The FA v Manchester City FC & Chelsea FC

On 05 December 2016, The Football Association (FA) charged Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) and Chelsea Football Club (CFC) with breaches of the misconduct rules, under FA Rule E20, in respect of their fixture against one another on 03 December 2016.

Rule E20 states the following:

"Each Affiliated Association, Competition and Club shall be responsible for ensuring:

(a) that its directors, players, officials, employees, servants, representatives, spectators, and all persons purporting to be its supporters or followers, conduct themselves in an orderly fashion and refrain from any one or combination of the following: improper, violent, threatening, abusive, indecent, insulting or provocative words or behaviour, (including, without limitation, where any such conduct, words or behaviour includes a reference, whether express or implied, to
any one or more of ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability) whilst attending at or taking part in a Match in which it is involved, whether on its own ground or elsewhere; and

(b) that no spectators or unauthorised persons are permitted to encroach onto the pitch area, save for reasons of crowd safety, or to throw missiles, bottles or other potentially harmful or dangerous objects at or on to the pitch."

The Background

On or around the 95th minute of the fixture on 03 December 2016, which saw Chelsea win 3-1, tempers flared when MCFC's Sergio Aguero was sent off for a tackle on CFC's David Luiz. Thereafter, MCFC's Fernandinho was also sent off following an aggressive encounter with CFC's Cesc Fabregas, as a mass confrontation between both teams unfolded.

The FA stated, in the charge, that the clubs had failed to ensure that their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and refrained from provocative behaviour. The Association was particularly concerned due to the involvement of technical area occupants and/or stewards; the proximity of the incident to the crowd and the potential to aggravate the crowd. As such, the case against both clubs was designated as a non-standard case.  

Both clubs admitted the charges against them but also requested to attend a Regulatory Commission, for a personal hearing, which would be heard jointly.

The Hearing

The main points that were covered and considered by the Commission within the hearing were:

  • The player's conduct
  • The mass confrontation
  • Protecting the integrity of the game

The FA stated that, although to some degree, they understood the reasons behind the players' reactions, they could not tolerate the conduct given the risks attached to fan involvement and also the close proximity of the crowd to the field.

One challenge encountered by the Commission, in making their determinations, was establishing the culpability of those involved in the matter and what party was actually at fault for causing the 'mass confrontation'. There was considerable discussion between the Commission as to whether the Sergio Aguero (CFC) tackle was the primary instigator of the incident or whether it was the Nathaniel Chalobah (CFC) push that was responsible. The Commission concluded that whilst they agreed that the Chalobah push was certainly a catalyst for what thereafter unfolded, it was the nature of the tackle, from Sergio Aguero, that was the principle instigator for the incident kicking-off.

Given the high profile of the incident (top of the table clash) and the global audience that it enjoyed, the Commission concluded that both parties would be held equally culpable for the incident.

Mitigation Pleas

In mitigation, MCFC relied on the club's unblemished record whilst CFC submitted that the club's culture had changed under their new manager. In relation to the incident in question, CFC submitted that there was no sustained aggression, the incident did not last too long and there was no disrespect shown to the referee. Whilst CFC accepted that they had a previous record and as such, would be punished more severely than MCFC, the club submitted that the present incident was less serious than previous conduct infringements, where the club had fallen foul of FA rules.

The Sanctions

In determining sanctions, the Commission turned to the Guidance for Participants and Clubs 2016-17 which states that:

"in non-standard cases where a breach has been admitted or found proven, a Regulatory Commission may impose sanctions as high as those shown in the guidelines below … where appropriate to do so, a Regulatory commission may double the above sanctions for any subsequent breach which occurs either within the same fixture or in any previous fixture within the preceding 12 months. Please note that a Regulatory Commission may exceed the above sanctions in circumstances where it deems appropriate at its absolute discretion."

Manchester City Football Club

In coming to a decision, the Commission took into account that MCFC had no previous record of conduct infringements. This was the first incident of this nature involving MCFC and the Commission considered this to be a strong mitigating factor, when determining an appropriate sanction. Further, it noted that MCFC had admitted the charge, at the earliest opportunity and as such credit would be given by way of a reduction in the overall sanction that the Commission was originally minded to apply.

Given the above, MCFC was fined the sum of £35,000

Chelsea Football Club

In coming to a decision, the Commission considered the previous sanctions imposed on CFC for prior breaches of FA Rule E20.

Previous sanctions are as follows:

  1. On 23 October 2011, the Club was fined £20,000 for an incident that occurred in a fixture v       Queens Park Rangers;
  2. On 11 February 2015, the Club was fined £30,000 for an incident that occurred in a fixture v Everton Football Club;
  3. On 19 September 2015, the Club was fined £40,000 for an incident that occurred in a fixture v Arsenal Football Club;
  4. On 24 October 2015, the Club was fined £50,000 for an incident that occurred in a fixture v West Ham United Football Club;
  5. On 13 January 2016, the Club was fined £65,000 for an incident that occurred in a fixture v West Bromwich Albion Football Club; and
  6. On 2 May 2016, the Club was fined £290,000 for an incident that occurred in a fixture v Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

The Commission noted that this was the seventh incident of a similar nature concerning CFC and as such, the Commission could not ignore such an aggravating factor and would have to take that into account when determining the level of sanction. Further, the Commission also noted that CFC had admitted the charge against them, at the earliest opportunity. As such, credit was given by way of reduction in the overall sanction that the Commission was originally minded to impose.

Despite the reduction awarded, the fine imposed on Chelsea was £100,000, given the club's previous conduct history.

In Chelsea's previous breaches, it should be noted that the Commission referred to dates as far back as 2011, despite the guidance stating that sanctions can be doubled where a breach occurs in previous fixtures within the preceding 12 months. This suggests that the Commission has the power to apply discretion to the individual circumstances and history of the clubs involved. 

This case highlights the importance of a club's previous conduct history, in both the determination of sanctions and also in any mitigation pleas. It provides a tough lesson and stresses the importance of good behaviour on-the-pitch. 

IMPORTANT: This post is not intended to be a legal briefing, it is not intended to be a statement of the law and no action should be taken in reliance on it without specific legal advice.

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