silky defender takes plaudits



silky defender takes plaudits
may be apocryphal, but it
does accurately reflect the
nature of the relationship
between player and referee. A
few seasons ago, a huge,
bruising Wales forward was
heard via the referee’s radio
link during a match
apologising thus for a
misdemeanour: “Yes, sir.
Sorry, sir. Yes, sir.” The player
knows that the referee’s
decision is final and any
backchat ends with the
penalty being moved ten
yards farther up the field.
It will not have taken you
long to work out that we are
not talking about football
here. Rugby referees do not
have to put up with the
foul-mouthed abuse that their
footballing counterparts
endure simply because the
players know that they would
not get away with it.
Accordingly, whatever the
nefarious deeds being
committed at the bottom of
rucks and mauls — and they
are from time to time —
rugby does not suffer from
the problem of a complete
lack of respect for the
officials, so the next
generation are not
bombarded with negative
Graham Poll got so much
right in the recent match
involving Arsenal and
Manchester United, but the
question remains, why didn’t
he send Wayne Rooney off
when, having booked him,
the United player then swore
at him in such a way that
even the worst lip-reader
knew what the teenager was
on about? Roy Keane’s Kofi
Annan impersonation seemed
to talk the referee out of
showing a red card.
But this incident
underlines perfectly the case
for the sin-bin in football.
Last week, the magazine,
Shoot, whose
question-and-answer sessions
(favourite band: ELO,
favourite food: spaghetti
bolognese) with luminaries
such as Mike Pejic (great
hair, even better sideburns)
were such a part of my
growing up, asked me what I
thought of the sin-bin and I
think that it is something that
football can definitely borrow
from rugby.
In this case, having
booked Rooney and then
been subjected to the verbal
assault, Poll would have been
able to say: “Sin-bin ten
minutes. Go and calm down.”
Referees need
more flexibility,
says MARK
NICK SZCZEPANIK speaks to the barrister who made the
headlines for winning a crunch challenge with Roy Keane
The opposition would gain a
temporary numerical
advantage commensurate
with the player’s offence and
the game, and therefore the
entertainment, would not be
permanently ruined for those
who had paid good money.
The rules say that foul and
abusive language warrants a
red card, but let’s be realistic.
Every match would end up
six a side if referees stuck to
the letter of the law. The
sin-bin system would at least
give the referee, whose job is
hard enough as it is, some
flexibility. Also, it is difficult
for a referee to distinguish
between a player swearing in
his vicinity and not
necessarily at him (when the
player runs away after a
decision is given against him,
for example) and a player
clearly abusing the referee to
his face (as Rooney was).
Much as we would love to see
swearing eradicated from the
game, we cannot reinvent the
wheel here. Rugby can
occupy the high moral
ground on this one.
The sin-bin could also be
used at the referee’s
discretion when a player on a
yellow card commits a second
bookable offence that is not
that serious in the great
scheme of things, such as
deliberate handball in the
centre circle. The punishment
would better fit the crime
and, again, the game would
not be ruined.
In the recent RBS Six
Nations Championship
match, Gareth Thomas, the
Wales captain, was harshly
sent to the sin-bin for roughly
pushing an England player,
but if it makes Thomas stop
and think in a similar
situation in the future, it will
have been worth it.
Footballers get away with
so much these days that
referees need all the tools
they can use to keep a lid on
things. Let’s give them the
are appreciated by Marcel Desailly, Graeme Le
Saux and many other top players that he has
got out of a spot of bother. And when he goes
on the attack, even Roy Keane and Martin
Keown have been known to come off worse.
However, the chances are that you have never
seen him on a football pitch — unless, that is,
you are a follower of Gray’s Inn FC in the
London Legal League.
Sturman is a barrister on the London criminal circuit who also defends, and sometimes
prosecutes, players and clubs at FA and Uefa
disciplinary hearings. As the game begins to
become more heavily involved in litigation, the
need for professional representation rather
than the manager going along to help out — or
perhaps make matters worse — has become obvious to clubs who cannot afford to lose the services of their star defender through suspension.
And once the FA started to lose cases to clubs
that could afford top silks, it realised that it
needed to think about QCs as well as QPR.
“The first player I represented was Graeme
Le Saux, for an incident with Robbie Fowler,”
Sturman said. “He admitted he was guilty and it
was damage limitation, putting forward his side
of the story as forcefully as possible. He got a
two-game ban that could have been five games.
On the way, the then chief executive was saying
‘I don’t understand why we’re using a lawyer’.
On the way back, he said it was the best idea
he’d ever had.
“The first case I prosecuted was the Roy
Keane autobiography for the FA — they
instructed me after I’d won six cases against
them. The level of interest was truly unbelievable. The News Of The World had my chambers
photograph and the headline ‘Top murder QC
to prosecute Roy Keane’. It was a complete
shock. A friend told me I’d been described on
Radio 5 Live as ‘the FA’s very scary QC’.”
