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Friday, April 8, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Brawl with Dyer just the latest transgression by Bowyer


LONDON -- Sticking up for Lee Bowyer is like putting in a good word for Jack The Ripper.

Christopher Davies

The Newcastle United midfielder's fan club could hold its annual general meeting in a telephone box -- with room to spare -- and the player has an X-rated CV that many would consider stands for crude and vile.

The life and crimes of Lee Bowyer carry a parental guidance warning.

Bowyer was one of the first to fall foul of the Football Association's "drug busters" campaign when he failed a training ground test for marijuana in March 1995.

Four months after joining Leeds in the summer of 1996, Bowyer again hit the headlines for the wrong reasons when he was arrested and later charged with affray when the McDonald's all-night drive-in restaurant on the Isle of Dogs in London was trashed after a waiter refused to serve him.

Having already been hit in the pocket to the tune of £4,000 by the club, Bowyer was then fined a further £4,500 after pleading guilty at Thames Magistrates Court to the racially-motivated incident. Bowyer's solicitor described it as "out-of-character behavior."

Others would beg to differ.

In January 2000, Bowyer was arrested and charged two months later with grievous bodily harm and affray in relation to an attack on an Asian student in Leeds' city center. He was cleared of both charges at Hull Crown Court in December 2001.

That appeared to be the end of another sorry saga in Bowyer's life, but he continued to make a rod for his own back by initially refusing to accept a club fine of £64,000 for failing to adhere to the club's code of conduct -- being drunk late at night.

There have been numerous cautions, sendings-off and misconduct charges from both the F.A. and UEFA. Lee Bowyer is possibly the least liked footballer in the Premiership right now.

Last Saturday, Bowyer and Kieron Dyer were sent off against Aston Villa for fighting.

Bowyer was unhappy Dyer did not pass to him and instigated an ugly scene which saw teammates swapping punches.

Bowyer was fined six weeks' wages, around £210,000, by Newcastle while on top of the mandatory three-game ban, the Football Association also charged Bowyer with violent conduct which, if found proven, will probably see the player handed an extra suspension of one or two matches.

Dyer, in Newcastle's eyes, was merely a victim and its appeal for wrongful dismissal was rejected by the F.A. In its eyes both players committed a sending-off offense which carries a three-game ban.

This goes against Newcastle's belief that Dyer, who the club has refused to condemn, was more sinned against than sinner. "We will not be fining Kieron Dyer or taking any further action against him," said chairman Freddy Shepherd.

"We have said right from the start that Dyer was the innocent party and we have not changed our minds. The buck stops with me on this one and I am sticking to my guns.

"We feel that Dyer has been punished enough by his red card and three-match ban. That is the end of the matter as far as we are concerned. The F.A. have their own views and we have ours."

Did the F.A. get it right by throwing the book at Bowyer and is there an element of a disproportionate punishment from Newcastle's standpoint over both players?

Under F.A. rules it can charge a player sent off if it feels the case warrants further punishment. While Bowyer's scrap with Dyer harmed the image of the game, his teammate was never in danger of being seriously hurt by a few punches (none really connected) in the few seconds before the pair were separated.

Last month, Liverpool's Milan Baros committed a dreadful foul on Alan Stubbs that could have broken the Everton defender's leg. It was a late, nasty tackle and Baros apologized the next day. There have been other similar Premiership challenges that saw the guilty party sent off, yet none has been further charged.

If you asked Stubbs if he would rather have been involved in fisticuffs with Bowyer or on the receiving end of Baros' horror lunge he would probably say the former (or ideally neither).

Baros received "only" a three-game suspension for almost breaking an opponent's leg, while Bowyer was banned for three matches, possibly to be increased to five, and fined £210,000 for an indefensible yet hardly dangerous act.

Is it worse to strike a teammate than an opponent?

No doubt Bowyer will be interested to see what happens to the next player sent off for fighting an opponent, keeping a watchful eye on what he will perceive as F.A. inconsistency.

FREDDY SHEPHERD was highly critical of Lee Bowyer's part in the incident and apart from the club record fine, the player was given a final written warning by the chairman.

"We certainly considered sacking Bowyer," confirmed Shepherd. "We could have done -- it was gross misconduct. But we thought a fine and a final warning was fitting."

When asked if Bowyer should consider himself lucky to still be a Newcastle player, Shepherd replied: "He should go down on his hands and knees."

One wonders whether Shepherd felt at all embarrassed preaching to Bowyer about morals.

A few years ago Shepherd, then Newcastle's deputy chairman, along with director Douglas Hall were caught in a classic tabloid sting operation.

Speaking to an undercover reporter claiming to be a rich Arab and willing to "help" the club Shepherd and Hall allegedly said: "Alan Shearer is boring -- we call him Mary Poppins" and bragged about the profit made from the sale of replica football shirts which were sold to fans for up to £50 but cost around one tenth of the cost to manufacture.

Additionally, Shepherd and Hall allegedly mocked ex-manager Kevin Keegan, detailed their sexual exploits and called Newcastle's women "all dogs, England if full of them."

Fans of the club and women in the North East were outraged at these remarks and since the company was publicly listed on the stock market, the tabloid's claims started to adversely affect the club's share price.

At the next board meeting, three of the company's other board members threatened to resign unless the two departed. Shepherd and Hall finally did agree to resign provided that Hall's father, Sir John Hall, returned to the chairmanship. The two have subsequently re-joined the board of Newcastle United PLC.

Under the circumstances Shepherd could have been forgiven if he felt a little awkward fining a player for "gross misconduct," though the nature of the chairman suggests there was not the slightest hint of pots and kettles as he read the riot act to bad boy Bowyer.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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