In August 2000 Arsenal played Sunderland. It was suggested that after the game Mr Wenger, who until that moment had an utterly unblemished record as a manager, had indulged in violent or threatening behaviour against Mr Taylor, the fourth official at Sunderland.
On 10 October 2000 Mr Wenger went to a hearing on the issue but considering the matter utterly trivial and quite clear cut did not call any witnesses.
Shocked by the 12 match ban he then got he appealed on 2 February 2001 complete with the briefcase we always see him carrying into games.
Even before the final hearing got under way the charge was reduced to “improper conduct”. In the event Mr Wenger was given a reprimand, fined £10,000 and ordered to pay the costs of the appeal board which consisted of Charles Hollander QC, Geoff Thompson chair of the FA and Ray Kiddell from the Norfolk FA.
Their finding was that Mr Wenger was guilty touching the official, and not “jostling or holding” him as Taylor had alleged.
Taylor had argued that he was “manhandled” by Wenger on in the tunnel after the 1-0 defeat on 19 August 2000. But it emerged that although Thierry Henry and Darren Williams of Sunderland were involved in a bit of of tunnel pushing and shoving that was all that happened. Mr Wenger agreed that he then touched Taylor with a gesture that most people recognise not as manhandling but as “I’ll sort this out” and he then pulled Thierry away.
The FA accepted in the appeal that contact was “minimal”, and “not intended to be aggressive and not threatening or violent.”
As mentioned when Mr Wenger was originally found guilty on October 10, he did not call upon any witnesses. However at the second hearing, Theirry Henry, David Seaman and Robert Pires gave their version of events.
But even then the fine was ludicrous for an action which had the effect of calming a situation which the fourth official could not handle. And it was clear that Taylor had lied in the hearing in terms of what he claimed against Wenger.
Then Taylor himself was charged with misconduct for insulting comments to Notts County’s Sean Farrell during the game against Wigan on October 14. That was heard on 6 February 2001.
That case was found to be “not proven” after a four hour secret hearing. Farrell said that, “The finding of not proven indicates the incident had to be witnessed by more than one person for an official to be found guilty. While Ian Hamilton and Scott Green were witnesses to the incident, they did not directly hear the remarks. I hope this result does not deter other players from coming forward when subjected to inappropriate behaviour.”
Notts County said in a club statement, “While respecting the difficult job referees have to carry out we think there must be a level of accountability in their performance. There is no question an incident took place. Those of us who watched the game and viewed the video could clearly see this. But only one person witnessed the actual remarks directly. His testimony alone did not constitute sufficient evidence by the FA’s standards to find the official guilty, only not proven.”
Mr Wenger said after his appeal hearing which lasted two days, “It was very important for me that the charge of threatening behaviour and violent conduct was dropped. When you get a 12-match ban and you have my clean disciplinary record, you have to look at why you got such a ban. The fact that I was charged with improper conduct means my reaction was too big. But as I got only a reprimand, I believe the FA recognised that my intention was clear. It was not to provoke violence but to avoid further violence in the tunnel.
“Sometimes you get into situations you don’t want. I had a fair hearing and defended my case well. I was charged with something I didn’t do.
“Everybody in football has to respect the rules. I didn’t fight the rules, but I did fight the fact that I didn’t commit the charge. I don’t feel angry about what happened, I just felt I had no chance to defend myself properly the first time and I could do it this time.
“I wanted a second chance to explain my behaviour. I was better prepared and the testimony of the players helped. The 12-match ban was something really terrible to me. I’m sad my record isn’t clear any more, even if I have been cleared of the main charge. I have not been completely cleared, which I had hoped for, but maybe I had an excessive reaction.”
But that was not the end of it all, because Mr Wenger returned to the FA headquarters the following week when Patrick Vieira appeared before a disciplinary commission to answer misconduct charges of his own.