Shooting the messenger

So Big Sam has been 'done' by the FA for misconduct, isn't that a surprise? And once again they have shot the messenger rather than tried to tackle the real problem.

And that, as everyone knows, is that Manchester United and Fergie get the best of debatable decisions at Old Trafford. Be it possible offside goals, dodgy penalties or players who should be red carded and are not - and that's just against us last week in the FA Cup replay - everything seems to go their way.

It has been going on for years, and it's getting worse. And I have always maintained, having spent 15 years of my working life attending matches at Old Trafford, that there is an orchestrated intimidation at the place, with that cunning old Scot pulling all the strings.

Now I don't believe that Sam suggested that referee Phil Dowd was biased. Our manager was pointing out that the intimidating atmosphere at Old Trafford makes it hard for officials to make calm, correct decisions. And situations like last week happened regularly.

The place is a howling cauldron at times, and that has got worse as the stadium has got bigger and Fergie has become virtually untouchable. He doesn't care about fines and touchline bans, he's only bothered about doing everything possible to keep Manchester United at the forefront of English football.

And he is succeeding.

And while all this is going on, the softies from the FA are frightened to death about taking on the biggest club in the land. They seem to do everything they can NOT to haul Fergie up before the disciplinary committee. While at the same time hitting everyone else with all sorts of dubious charges.

Sam had seen two near identical penalty decisions go Man United's way. Firstly Rafael handled twice in the box at one end and nothing was given, while soon after Jordan Spence - trying to pull his hand away - was penalised when a cross hit his hand.

Then there was that shocking late tackle by Paul Scholes on Matt Taylor. It was high, late, studs up and into the ankle. It was by far the worst of recent tackles of late that have seen other players sent off. But not Scholes, just a booking, and Dowd even looked like he called him "Scholsey"! What bit of 'tackle likely to cause harm to an opponent' did Dowd not understand?

But then Scholes is the best midfielder of his generation. Well we keep being told that, by the OT machine. I'd take Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard any day.

Sam was right. One penalty decision went in favour of Manchester United, and the other went against the visiting team. Nobody was surprised, it goes on all the time. Sam was not doubting Dowd's honesty, he was underlining how tough it is to officiate at OT under such circumstances, people will make mistakes under that sort of pressure.

Sam is a big mate of Fergie's and has spent much of his managerial and playing career in the Manchester area. He would know only too well just how orchestrated the intimidation of visiting teams and officials really is.

And, of course, Fergie gets away with transgressions almost on a weekly basis without being taken to task by the weak, frightened men at the FA.

Three times now in a matter of weeks, Fergie has committed offences that would see other managers charged. And his attack on linesman Simon Beck at Spurs on Sunday, could well have backed the FA into a corner.

The most recent offence in my book saw Fergie not only complain that the official 'gave us nothing all day' but he dragged up an incident of a couple of seasons ago when the same official allowed a debatable offside goal for Didier Drogba at OT that went a long way to seeing Chelsea take the title at Man United's expense.

Firstly, I am amazed Fergie could remember specific linesmen like that. Even Alan Curbishley on TV on Monday said as much. But that is Fergie, he harbours grudges. And is not a man to cross ,as I have found to my cost, but I'll come to that later.

Fergie, at the back of his mind, remembered the official. And then by mentioning a past incident clearly implied that the man was biased against Man United. It was a far worse offence than Sam's.

Fergie lives a charmed life on such occasions, and that's because I believe the FA are well aware that careers can be severely damaged by taking on Manchester United. I recall Alfi Haaland's career being ended by that horrendous Roy Keane tackle back in 2001, because of something out of turn the Norwegian had once said to the Man United hard man.

And then there was the career of referee Andy D'Urso, following his own run-in with Keane. It has taken the Essex official a very long time to come back from that one. I always felt that if D'Urso had stood his ground back in 2000 and not back-pedalled like he did while being chased by Keane and his gang, he would have done referees a real service.

If D'Urso had stood still and let players run into him or manhandle him, even knocked him to the ground, the FA would have been able to make a real stand against intimidation of referees, and maybe we wouldn't have the nonsense that goes on now when they are slagged off routinely after every match.
But now the FA have a problem. They have charged Sam, surely Fergie should also be up for something even worse.

A few weeks back Ferguson attacked Swansea captain Ashley Williams after the ball had been kicked back at Robin Van Persie's head. Now Fergie knew before he went off on his rant claiming that Williams should be hammered by the FA and how he could have killed the Dutchman, that nothing further could be done because the referee that day had seen the incident, dealt with it and booked Williams. But that didn't stop Ferguson's character assassination.

Then there was the infamous Newcastle match and his clash with Alan Pardew. Whatever the merits of that match and the Mike Dean decision that annoyed Ferguson, Man United and their manager went way over the top.

I will accept that Ferguson and Dean could have an animated man-to-man chat as they walked off at the break down the touchline. But that should have been it.

What happened then was way over the top. Ferguson was still berating the officials as they walked back for the second half, and continued to hound a linesman during the match from way outside his technical area.

That official was caught trying to do his job while distracted and fending off Fergie's rant. That alone was worthy of a charge, as Pardew pointed out. But nothing has happened.

That vast technical area at OT is Fergie's kingdom. It is full of ground staff, TV men, juniors, various admin staff, players not involved in the game, substitutes, and a whole army of technical people.

Just watch it next time. Mike Phelan stands leaning against the back wall, various kitmen and medical staff all have an opinion and Fergie is the puppet master. It all adds to intense pressure on the fourth official and linesman, not to mention the referee.

Now the OT fans cannot hear what is being said, but they take their lead from the antics of their manager, and that just cranks up the atmosphere even further. I always thought that only one person can be standing in the technical area at any one time, it's a pity that rule wasn't enforced properly.

Referees must dread working there. They get abused and got at by all sorts of Man U people, particularly in that walk back to the players' tunnel. And have you ever noticed that the substitutes are always sent out to warm-up to the right of the dug-out and behind the linesman, who gets an ear bashing from them. I watched it for years and nobody ever stopped them. It's organisation and manipulation on a grand scale.

So that's three incidents involving Fergie in a matter of weeks. I suppose I can get away with saying such things now, I don't think Fergie can get me anymore.

He banned me twice from his press conferences in my time working in Manchester, not for anything I did, more what my London office - handily placed I did mention out of the firing line - did. Once we carried a column when it was suggested Fergie would be in charge of the club when he was 65. Wouldn't happen, would it?

The column was amusing, but the art department came up with a cartoon drawing of what Fergie might look like at 65. Red faced, boozers nose, all spitting venom and ranting. Pretty accurate, I would say, in hindsight... Fergie took the hump and banned me for six months.

Then there was the time I was asked to produce three big features telling his life story one summer, but through the words of people who had worked with him. Alex McLeish was one, Bryan Robson another. They were all gushing about him.

So at his first pre-season press conference I walked happily in only to be hit by a barrage of abuse and swearing. I was banned again for three months. It seems my paper had omitted to tell me they wanted to used the features as a 'spoiler' because the rights to Fergie's own autobiography had been sold to one of our rivals.

So I know how much damage Fergie and Manchester United can do to individuals who cross them. That's why there is such a grovelling group of bum-licking journalists who now work in Manchester and fear for their every move.

Sadly the FA seem sometimes to also try not to cross the old fella, or his club. It means that our manager gets charged with misconduct for telling the truth and Fergie keeps getting away with murder.

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