29 April, 2008

The Battle of Bridge

If things weren’t tense enough during the match on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, matters took a somewhat more sinister turn after the stadium had emptied, as several Manchester United players were involved with a pretty fierce confrontation with Chelsea ground staff during their warm-down routine. A Blues groundsman perhaps asked one of the United players if they caught the game and could remember the score, to which the response was understandably far from positive. Now things have got way out of hand with the FA deciding to act for once, requesting the CCTV footage from the Chelsea ground after allegations of racial abuse have been thrown around. United have themselves been asked to submit a report to the FA, while Alex Ferguson has been quick to maintain radio silence since Saturday night, even forbidding Cristiano Ronaldo to collect his PFA Player of the Year award on Sunday night in person.

The story is this: a group of United players, including Patrice Evra, Park Ji-Sung, Gerald Pique and Paul Scholes, were warming down after the 2 – 1 loss when they were asked to move by ground staff who were eager to paint lines, water the grass and do whatever else they do. This then sparked a row as presumably the request was made with some provocation, as suggested earlier. As such, Manchester United players have accused the Chelsea staff of starting the brawl, with Carlos Tevez saying “Patrice (Evra) received a grave insult from a member of Chelsea’s staff, he demanded an explanation and, from that moment, these men just wanted to attack Patrice.”

The conclusion being jumped to is that a “grave insult” means something racialist, and given Chelsea’s reputation as a club with a historically very white and nationalistic core fan-base, people seem pretty keen to align themselves with this. Tevez continued to explain the situation: “Obviously it’s normal that we tried to defend our team-mate but within a few seconds all of the United players were surrounded by stewards. I think that the security cameras will show the provocation we received. I have never seen anything like this in my career, if the FA opens an investigation, we will co-operate and happily give our version of what happened.”

The Mirror reported yesterday that United have now distanced themselves from any claims of racist abuse following a phone conversation between their chief executive David Gill and his Chelsea counterpart Peter Kenyon. As a sign of ill-feeling between the clubs though, United refused last night to sign up to a joint statement outlining the events proposed by Chelsea after their ground staff were all comprehensively interviewed. Lawnmowerer(?) Sam Bethell responded to claims that he gave Patrice Evra a black eye by saying: “I've not lost my job. I'm back at work tomorrow morning. It was handbags really.” The saga as they say continues.

On a somewhat lighter note though, this wasn’t the only fracas at Stamford Bridge after the final whistle blew. It seems that Rio Ferdinand, even eager to merc people, accidentally kicked a female steward while venting his frustration on a brick wall as he walked of the pitch. How you can lash out like that and not notice that what you’re kicking is in fact not an inanimate object but a person is beyond me, but who are we to analyze exactly what goes on in the man’s head? “Unfortunately a lady was stood by and I accidentally brushed her with my foot,” Rio explained. “I apologised profusely and went back to make sure she was OK. I have arranged for a bouquet of flowers to be sent to her.” I don’t know about you but I never realised it worked like that. I mean, I knew girls liked flowers, but I didn’t think they enjoyed them enough to let you actually hit them in exchange for a ten-pound wrap of roses from a petrol station. Once again Rio, you have shown us all the way.

UPDATE - A Jerky Benny Hill-like video has been released by Sky News, who also provide some lacklustre commentary and uninformed debate:

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