Being singled out as scary when in the same
of competition for places
in a team composed of
players who could have
done with Jim Sturman’s
help in their brushes with
the law. In goal, Rene
Higuita would be a good
choice, after serving six
months in prison for trying
to negotiate a ransom in a
kidnapping case in the
1980s. He was released
to play for Colombia in the
1994 World Cup.
Tony Adams, who drove
his car into a pizza
restaurant, could marshal
the back three alongside
another former Arsenal
man, Peter Storey, who
has serious form. Storey
was jailed for running a
brothel, head-butting a
lollipop man and selling
fake coins. Jonathan
Woodgate got community
service for affray so lacks
experience in this
company, but the older
lags would keep him on
the straight and narrow.
If the prisons are
packed, so is the midfield.
Jamie Lawrence, of
Brentford, and Ricky Otto,
once of Birmingham City,
have the firepower
expected from reformed
armed robbers, although it
would be best not to use
Jan Molby, the former
Liverpool player jailed for
driving offences, to pilot
any getaway car. Better to
make money legitimately
— and not in the style of
Mickey Thomas, once of
Manchester United and
Everton, whose forged
banknotes led to a spell in
chokey. Stig Tofting, the
former Bolton Wanderers
enforcer who roughed up
two restaurant workers on
his way to the clink,
completes the group.
Up front, there are no
ifs and buts. Well, maybe
a butt. Duncan Ferguson
spent 44 days in Barlinnie
for being on nodding
terms with a Raith Rovers
defender while with
Rangers. He could be
joined by Eric Cantona,
another community
service man but with
enough attitude to do
himself justice.
room as Keane is the height of backhanded
compliments, but Sturman is in no danger of
getting carried away with the importance of his
football work. “Many years ago we defended Colin Stagg, the man accused of the Rachel Nickell murder, and battled and battled for a year before finally winning his case after thousands of
hours of work, days and days of pressure. The ultimate irony is that you got a hell of a lot more
acknowledgement for the Roy Keane autobiography, and as a lawyer that teaches you to keep
it all in proportion. It’s important and enjoyable
work, but loss of liberty is never an issue.”
The reason for the increase in his footballrelated workload, he believes, is the expansion
in the television scrutiny of events. As an example, he cites an off-the-ball incident between
Kolo Touré, the Arsenal defender, and Alan
Shearer, the Newcastle United forward, in the
recent Barclays Premiership match at Highbury, which led to a suspension for Touré .
“If you were his representative and you were
watching that, you’d think ‘start drafting now,
because that is going to be picked up on’. Now
that the authorities act more quickly, it makes
for more pressure. You drop everything and you
are working until the early hours of the morning. There are very tight deadlines, so the work
is demanding, but you’ve got to respond. I’ve
got a set of the rules in my car, a set at home, a
set in chambers, and I expect my mobile to ring
on a Monday — or a Sunday, or Thursday
depending on when the game was.
“Charges are following every week when
charges used to be exceptional. How many
charges would there have been from the
Chelsea-Leeds Cup Finals of 1970? I think
sometimes a minor incident can be picked up
on that would have been unremarked on a few
years ago, and by the time Monday comes
around, it has been shown 25 times and it will
lead to a charge.
“Now there are more lawyers involved
because there is more reviewing of videos on
Monday morning, in the same way that there
are affray trials and more work for members of
the bar because CCTV can identify people fighting in city centres. But if the referee’s decision
isn’t going to be final, it shouldn’t be final on
everything. If they’re going to use video evidence to charge a player, then why not use it to
decide whether a ball has crossed the goalline?
But I would say that, as a Spurs fan.”
Sturman’s own very strong loyalty to Tottenham Hotspur has been noted by supporters of
other clubs, particularly their North London
rivals. “When I prosecuted Arsenal after the
‘Battle of Old Trafford’, an Arsenal fanzine [The
Gooner] said there was a conflict of interest, but
there isn’t. You come to it as a lawyer.
“Although when I was prosecuting Roy
Keane over his autobiography, in which he said
that he supported Spurs as a boy, I found myself
standing next to him in the gents during a rest
break. I said, ‘I enjoyed your book. If I’d realised
you were a Spurs fan, I might have felt
conflicted.’ He laughed.
“Barristers are basically hired guns. Having
said that, if I have defended a player, I wouldn’t
feel comfortable prosecuting a team-mate of
that player. That might appear to be a conflict
of interest, and I wouldn’t accept the instruction. I’m acting for Millwall at the moment, so I
will never appear against them.”
Could he find himself representing a referee
The wig
match: the
finds plenty
of work in
these days
as litigation
has become
a regular
fixture of a
sport that
sustains a
media focus
and whose
huge wages
if one decided to sue for libel or slander against
a player or manager? After all, a certain
high-profile player called a linesman a “f******
cheating ****” a few weeks ago.
