Whatever hopes Jonjo Shelvey may have harboured for rekindling his England career were cast asunder by the Football Association this afternoon. But that’s the least of his worries.
The midfielder was found guilty by an Independent Regulatory Commission of “using abusive and/or insulting words towards an opponent.” Romain Saiss of Wolves in case you were blissfully ignorant.
In addition, the allegation, as proven by this commission, cited a “reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or nationality.”
In other words, Jonjo Shelvey has been cast as a racist. The player and club are waiting for the FA to provide them with the written judgement so that they can plan their appeal. Newcastle said that they felt enough witnesses had been provided to refute the charges. Not enough in number or credibility, obviously.
It should be noted that the primary evidence came from third parties as Saiss didn’t at the time have sufficient grasp of English to understand what is alleged to have been said.
The Daily Mail reports that Shelvey called Saiss “a smelly Arab”. Some doubt has to be cast on the Mail’s ability to provide a true report of the incident; they don’t have the best track record when it comes to the truth. They aren’t known as the Daily Heil for nothing.
Shelvey’s reputation teeters on the brink of being shattered. Even if he successfully appeals against the five-match ban and £100,000 fine, his character is forever stained in some eyes. For them, he will always be the BNP poster boy, even if his political views are the polar opposite of the vile nationalists.
That is something Newcastle United will consider once the matter is finally settled. No matter what anyone thinks, there is a brand to protect and the club directors will be thinking of that in conjunction with the desire to return to the Premier League.
There’s no doubt Shelvey is a key player this season. He has been the leading light on the pitch but will now miss five games: Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers, Birmingham City, Brentford and Rotherham United. The instant reaction is that we ought to be able to win those matches without him anyway.
And that’s where the strange morality that football engenders comes to the surface. Shelvey offered Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic as witnesses. It didn’t, in the eyes of the commission, absolve him of the charge of what is alleged to have been said. Wolves must have produced some compelling testimony for the charge to be proven. Hearsay evidence has to be strong to be credible.
Which is the issue Newcastle United have to consider. If, after an appeal, Shelvey is still found guilty, what impact does that have on the squad? Football is a broad church and offers employment to all races, creeds and cultures. Can squad embrace this kind of behaviour or is it a case of putting up and shutting up until the aims for the season are achieved?
Will it impact on his relationships with players of other nationalities? Do they consider that they know the man well enough to cast doubt on whether it was sort of thing he would say? If it does impact, is it all swept under the carpet until the end of the season when players can be quietly moved on if they are unhappy with the way club dealt with the issue?
Yet it’s a sport stained with racism on a regular basis although the question has to be asked if the FA can fine Shelvey £100k, why do UEFA levy paltry fines for similar offences against eastern European nations?
For supporters, it’s another question to ask themselves. It’s a deeply personal one as well. Can you support Jonjo Shelvey on the pitch if any appeal fails or he accepts the verdict? Where do you personally draw the line? Forgive for ninety minutes and then forget? Chant his name? I can’t do the latter if this charge sticks, that’s for certain.
I know some will try to trivialise matters, claiming it’s nothing more than cartoon racism, a throwback to the knockabout days of Love Thy Neighbour. The problem with that argument is that ‘cartoon racism’ is still racism.
Do you consider it to be trivial enough to ignore? Does it not even bother you? Football fans are notorious for putting their personal morals to one side for the good of the team but surely everyone has a line in the sand? As with most lines, it’s wavy not straight.
At what point do your personal beliefs become more important that the game? I can’t answer that for you; it’s personal, it’s up to you.
For me, any respect I have for Jonjo Shelvey as a human being hangs in the balance. I hope he clears his name on appeal; it’s an awful tag to be appended to your character.
I’d hate for anything to tarnish the club as well, and god knows Mike Ashley’s business dealings have already dragged us through the mud this year.
From the stands, it would make for an uneasy relationship between us. I want Newcastle to win and every time he scored, I know the hypocrisy of which I would stand accused by jumping up and cheering. Guilty as charged, m’lud. It’s why I said earlier that this is personal; there’s no right or wrong answer beyond your own.
Should Newcastle United sack Shelvey? Most companies would but the board will argue that football is different. Clubs don’t get shot of players very readily; it’s too much of an investment to write off and invariably strengthens rivals.
It’s unlikely it would cost them further cash as most players have deals which take into account their off-the-pitch behaviour so no pay-off would be required.
But with supporters banned for racist behaviour, should clubs take the same attitude toward the players? A modicum of talent can’t exempt them from the same morality which is applied to you or I, can it?
Football, as Jimmy Greaves used to say, is a funny old game. Except this time, it’s nothing to do with saints and everything to do with sinners.