/ 28 April 2008

Man U players blame Chelsea staff for brawl

Manchester United players have claimed that Chelsea ground staff were reponsible for provoking the row that marred the end of the Premier League showdown between the two teams on Saturday by insulting Patrice Evra.

Chelsea won a tense encounter at Stamford Bridge 2-1 with a late penalty strike from Michael Ballack and it was minutes after the final whistle blew when the brawl erupted.

United stars substitutes Patrick Evra, Paul Scholes, John O’Shea, Gerard Pique and Gary Neville were taking part in a warm-down on the pitch when they were asked to move by ground staff.

A scuffle erupted, in which fellow substitute Carlos Tevez also became embroiled.

The Argentina striker said in the Guardian: ”Patrice received a grave insult from a member of Chelsea’s staff.

”He demanded an explanation and, from that moment, these men just wanted to attack Patrice.

”Obviously it’s normal that we tried to defend our teammate but within a few seconds all of the United players were surrounded by stewards.”

Chelsea are to examine closed-circuit TV footage of the incident, which the English Football Association have asked to see before ”considering the appropriate course of action”.

Tevez said: ”I think that the security cameras will show the provocation we received. I have never seen anything like this in my career … if the FA opens an investigation, we will cooperate and happily give our version of what happened.”

Defender Pique added: ”Basically, this came about because of the provocation of somebody who works for Chelsea.

”Patrice wanted an explanation but these men were very aggressive. All we were doing was finishing our work-out after the game.

”Even now, I just do not understand the reaction of these people. I have seen the photos and, if the images are stored in the CCTV cameras then it will be impossible for them to say that the players were not provoked.”

Since confirming they would look into the incident, Chelsea have not commented on the matter but one of the men allegedly involved in the fracas, groundsman Sam Bethell, played it down.

”It was handbags really,” he said in the Sun. ”It was not as bad as it appeared.

”I’ve been told not to say anything about what actually happened.”

Saturday’s referee, Alan Wiley, has confirmed he only became aware of the trouble when he watched highlights of the game later that evening. – Sapa-AFP