Paul McGowan to wear electronic tag during games

DUDNEE are seeking clarification from football’s governing bodies about the practicalities of a player playing top-level football while wearing an electronic device after midfielder Paul McGowan was spared jail yesterday.

McGowan has been ordered to wear an electronic tag. Picture: SNS
McGowan has been ordered to wear an electronic tag. Picture: SNS

McGowan will be confined to his home from 7pm to 7am for the next 16 weeks after being placed under a restriction of liberty order following his third conviction for assaulting a police officer.

McGowan will not be able to take part in Dundee’s forthcoming games against Celtic because both kick off at 7:45pm. Next Wednesday’s clash is at Dens Park and was already scheduled when McGowan, accompanied by Dundee managing director John Nelms and team-mates James McPake and Jim McAlister, heard his sentence yesterday at Airdrie Sheriff Court.

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News that Dundee will also have to play Celtic on a Friday night emerged later when the top and bottom six fixtures were released by the Scottish Professional Football League. Dundee have been handed a trip to Celtic Park on 1 May in a game being shown live on Sky Sports.

The first match McGowan is available to play is against St Johnstone at Dens Park on 25 April, but the player will need to ensure he has returned home to Airdrie by 7pm on the day of the game.

He will also need to have his tag inspected by the referee before the match, providing he is selected for the first-team squad. Dundee yesterday confirmed they are standing by the player after his latest criminal conviction.

John Fleming, the Scottish Football Association’s head of referees, will speak with the Dens Park club in the coming days. It is understood that the referee involved will need to check the player’s electronic tag on a game-by-game basis to ensure there are no health and security issues.

Law 4 in the Laws of the Game states: “A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery)”.

There are precedents in English football. Ipswich Town defender Gary Croft became the first professional footballer to play in a league match with an electronic tag in 2000. He was tagged on his release from jail after serving one month of a four-month sentence for driving while disqualified, and perverting the course of justice.

As with McGowan, he had to obey a night-time curfew from 7pm until 7am and was ruled out of Ipswich’s evening games. More recently, Jermaine Pennant played in the English Premiership with a tag on his ankle while on loan at Birmingham City from Arsenal.

The winger had served 31 days of a three-month sentence for drink driving. Referee Howard Webb ruled he was fit to play against Tottenham Hotspur with the device strapped to his ankle.

Sheriff Derek O’Carroll’s decision to spare McGowan jail yesterday owed much to the player’s attempts to resolve gambling and alcohol issues which have dogged him for four years.

“He was not in any trouble from the age of 16 to 23,” said McGowan’s lawyer Liam O’Donnell. “At age 23 he separated from his partner. The reason he separated has been attributed to an underlying gambling problem.

“This gambling problem seems to be the root of his offending. When he takes alcohol his anger about the gambling problem seems to come out through aggression.”

O’Donnell revealed the former Celtic player was undergoing voluntary counselling each week through the Paisley-based RCA Trust, which helps people with alcohol and gambling addictions.

Dundee are supporting their player and released a statement yesterday confirming he was remaining at Dens Park, where he has enjoyed a successful season on the pitch.

“Dundee FC can confirm midfielder Paul McGowan has been handed a liberty restriction order in court this morning,” said the statement. “The club does not condone the behaviour which has led to this and wouldn’t from any member of our staff.

“We fully respect the decision made by the court and Dundee FC will be standing by the player. Paul is an integral part of the club and we will be working alongside the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] with him as he bids to positively resolve his off-the-field issues.

“With the support of the manager, his team-mates and club staff, we hope Paul will be able to move forward and be part of another successful season next year at Dens Park.”