THE FA's judiciary must brace itself for deeply sensitive issues when it calls to account the Aston Villa goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, for his astonishing Nazi salute to Tottenham fans at White Hart Lane on Saturday.
A Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed yesterday that police enquiries were continuing but would only add that "all complaints are being investigated". Police interviewed Bosnich after the game following "a racial gesture to the crowd" but insisted that the Australian goalkeeper had not been arrested.
Despite widespread publicity and many complaints to police, the matter is almost certain to be handled by the FA. A misconduct charge appears a formality and, if found guilty Bosnich can expect at the least a heavy fine based on precedences of provocative or abusive gestures.
The FA were notified of the incident on Saturday evening and yesterday its spokesman Steve Double, said: "We are awaiting referee's and police reports. Clearly it has caused offence to a lot of people and we will obviously not be dealing with it as a trivial matter."
Bosnich, close to tears as he emerged from the police interview, can in his defence point to his immediate apology, later repeated profusely when he phoned Radio 5 Live's Six O Six programme from Villa's team coach after a host of critical calls from listeners.
The player, a Croatian, said on air he was "really distraught" but continued to insist that his gesture - left arm raised and a finger mimicking Adolf Hitler's moustache - was intended to be a joke and was "something done out of ignorance".
Bosnich appeared bewildered when booked for "ungentlemanly conduct" by the referee, Peter Jones, on the assistant referee Mike Tingey's advice, early in the second half.
The goalkeeper later attempted unsuccessfully to argue the point with both officials. The goalkeeper had been baited by chants of "Klinsmann, Klinsmann" before turning to the Paxton Road end and making the salute.
Tottenham's fans were recalling a challenge two seasons ago by Bosnich on Klinsmann which knocked the German unconscious. Bosnich will argue that he was deriding Germans rather than intending to offend Jewish sensibilities.
On radio, he said of the crowd: "There was mention made of one of their German players. Everyone knows who it is. I did something meaningless. I actually thought a lot of people in the section behind me were laughing".
Nevertheless, this incident promises far greater disciplinary repercussions than the one involving Paul Gascoigne, who upset Catholics when he celebrated his first Glasgow Rangers goal two years ago by playing an imaginary flute, strongly associated with the Orange Order.
It was Bosnich's first senior game of the season after knee ligament trouble. How he must wish his return had been delayed.
Villa's manager Brian Little said yesterday: "I hadn't seen the incident until I saw the pictures in the papers this morning. I felt at first that he had just waved at the crowd but now that I have seen it it does put a different complexion on the situation.
"It wasn't the wisest thing to do. But Mark Bosnich is very upset about it and full of remorse. He's an intelligent lad and has apologised via a national radio phone in programme and is genuinely very, very sorry and cut up.
"He only intended it as a bit of banter with the crowd who had been on at him all game. But it all went sour on him.
"Bozzi is a bubbly character who loves to be the centre of attention. He's an extrovert. But you can't afford to have banter with crowds these days. It's very, very difficult and you have to be very careful. You are really better walking away from it than trying to join in.
"He really was distraught at the way it was taken because he didn't realise what it might mean to the Tottenham fans."
"But it won't affect his future with Aston Villa. That doesn't even come into it. However, he's done this and now he's got to live with it and accept what consequences there may be. We are waiting to hear from the FA to see if they are going to proceed with any action."
"But I really don't see what else Mark can do. He has apologised and will continue to apologise. He knows it was wrong. But I honestly believe it was not intentional in the way it was taken."