ALTRINCHAM DEFENDER SUSPENDED AFTER ELBOW INCIDENT
30 October 2009
"A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT" SAYS GRAHAM
Altrincham FC joint press officer, John Edwards, writes
Altrincham have been left reeling from another disciplinary setback after James Smith was banned for three games, despite misgivings over the filmed evidence of an alleged off-the-ball incident in last Saturday's FA Cup tie at Mansfield.
An FA disciplinary panel emailed Moss Lane this afternoon (Thursday) to inform Alty that Smith had been found guilty of violent conduct, following a clash with Mansfield's Jake Speight near the end of their fourth qualifying round defeat at Field Mill.
There is an understandable sense of dismay within the club at a chain of events that has left Graham Heathcote's playing resources at breaking point for Saturday's trip to Blue Square Conference leaders Oxford United. Doubts have been raised over the validity and clarity of the video submitted by Mansfield, after it appeared on the YouTube internet site, while Alty officials were further frustrated by a ruling preventing any personal appearance at the hearing.
Smith's defence hinged on a written submission from the club, but the panel ruled against him and imposed a three-match suspension with immediate effect. He will miss the Conference games against Oxford, Forest Green Rovers and Chester and, adding insult to injury, will also have to sit out Alty's opening defence of the Cheshire Senior Cup, against Witton Albion at Moss Lane a week on Tuesday.
Under the wording of the FA's sanction, the in-form defender is banned from all football until the completion of three first-team matches. Gallingly for Smith and Alty, the county cup is not recognised by Soho Square chiefs as a first-team competition, despite the Cheshire FA threatening fines for any club failing to field their strongest possible line-up.
Alty boss Heathcote outlined his concerns over the verdict and its ramifications, as he said: 'We didn't even get to see a copy of the tape, but it has been running on YouTube, apparently, and I just feel it sets a dangerous precedent. You can imagine what will happen now. You'll get thousands of people up and down the country getting their mobile phones out at non-League games and claiming they've got evidence of some supposed misdemeanour. They'll be taken from all sorts of angles, and each one will create a different impression.
Just look at what happens in cricket, when they show you so many different camera shots of an incident. You can get a completely different perspective, depending on the angle it is viewed from. It can be very misleading, and I just wonder what we've let ourselves in for with this. The immediate consequence for us is that we are going to be really stretched over the next month, with Tom Kearney also out for three games. The squad isn't big enough to cope with so many suspensions, and it is a concern'.
Heathcote insisted he had addressed the issue of discipline with his players and admitted he had mixed feelings about the number of former Football League clubs currently scrambling for promotion from the Conference. 'The players were reminded about maintaining levels of discipline after the League game with Mansfield, and again on Saturday,' he said. 'You can only do so much, though. You can't string them up on a piece of rope, and you have to allow for the fact that emotions sometimes take over.
At the same time, it's strange how our disciplinary record was excellent before these two Mansfield games. We were up near the top of the Fair Play League, yet, for whatever reason, we have ended up being castigated as the big bad wolf while they [Mansfield] have emerged, in their eyes at least, as holier than thou. Maybe the truth of the matter is that, while we showed naivety in allowing ourselves to be suckered into situations, they were smarter and cuter. More professional, they would probably say.
[Right: Action from the Mansfield v Altrincham league game this month, which demonstrates the point made by Graham Heathcote about making judgements based on photographic images.]
On Saturday, the whole afternoon was stoked up by comments from their chairman in his programme notes, and I can't recall, in all my 39 years in football, ever going to a game and receiving so much abuse before a ball had even been kicked. To a degree, you expect people to give you stick, but they are usually male and adult. At Mansfield, there were women and even an 11-year old kid screaming abuse at me, and it's fair to say it wasn't the most pleasant of days. I believe in taking things on the chin, though, and I don't intend saying any more about it.
Discipline applies to managers, as well as players, and since appearing before an FA commission 18 months ago, I have tried very hard to make sure they have had no cause to summon me again. I've had fourth officials standing a couple of yards away week-in, week-out, but I've never been reported. Even on Saturday, when feelings were running high, I was never spoken to by any of the officials, unlike some people.
