Sweet victory for Wenger as 12-match ban is quashed

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The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger yesterday won his appeal against a 12-match touchline ban for violent and threatening behaviour towards a fourth official - but was still fined £10,000 and reprimanded by the Football Association.

The compromise decision at a two-day FA re-hearing cleared Wenger of the main charge but found him guilty of a lesser, catch-all misconduct charge.

Question marks were left hanging over the original decision to implement the FA’s new disciplinary crackdown with such a heavy ban and a fine of four weeks’ wages.

However, the U-turn was effectively also a huge slap in the face for fourth official Paul Taylor, who had claimed that Wenger physically intimidated him while he was in the tunnel at the Stadium of Light last August.

Taylor himself faces an FA misconduct hearing next Tuesday, when he will be thrown off the national referees list if he is found guilty of verbally abusing a Notts County player during a game last October.

While Taylor is innocent until proven guilty, Wenger’s legal team, including two barristers, will surely have tried to discredit the official’s evidence, with three Arsenal players also called as witnesses.

Wenger expressed his relief at having been given a reprimand and a 10,000 fine, admitting that having been originally found guilty of such a serious charge was "terrible".

But he did admit slight regret at having incurred the first disciplinary blemish of his 18-year managerial career, even if the decision was a major victory for the Frenchman.

The case followed a tunnel incident involving Thierry Henry and Darren Williams after the opening game of the season at Sunderland, when Patrick Vieira was sent off late on for a clash with Williams.

Fourth official Taylor, who was operating for the first time in the Premiership, reported Wenger for shoving him as he intervened in the dispute.

The Frenchman admitted that he laid hands on Taylor but insisted he was only trying to break up the incident.

The FA nevertheless backed Taylor’s version of events and found Wenger guilty.

Just four days later, Taylor was alleged to have let loose a barrage of abuse at Notts County’s Sean Farrell while refereeing a second division game against Wigan.

And while Wenger probably did not take the case seriously enough first time around, with no legal team and no witnesses, this time he called in David Seaman, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.

With only Sunderland’s Williams backing up Taylor, the independent appeal panel, of barrister Charles Hollander QC, FA chairman Geoff Thompson and FA board member Ray Kiddell unanimously reached a new conclusion.

After several hours’ deliberation, they effectively took the view that the letter of the law was applied too strictly in the first hearing, which was the first time that the FA’s rigid new guidelines had been tested out.

The clause in question referred to at least a 12-match ban simply for "physical contact with a match official such as jostling or holding".

Wenger declared: "The fact that I was charged with improper conduct means, of course, that my reaction was maybe a bit too big.

"But the fact that I only got a reprimand means that the FA recognised that despite making contact with Taylor, my intention was clear and right. That is important for me.

"I would not like to go into detail as to what happened in the tunnel. I just wanted to avoid any violence.

"When you get a 12-match ban and you have my clean disciplinary record, you have to look at why you got such a ban. That was terrible for me and put me in a guilty position towards my club.

"I was determined to defend my case and it was stressful for everyone. But the most important thing is that I’ve got this out of the way."

Wenger added: "I don’t think the FA will have to look again at the rules. I was just charged with something I didn’t do and could defend my case much better this time."

As to the first disciplinary blemish of his managerial career, he admitted: "That’s the sad thing, that I have not been completely cleared."

Arsenal will pay the costs of the appeal board re-hearing, with vice-chairman David Dein, who had labelled the original sentence as a "gross injustice", believing that "new evidence" had been crucial.

Dein, who is also vice-chairman of the FA, declared: "It would have been a body-blow had Arsene not been available on the touchline, whether it had been for 12 matches or whatever."

An FA spokesman said: "It is not appropriate for us to make any comment on the outcome of the appeal board except to underline our determination to ensure that the new disciplinary process is fair and independent."

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