Dundee United midfielder Paul Paton has launched a fierce attack on the Scottish Football Association, accusing the governing body of victimising him because he has opted to play for Northern Ireland.
The midfielder has endured a troubled season but was restored to the starting line-up on Saturday as Dundee United defeated Aberdeen 2-1 to reach the final of the League Cup. Paton was forced to sit out two games over the festive period after being offered a two-match ban by the SFA compliance officer for spitting on Aberdeen player Jonny Hayes during a league fixture in December.
Paton did not accept the ban and was backed by Hayes. The Aberdeen player confirmed in a tweet that the United player had not spat at him in an incident towards the end of the game when Paton is seen standing over the grounded Hayes. While Paton has admitted verbally abusing Hayes, he was outraged by the accusation that he had spat on the player and has railed against the SFA for threatening to “kill” his season.
“I’ve got a young daughter,” said the 27-year-old. “To get put in that bracket of doing something so disgusting, it’s not right.”
A three-person independent judicial panel upheld the decision to ban him, and United were stunned to learn there was no route of appeal in the fast-track system. Paton missed the Premiership matches against Celtic and St Johnstone and while he returned to the starting line-up against St Mirren last month, he feared being left out of Saturday’s game after being dropped to the bench for the 3-1 win versus Motherwell seven days earlier.
His fears were allayed when manager Jackie McNamara named him in the side and Paton proceeded to play a significant part in United’s victory, sending in the ball that led to Nadir Ciftci’s 84th-minute winner. The victory provided some succour for Paton after a difficult few months and he was additionally relieved to avoid a booking that would have ruled him out of the final.
The midfielder was arrested in October for an alleged attack on Celtic goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska in an incident in a Glasgow street and was dropped and fined two weeks’ wages for breaching club rules.
Prior to this, he was among United’s best performers as the side made a strong start to the season, and was named the SPFL player of the month for September.
“I felt really aggrieved at getting suspended [by the SFA] for something that I never did and that’s really bugged me,” he said. “Since that I then took the opportunity to get a knee injection, just a minor injection, so that means I’ve only played twice in seven weeks, so there’s a lot of frustration there for myself.
“You have different allegations pointed against me,” he added. “You have to be big and strong and take that. To turn up again in another semi-final that I was happy with it shows everybody how mentally strong I am. To get suspended for something the two teams have never seen, the two managers have never seen, two sets of fans have never seen and everybody watching the video has never seen.
“For three guys who have never played football to sit there and say I did that, I’ll never forgive them for that. I don’t know if it’s maybe I chose to play for Northern Ireland. I don’t know what the script is, but I’m certainly not happy with that. I think it’s an absolute joke to be honest.”
Although the midfielder is from Paisley his father was born in Larne and Paton made the decision to opt to play for the country two years ago. While he has yet to feature for Michael O’Neill’s men he was named in a squad last year for a game against Cyprus and he believes the decision to snub Scotland could be behind his treatment by the SFA.
“Did you see the video? Everybody knows I never spat,” he said. “There must be some reason why they’ve held it against me.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he continued. “When it happened and it all came about, we actually went on our Christmas night out and I knew nothing of it at all. I didn’t even know there was an allegation. To then get back and get told I was looking at a ban I couldn’t believe it.
“I spoke to Jonny and even he said: ‘You never did it’. All the boys on the pitch, everybody knows I never did anything, so to get banned for that has put a stumbling block on my season.
“They just said that because it was a fast-track appeal there was no appeal, you couldn’t appeal. No matter what, there’s no appeals process for it. It was just ‘Do you want this ban, yes or no.’ We obviously said no and they said, ‘Well there’s no appeal’.
“It’s crazy,” he added. “For that to happen, for everybody to see that video, for everybody on the pitch, right in front of the dug-outs... that could have killed my season.”