Unless you’re the footballing equivalent of a fetishist, it’s going to be a long summer without the football, and the silly season has already started. Kaka – hilariously – might be going to Madrid (more on that if it actually comes to pass), and Manchester City have confirmed that the answer to all of their problems is Gareth Barry. And the close season is only four days old. Not to be outdone, the Football League has waded in with a story that seems set to cause ongoing ructions for the rest of the summer break, with the possibility of football being dragged back into the courtrooms again.
Not really. What the Football League has actually done is dish out possibly the feeblest punishment ever given to a football club. The club concerned are Crystal Palace, who have been docked points and fined for the fielding of an ineligible player. So far, so good. There are plenty of clubs that have bitter experience of that particular double-whammy over the last few months or so. The Crystal Palace punishment, however, is different in that it will barely have any effect on them whatsoever.
What happened was pretty straightforward. They brought on Portuguese striker Rui Fonte ten minutes into the second half of their final match of the season when his loan period from Arsenal had already been completed. They have been docked one point and fined £20,000, which would be a mild slap on the wrists were it not for the fact that the one point deduction doesn’t change their league position and £15,000 of the fine has been suspended for a year. Supporters of, say, Mansfield Town, Oxford United and Bognor Regis Town could be forgiven for wishing that the Blue Square League had been as lenient with them last season.
There are, of course, other possible explanations for the League’s decision. Just imagine what sort of brou-ha might have kicked off if Fonte had made a difference. It would only have taken a second Reading goal to deny Birmingham City a win in their match and for Fonte to pop up and score for Crystal Palace and all hell would have broken loose. Sheffield United’s chairman, Kevin “The Litigator” McCabe’s head would almost certainly lifted clean off his shoulders and risen upwards towards the heavens like a spaceship taking off. As it turns out, though, it didn’t make a scrap of difference.
And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Yeah. That would have been hilarious“.