Woodgate and Bowyer are charged

 

Leeds United players Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate's hopes of playing for England in Euro 2000 were almost certainly ended last night after they were charged by police in connection with an attack on an Asian student.

The English Football Association announced that neither player will be considered for England duty at senior or under-21 level until the courts have dealt with the charges.

With any trial not expected to come to Crown Court for between eight months and a year, it means the pair will not be available to England coach Kevin Keegan.

Midfielder Bowyer (23) and defender Woodgate (20) are accused of causing grievous bodily harm and affray following the assault in Leeds city centre in January which left Sarfraz Najeib (19) with serious injuries.

Leeds defender Michael Duberry (24) and reserve team striker Tony Hackworth (19) have had their bail renewed pending further inquiries.

Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale, however, said the pair maintain their innocence and would both still be available for selection by manager David O'Leary.

The FA released a statement which read: "The Football Association tonight noted with great concern the decision by West Yorkshire Police to charge the Leeds United players.

"Having given the matter serious and lengthy consideration, the FA feels it is in the interests of all concerned that the players are not considered for representative honours with England until these matters are resolved by the courts."

Leeds chairman Ridsdale released his own statement, saying: "Leeds United Football Club can confirm that following the alleged attack in Leeds on the night of the January 11/12th, 2000, both Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer have today been charged in connection with the offence.

"They are two amongst a number who have been charged. Both individuals, having been interviewed by the club, maintain their innocence of the charges. As a result of their comments, Leeds United Football Club has restated its position that every individual is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

"The players will therefore remain available to David O'Leary for selection. Our position has been conveyed to the FA, FA Premier League, and PFA.

A West Yorkshire police spokesman said all those charged have been bailed to appear at Leeds Magistrates Court on March 17th.

Najeib, a Leeds Metropolitan University student, was assaulted after being chased away from a nightclub on January 12th by a gang of white men. He suffered head injuries and a broken nose and leg in the attack and is still recovering at his home in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

He and his student brother Shahzad, who was also attacked, are being represented by Imran Khan, the solicitor for the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Meanwhile, David Batty, whom Leeds United and England had hoped would soon be back in action, may not play again this season, writes Michael Walker. Batty, who has been out with a calf injury since mid-December and who last played for Leeds in the league a fortnight earlier, is making slower progress with his recovery than expected.

David O'Leary, while not ruling out Batty of Kevin Keegan's England squad for Euro 2000, said yesterday: "I don't think David is anywhere near playing. That's what the medical people say. And whether he'll play again this season, I don't know. There has to be a real worry with only 10 league games left.