“I can see myself representing a referee,” he
said. “Although I can tell you they don’t like
being cross-examined; I have done that a few
times over the years. I’ve represented players in
libel actions against newspapers, and there
would be nothing to stop a referee bringing an
action against a player or manager who said
something that was unjustifiable, but then you
have the defence of justification or fair comment. I can foresee it happening with certain
referees, but it would have to be pretty extreme.
You have to have broad shoulders. I didn’t ask
The Gooner for a correction.”
Sturman’s services are not, however, only
available to the wealthiest of players and clubs.
“I do pro bono cases [without charging]. I did
AFC Wimbledon last year on a charge of failing
‘By Monday
the incident
will have
been shown
25 times’
to control their players, and Steve Evans of
Boston United’s appeal. Players are much easier
to deal with than people in, say, fraud cases. Often you need to calm a player down and explain
that ‘charged’ doesn’t mean ‘convicted’, but
generally they are a joy to work with and for.”
He recalls the words of Bill Shankly, the
legendary Liverpool manager, to the effect that
“football was not a matter of life or death — it
was more important than that”. From what he
says next, perhaps it is just as well for football
fans among the criminal fraternity that judges
no longer have the power to don the black cap.
“I was representing a Chelsea fan and all he
wanted to talk about was Marcel Desailly’s
appeal against his ban arising from the European Cup semi-final against Monaco. People in
prison would rather talk to me about football
cases than a matter that can affect their liberty
for ten years or possibly life. The power of
football is extraordinary.”
CHELSEA HAVE doubled their
support in the UK in six
months to nearly three
million fans, according to a
report published this week.
The European Football
Monitor, published by
communications research
company, found a significant
growth in the popularity of
the club since the arrival of
José Mourinho, the
Portuguese manager, from
FC Porto.
The surge coincides with a
new buzz around the West
London club caused by the
takeover by Roman
Abramovich in 2003. Chelsea
are favourites to win the
Barclays Premiership title this
season and are still in the
European Cup and Carling
However, Chelsea’s support
still lags behind that of
Liverpool, Arsenal and
Manchester United, according
to the survey of 15 to
69-year-olds with an interest
in televised football. Chelsea
are the ninth most-popular
club in Europe.
Real Madrid lead the table,
with 40 million followers.
United are second, with
19 million supporters, closely
followed by Barcelona and
continue to make their
antipathy towards Malcolm
Glazer’s proposed takeover
known to the American
billionaire’s advisers.
Besides receiving
mountains of faxes and
e-mails, senior bankers at
NM Rothschild have been
getting unsolicited Ann
Summers catalogues at
their homes.
The Manchester office of
Rothschild, founded in the
city in the 18th century,
was also stormed by a few
hundred supporters several
days ago. Seventeen fans,
piling into a lift with a
capacity of ten people, had
to be rescued by the fire
There should be no need
for firefighters at United
supporters’ next protest,
despite an abundance of
flames. The Not For Sale
Coalition is holding a
torchlit march to Old
Trafford before the
European Cup match
against AC Milan on
The protest will not stop
the Glazer family’s formal
offer of 300p a share for
the club as early as next
Borussia Dortmund, the
six-times German champions,
took their toll at the weekend
when the team were
trounced 5-0 by Bayern
Munich in the Bundesliga.
Roy Makaay, the Holland
forward, scored a hat-trick.
Dortmund, the only publicly
listed club in Germany,
revealed on Thursday that
their financial position is
“life-threatening” after
reporting a loss of
¤27.2 million (about
£18.8 million) for the first
half of the year.
The management further
disclosed that debts were
estimated to reach
¤134.7 million by the middle
of next year.
Dortmund were able to
reach a “standstill”
agreement with creditors on
Friday, which involves a debt
moratorium until the
2006-07 season and
short-term loans to cover
players’ wages.
However, there are
concerns that the club will
struggle to raise money
needed to buy back and
upgrade their stadium over
the next 18 months.
The Westfalen stadium,
which, with a capacity of
80,000, is Germany’s biggest,
is one of the 12 venues for
the 2006 World Cup. It is
scheduled to play host to six
Handelsblatt, the business
newspaper, reported that
Dortmund need ¤10 million
to survive the season. The
German football league could
revoke the club’s licence if
they cannot prove that they
are solvent.
talks of further developing
the Aston Villa youth
system because of a lack
of transfer funds, his
employers made their first
appearance in Deloitte’s
football money league for
five years. Villa are the
twentieth-richest club in
the world, according to the
report published last week,
based on 2003-04
accounts, with turnover of
£56 million.
The club’s position
among the elite has been
driven by their highest
average attendance
(36,600) for five seasons.
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