What I have come to realise is that non-League football will never be the same again. It has been infiltrated by relegated sides who are desperate to get back to the Football League before the parachute payments run out. That is the crux of the matter, and I have to say I was far more comfortable with the way non-League football used to be.
There has been a change of attitude. They would call it professionalism, but it has taken away a lot of the enjoyment. You used to get a bunch of lads who would work at their full-time jobs during the week, then approach their football with absolute honesty and endeavour. There is a new philosophy now, and a lot of the enjoyment at this level has gone.
The socialising that used to take place after games is non-existent now, and it can be an unpleasant experience at times. You see things now that you would not expect to see on a non-League pitch, and it always seems to be explained away by the word professionalism. That's not what I joined non-League football for. There is a desperation about trying to win now. You have to try and achieve the highest status you can, but the game at non-League level will never be the game I knew, and I would question whether the change is for the better'".
Alluding to the incident which got James Smith banned, This is Nottingham reported yesterday that "Mansfield Town chairman Andy Perry today confirmed the FA are taking up a case of an alleged use of the elbow on Jake Speight. The striker was pole-axed off the ball after a clash with Altrincham defender James Smith in last weekend's FA Cup tie. Speight suffered no ill-effects and was able to continue in the game".
29 October 2009
The FA has confirmed that after viewing video evidence sent to them by Mansfield Town, Alty defender James Smith has been found guilty of "violent conduct" and suspended for three games. In effect the ban is for four games as the Cheshire Senior Cup tie in November is considered a first-team game for the purposes of the ban but missing that game does not count towards the three-match penalty. MANSFIELD AFTERMATH
In today's Sale & Altrincham Messenger "Graham Heathcote sent a heartfelt apology to travelling Altrincham fans after seeing his side crash out of the FA Cup". The full text that John Edwards (Altrincham FC joint press oficer) sent to SAM is as follows...
Graham Heathcote sent a heartfelt apology to travelling Altrincham fans after seeing his side crash out of the FA Cup in another contentious meeting with Mansfield. Soundly beaten 3-0, Alty's fortunes took a further turn for the worse when key midfielder Tom Kearney was shown a straight red card for a foul and in-form defender James Smith (right) was cited for an off-the-ball incident.
An FA disciplinary panel will decide Smith's fate today (Thursday), and Alty are bracing themselves for a three-game ban to match Kearney's despite the dubious merits of trial by You Tube footage.Alty have not been sent a copy of the film that has been submitted, and are not allowed to attend the hearing, though they have submitted a written response in defence of Smith.
Heathcote cannot comment until after the verdict, but he had plenty to say about the manner of his team's fourth qualifying round demise. 'I would like to apologise to every Alty fan who paid good money to be there,' he said. 'I told the players at half-time that it was the most feeble performance I could remember from an Altrincham side in the FA Cup for a long, long time, and I'm bitterly disappointed.
We can all make mistakes, but what happened over the 90 minutes was so out of character with what we have done this season. We were really poor in areas where previously we have done really well. That can only lead to one outcome, and we were deservedly beaten. We are out of the Cup, and I am still seething now, four days later, at the way it happened. I also said at half-time: "Don't make the day any worse with any sendings off," yet what happens? Tom Kearney gets a straight red and James Smith faces an FA charge'.
Heathcote had to run the gauntlet after an outspoken attack on him by Mansfield chairman Andrew Perry in the match programme. 'The whole day was stoked up by comments from their chairman in his programme notes, and I can't recall, in all my 39 years in football, ever going to a game and receiving so much abuse before a ball had even been kicked,' he said. 'To a degree, you expect people to give you stick, but they are usually male and adult. At Mansfield, there were women and even an 11-year old kid screaming abuse at me, and it's fair to say it wasn't the most pleasant of days.
I believe in taking things on the chin, though, and won't be saying any more about it. It's just strange how our disciplinary record was excellent before these two Mansfield games. We were up near the top of the Fair Play League, yet, for whatever reason, we have ended up being castigated as the big bad wolf and they have come through, in their eyes at least, as holier than thou. Maybe the truth of the matter is that, while we showed naivety in allowing ourselves to be suckered into situations, they were smarter and cuter. More professional, they would probably say'.
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