Players escape Istanbul charges


News: England's footballers have been spared disciplinary action after UEFA decided against punishing individuals for the clashes between rival players at half-time of the Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey.

David Beckham, Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey, in particular, were among the England players who might have found themselves in the dock, only for UEFA to announce last night that the video evidence was inconclusive.

Instead, UEFA has charged both the English and Turkish football authorities with the improper conduct of their players after concluding, to widespread surprise, there was "no evidence" to indict Heskey or any of his team-mates or, for that matter, Alpay Ozalan and Hasan Sas, the most provocative Turkey players.

It is the first time the Football Association has faced such a charge, but there was an unmistakeable feeling that England's players have got off lightly. A fine is expected when UEFA's disciplinary committee meets in Nyon, Switzerland, on Thursday, but it is not likely to be big enough to have a serious impact on an organisation that has enough financial worries already.

Heskey, perhaps more than anybody, has cause to be grateful to UEFA's apparent leniency. Television pictures show the Liverpool forward reacting with uncharacteristic temper after Sas apparently spat at Cole. Heskey can be seen lunging at the Turkish substitute through a melee of players, security guards and other officials in the bowels of Fenerbahce's stadium. But the FA does not intend to take any action itself, whatever the punishment on Thursday.

Alpay can consider himself extremely fortunate not to face any offence, having apparently instigated the trouble by jabbing his finger into Beckham's cheek as they left the pitch at half-time. Beckham chased him into the tunnel and that is where the fighting began.

Alternatively, there is a case that the Turkish centre-half, whose contract at Aston Villa was terminated last week, has been punished enough already, having effectively been driven out of England in the fall-out of the match.

UEFA explained last night that, to bring charges against individuals, it was imperative to have a watertight case and the TV pictures and witness statements did not provide one.

The FA said it would not make any detailed comment until after Thursday's hearing.

UEFA confirmed that the FA, if found guilty, should expect "some sort of a fine", though Turkey's federation will probably have to pay a heavier sum.

The Turks also face an offence of failing to control their fans, specifically because of flares being lit and missiles thrown on to the pitch.

Manchester United are becoming increasingly concerned about the charges being prepared against Rio Ferdinand after the Football Association declared it wanted longer to examine the evidence surrounding his missed drugs test.

An announcement was expected from the FA yesterday, but it will now not take place until tomorrow at the earliest. Officials at Soho Square have emphasised that nothing sinister should be read into the delay, but it is the second of its kind and is being perceived as possible bad news for Ferdinand, who was initially led to believe a decision would be taken towards the end of last week.

The FA is deliberating whether to charge Ferdinand with missing the test at United's training ground on September 23rd or to charge him with the more serious offence of wilfully missing the test, which carries a maximum two-year ban.

If the FA opt for the latter charge, they will need to prove that Ferdinand deliberately avoided the test rather than accept his excuse of simple forgetfulness. To make such a charge stick, their case will have to be watertight, hence the concern at Old Trafford about the length of time it is taking for the FA to announce its decision.

Gordon Strachan yesterday gagged his Southampton players and staff in an attempt to defuse the furore over the row between Graeme Souness and Dennis Rofe.

The Southampton manager's instruction came as the Football Association considered whether to investigate the tunnel-side row.

Blackburn's manager and the Saints coach argued during Southampton's 2-0 victory and clashed again at the end of a game, which was also marred by Andy Cole's red card and an on-pitch brawl.

After the final whistle Souness squared up to Rofe and, as Blackburn's manager walked into the tunnel, he shouted and gestured at Rofe as if to invite him to continue the argument.

Manchester City have been forced into an embarrassing charm offensive after alienating one of their their greatest ever players, Colin Bell, by reneging on an agreement to name one of their stands in his honour.