Arsenal Not the Only Ones Turned off by TV Trial

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID MELLOR

TRIAL by television is never a pretty sight, nor a fair thing, and Newsnight's piece on Arsenal over their involvement with a small Belgian club, Beveren, conformed to type.

It was a show trial with one missing link. A proper charge. Rules were said to have been broken by Arsenal's admitted payment of [pounds sterling]1million to the Belgian minnows.

What rules? There is a FIFA rule that says there cannot be common ownership of more than one club in the same competition. Unlike most of FIFA's regulations, eminently sensible.

But the question Newsnight never asked is what are the chances of little Beveren, who avoided relegation with practically the last kick of the season, ever being in the same competition as the Gunners.

And the reason Newsnight didn't ask it is because the prospects of Beveren getting into the Champions League are about the same as you and me being struck by a meteorite.

The fact this was a show trial became obvious to me almost at the outset.

Labour MP Clive Betts, apparently an expert on football as well as rent boys, played it the Newsnight way. I didn't, so when I appeared on the programme I barely got a sentence out in one of my answers, before presenter Kirsty Wark turned away to look longingly at Mr Betts.

Speaking up for the accused wasn't the done thing.

Anyway, my Chelsea friends say, why defend Arsenal? And it's true, the Gunners have been so sanctimonious about alleged breaches of the rules by others, they can hardly wonder that some diehards of other persuasions are only too happy to imagine them up to their necks in the sewage.

But my duty here is to be objective; to look further at what's right for our game overall. And that's what I tried to do.

Which means pointing out the selfevident truth that our rules on young players from outside the EU are unnecessarily restrictive.

The Premiership is an international brand, watched all over the world, not least because whatever country you hail from, one of your nationals will be playing somewhere in it.

Why, given we're supposed to be in a single market, can an 18-year-old Ivorian play in Belgium but not in England? Unless of course he has amassed so many full international caps he would have to have started playing for his country when he was 12!

EVEN football is, to some extent, subject to the laws of economics. And if you can get an 18-year-old for nothing, what's wrong with doing so, when if you wait until he's 22 you may have to pay [pounds sterling]10m-[pounds sterling]15m for him.

It doesn't make sense, so no wonder Arsenal took an interest in Beveren's Ivorians. Just as Manchester United have an involvement with another Belgium side Antwerp.

All the way through this over-egged Newsnight pudding, I kept asking myself the question - where's the crime?

Unless it be to bring on young African footballers so that the Ivory Coast can now make a decent challenge for the World Cup.

What's wrong with trying to find a talented teenager to pay 30 grand a week?

FIFA have asked the FA Compliance Unit to look into this. Which is as good as burying the whole thing. Which, unusually for me, I have to say is exactly what should happen.

Stevie could be FA's handyman *STEVEN GERRARD has revealed he a suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder: he washes his hands up to 15 times a day.

Let's look on the bright side. This makes him a prime candidate for a job at the Football Association after he hangs up his boots, because they wash their hands of everything.

*WORLD CUP referees have been ordered to crack down on diving, which makes it such a shame Jurgen Klinsmann is coaching the hosts, not still playing for them. You had only to brush past the TV, and Klinsmann would fall over. Under these new rules, he'd never have finished a match.

More proof that fans must be protected abroad *FOLLOWING my piece about crowd safety last week, my good friend John Greenway MP, a former policeman and long-serving member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has sent me a letter of complaint he made after having some of the same experiences at the Stade de France as I reported.

At John's turnstile, 4,000 people were individually searched, so it took him an hour to move 15metres. All the while, the build-up of supporters became more intense, so that, he writes: "It was extremely fortunate no one was badly injured."

John also confirmed how congested the walkways around the stadium became, a problem made worse when riot police decided to charge the crowd with their riot shields to allow a police vehicle through, when most of the supporters couldn't move.

He calls that 'an unnecessary provocation which could have resulted in serious injuries and/or violence'.

John has called on the Football Association to make urgent representations to FIFA to review admission arrangements for the World Cup in order to ensure they don't put supporters at unnecessary risk.

His summing up of the Paris situation will strike a chord with anyone who has suffered the indignities of continental police forces declaring open season on England fans, with, let it be said, and to their shame, the warm assent of many football writers.

He concludes: "It saddens me in this day and age people attending a major football match with wives and children should suffer such indignities. The scenes were reminiscent of pre-Hillsborough pay-at-the-turnstile crowd problems which I hoped had long gone."

And what have the Football Association done to action his wise words?

Answer: (predictably) sweet FA.

Sven's men can't live up to the hype *ACCEPTING the best you can ever do against poor opponents is to beat them, I still sense a lot of artificial euphoria about England's 6-0 thrashing of Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz often looked little better than a pub team.

If it gives Peter Crouch confidence, so much the better. But his recent England strikes, welcome as they are, seem to be better evidence of form than of class.

Shrewder brains here than me will be analysing in detail the Paraguay game, but I can't help wondering if this wouldn't be a good opportunity to blood Michael Carrick in the holding role.

Edgar Davids, who is far from a rentaquote, suggested this week Carrick could do a very good job, and that's an opinion Sven-Goran Eriksson could usefully act upon.

Otherwise behind all the hype, the reality is that two of England's best players are either injured or struggling; Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen. And however much players like Rio Ferdinand talk up our chances, that won't stop Rio going AWOL at a crucial moment, because that's his nature.

Mystic Mellor suggests we travel hopefully, without necessarily expecting to arrive at any destination beyond the quarterfinals.

Art lovers: Chelsea need you *RICK GLANVILLE, Chelsea's indefatigable historian, is writing a pictorial history of the club and has unearthed some real treasures; a 1907 England cap awarded to George 'Gatling Gun' Hilsdon, Chelsea's first England international, for instance, and a 1905 club founder's medal displaying the arms of the Borough of Chelsea, even though Stamford Bridge is in Fulham!

But for him the holy grail is Charles Cundall's painting of 'Chelsea v Arsenal at Stamford Bridge: 1935', a game that attracted Chelsea's biggest official crowd - 82,905.

Cundall was a considerable artist, linked to the area through his membership of the Chelsea Arts Club. The picture was exhibited with great success at the Royal Academy in 1938, since when it has disappeared.

Rick has located Cundall's daughter, who says he was a real fan and regularly rolled down to the Bridge after a few snifters at the Arts Club.

She knows a lot about her dad, but about the picture and its fate - nothing.

Rigorous searches of the nation's art archives and galleries have yielded nothing, so, readers, over to you. If you know where the original is, or may be, please contact Rick on rick.glanville@zen.co.uk