Manchester United were left furious last night after a Football Association commission gave Patrice Evra a four-match ban for his part in the infamous "Battle of Stamford Bridge" in April during which he brawled with a Chelsea groundsman.
Chelsea were claiming victory after they were cleared of any racist behaviour from their staff towards Evra.
United were effectively accused by the FA of making up the allegation that Bethell said to Evra "you're just a fucking immigrant" before the two men traded blows in the middle of the pitch. While Chelsea were fined £25,000 for Bethell's behaviour – he too was caught on film throwing punches at Evra – they last night released a thinly-veiled criticism of United for the severity of the allegations levelled against them.
In a detailed verdict, which United called "excessive", they were fined £15,000 on top of the four-match ban for Evra which will begin with the game away to Stoke City on Boxing Day. The loss of Evra for the additional games against Middlesbrough, Southampton (in the FA Cup) and the Carling Cup semi-final first leg will be a blow, but even more embarrassing for United will be the FA's refusal to accept the truth of their racist allegations.
Last night Chelsea wasted no time in condemning United's players for making such a serious allegation against one of their staff. A club spokesman said: "Chelsea always strenuously denied the racist allegation and that position has been totally vindicated by the FA. Alleging racism is one of the most serious accusations that can be made in football. Chelsea has a zero tolerance attitude towards racism and is fighting hard with the rest of football to rid all forms of discrimination from the game. Clearly the incident itself was a regrettable one. We will be analysing the detail of the verdict before commenting further."
Because of a complication in the hearing process, the FA could not charge Bethell with racist behaviour because his contract with Chelsea did not stipulate that he was subject to the governing body's rules. However, the FA instead charged Chelsea because they were responsible for Bethell's behaviour and, as a football club, were subject to the FA's rules.
Finding Bethell, and therefore Chelsea, innocent of any racist behaviour, a statement from the independent commission, which was headed by a QC, said: "So far as the charge against Chelsea FC was based on its alleged responsibility for such racist conduct and language by Mr Bethell, the charge against the club was not proved."
The incident, which was captured on CCTV and by press photographers, capped a shameful day for United in which Rio Ferdinand reacted to a 2-1 defeat by lashing out and accidentally kicked Tracey Wray, a female steward, on duty in the Chelsea tunnel. Having studied the evidence, the commission made its judgement on the following actions by Evra.
The commission said that Evra "pushed the Chelsea head groundsman [not Bethell] with his chest (as was admitted by Mr Evra)". They added: "He struck Mr Sam Bethell on the side of his head." Evra was also found guilty of the following: "after the previous incident had begun to calm down, [he] ran back to confront Mr Bethell again (as was also admitted by Mr Evra)". Finally the France international, according to the verdict, "became involved in a further physical altercation with Mr Bethell." Officially, Evra was charged with "violent behaviour". It is not clear which other players gave evidence, but Gary Neville, Gerard Pique, Park Ji-Sung and Danny Welbeck were all close by when the incident took place.
The commission's verdict on Bethell was that he "conducted himself in a disorderly fashion and that his conduct and language had been abusive and provocative." As a result of the FA having no jurisdiction over Bethell, they charged Chelsea and fined them £25,000. Chelsea have maintained that Bethell did not refer to Evra as an "immigrant" but that he said to the player "you're just a fucking idiot".
A statement from United last night said: "Manchester United note the announcement from the FA and are disappointed with the decision and in particular consider the sanctions against Patrice Evra excessive. Manchester United and Patrice will consider all options once there has been an opportunity to digest the full reasons for the decision."
United are also understood to have sent in assistant manager Mike Phelan to give evidence on their behalf. The incident took place on 26 April as the United players warmed down on the pitch. It is understood that the confrontation began when they refused a request to jog in a different part of the pitch to the one that the Chelsea groundsmen were working on.
Chelsea were also found guilty on the minor charge of not specifying in Bethell's contract that he was subject to the FA rules. There was no penalty given. Evra and Chelsea were ordered to split the legal costs of the hearing.
Senegal-born French international left-back, age 27, who joined Manchester United for £5.5m from Monaco in January 2006. Diplomat's son who came to France at the age of six and was subsequently raised in the same Parisian suburb as Thierry Henry. Began his football career in Italy before moving to Nice, then Monaco.
Epsom-based groundsman, aged 23 at the time of the incident, crop-haired and tattooed. On his Facebook site, on which he listed hooligan movie Football Factory as one of his favourite films, he described his job: "I sit on a mower watching some of the world's greatest players play football. It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it."