasonable doubt, the most severe standard of proof there is, and the
right to trial
by a jury drawn from a community that undoubtedly included large
numbers of football fans more concerned about protecting popular
footballers and a popular football team than seeing justice done.
the F.A. banned Woodgate and Bowyer from the England team pending
disposition of the criminal charges, they could
have demanded that the F.A. give them a hearing. They did
not do so. The reason is
that that course would have had their responsibility for the thuggery
decided by a lesser standard of proof, proof by a mere preponderance
of the evidence, and by a decision-maker perhaps not as prone to bias.
It is a safe bet their lawyers considered asking for a hearing and
decided not to. No competent lawyer would advise a client to subject himself to
that kind of a hearing ahead of a criminal trial if there is any
risk of an adverse decision—and there nearly always will be such a
risk when law enforcement authorities have decided the evidence warrants
institution of criminal charges
Footballers facing criminal charges will rarely ask the F.A.
for a hearing.
football establishment—both the F.A. and the clubs—shirk their
responsibility if they shunt the decision as to whether footballers
should be disciplined or banned off to the criminal justice system.
That system is designed to decide whether imprisonment is
warranted, and because liberty is at stake, its fact-determination
mechanisms are heavily weighted in the accused’s favour.
An acquittal does not indicate that the accused footballer did
not in fact commit the conduct with which he was charged.
the football establishment truly wishes to ensure that footballers who
have committed the vilest sort of conduct do not represent club or
country on the field of play, it must not shirk its own responsibility to conduct its own inquiries and to make its own
factual determinations. The F.A. should preserve the option of continuing a ban from
national team selection even after acquittal if the circumstances
warrant it. Again,
footballers should be given the opportunity to show at a hearing that
continued suspension is not warranted.
The football establishment collectively abandoned its
responsibility in the Bowyer/Woodgate affair.
It shifted all factual inquiries and determinations to the
criminal justice system and let the criminal justice system’s
determinations control football decisions.
The haste with which the F.A. reinstated Bowyer’s national
team eligibility—within a couple of hours of his acquittal—was
unseemly. And Leeds
United’s response—the award of generous new contracts to both
Bowyer and Woodgate within days of the jury’s verdict—was so
ghastly that one is tempted to conclude that football is too removed
from the real world to be capable of recognizing what is right and
what is wrong.
should be done about footballers after their conviction of criminal
it depends on the circumstances.
on some minor offences may not warrant any sort of suspension from
national team eligibility. And
even if some sort of suspension is warranted, there must be room for
rehabilitation and forgiveness. Tony
Adams, for one, served time for drink driving and returned to serve
his country admirably, as both player and captain.
Even those who have committed much more serious offences might
eventually deserve reinstatement.
Of course, rehabilitation and forgiveness require considerably more than lip
service to remorse and apology. There has been nothing more
than lip service, if that, in the Bowyer/Woodgate travesty.
England team may suffer from the continued absence of Bowyer and/or
Woodgate. But that is the cost of the football establishment's failure to
take measures that make it
plain that it will not tolerate criminal conduct by footballers, and
it must be paid to prevent further harm.