FOOTBALL’S collective determination to remove the blight of spitting from the sport saw summary justice delivered yesterday to Lorenzo Amoruso and El Hadji Diouf, its two most recent high profile offenders.
Amoruso, the Rangers defender, and Liverpool striker Diouf were both banned for two matches by the SFA and UEFA respectively for their violations of common decency in separate matches involving the Old Firm.
In addition to his two-match suspension, Amoruso incurs 12 points to his SFA disciplinary tally after being found guilty at a Hampden hearing yesterday of spitting at Ayr United’s James Grady during the Tennent’s Scottish Cup fourth-round tie at Somerset Park on 22 February. It takes the Italian over the 18-point threshold to earn a further two-game ban.
Rangers declined the right to appeal the decision, meaning Amoruso will miss tonight’s Premierleague fixture against Motherwell at Ibrox, Sunday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at Dunfermline and then the final two Premierleague matches before the split, at home to Partick Thistle on 5 April and at Dundee United on 13 April.
Diouf, the Senegalese international who spat at Celtic supporters during last week’s UEFA Cup quarter-final, first leg tie at Parkhead, received his two-match ban from UEFA’s control and disciplinary body in Nyon.
He misses tomorrow’s second leg at Anfield, a match his manager Gerard Houllier had already stated he would not be considered for, and will also be unavailable for the first leg of the semi-final should Liverpool progress.
It appears Liverpool’s swift action in fining their player the maximum of two weeks’ wages, donating the sum to a charity of Celtic’s choice and issuing a full public apology spared Diouf a harsher sentence from UEFA.
European football’s governing body is especially keen to come down hard on spitting. It recently banned Celta Vigo’s French midfielder Peter Luccin for four games for such an offence against Celtic striker John Hartson during the clubs’ UEFA Cup third-round tie.
Amoruso, who had pleaded his innocence in the incident with Grady, made a personal appearance in front of the SFA’s disciplinary committee. His case had been referred to them by the SFA’s video review panel, who decided Amoruso did have a case to answer.
The player, who had been involved in a running battle with the striker during a tie which Rangers edged 1-0, claimed he had been clearing his throat when the Ayr forward ran past him. Amoruso later added that Grady had called him "an Italian bastard" during the match and, in a remarkable TV interview immediately after Rangers’ match at Livingston the following week, claimed everyone knew his opponent was "a crazy Celtic fan".
Those remarks were referred to the SFA’s general purposes committee but, it is understood, will not now be pursued.
Amoruso left yesterday’s Hampden hearing by a side exit to avoid reporters, and was driven away by Rangers’ security officer Laurence McIntyre. He had failed to convince the committee, who also reviewed the TV evidence, that he did not intentionally spit at Grady.
Had Rangers appealed the decision, the suspension would have been placed in abeyance until the appeals committee sat, allowing Amoruso to play against Motherwell tonight and Dunfermline on Sunday. However, manager Alex McLeish’s decision not to contest the ruling is understandable, even allowing for his injury problems in defence which sees both Arthur Numan and Jerome Bonnissel unavailable for selection.
By allowing the suspension to start immediately, Amoruso misses league games against the three bottom-placed clubs and will be back in time for the final Old Firm league meeting of the season, which could be the first match after the split.
"There will be no appeal," said McLeish. "It is a major blow to lose Lorenzo Amoruso at this stage of the season."
Grady, who publicly condemned Amoruso after the incident, expressed his satisfaction with the outcome of the SFA’s deliberations. "It is done and dusted now," said the Ayr player. "The powers that be have had a look at the TV evidence and it is up to them to make a decision, but I think they have made the right one."
Celtic’s sense that justice has been done in Diouf’s case, meanwhile, was tempered somewhat by UEFA’s additional decision to fine the Scottish champions 2,300 "for the conduct of their supporters" during the incident.
Two Celtic supporters attempted to enter the pitch to remonstrate with Diouf after he spat in the direction of a group of spectators he had fallen into while chasing a loose ball. Diouf was vigorously patted on the head by one fan as he climbed back on to the pitch, an action interpreted by UEFA yesterday as "provocative behaviour" and a "mitigating circumstance".
However, Celtic chief executive Ian McLeod was stunned by the fine.
"The television evidence clearly indicates any contact made with El Hadji Diouf by Celtic supporters was in nothing other than a friendly manner," he said. "We find it astonishing that UEFA should see it otherwise, particularly given that the player has apologised unreservedly for his actions and that Liverpool have donated 30,000 to the Celtic Charity Fund as a welcome gesture of goodwill immediately following the incident."